Photo Credit: Chris Farina/Top Rank
By Anthony “Champ” Ross
Tonight live on HBO’s “Boxing After Dark” (10PM ET/ 7PM PT) from the CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Nebraska., WBO lightweight champion Terence “Bud” Crawford (23-0, 16KO) returns home to make the first defense of his crown against fellow unbeaten three division world champion Yuriorkis “El Ciclon De Guantanamo” Gamboa (23-0, 16KO) in the 12-round main event. Opening the telecast Russian middleweight contender Matt Korobov (23-0, 14KO) takes a big step up in class as he takes on hard hitting Venezuelan Jose Uzcategui (22-0, 18KO) in a 10-round bout for the vacant WBO Intercontinental middleweight title.
World championship boxing returns to the cornhusker state of Nebraska for the first time in nearly a half century when Joe Frazier successfully defended his heavyweight title in 1972 against Nebraska’s Ron Stander. Tonight marks the first time HBO has stepped foot in Nebraska for a national telecast which is also a homecoming of sorts for Crawford who has not fought in his home state since a 2011 demolishing of Anthony Mora. The 26-year old Crawford is a bit of a rarity this day in age, coming from the heartland of the mid-west to become a legitimate alphabet world champion becoming only the second Nebraskan to accomplish such a feat since Perry “The Kid” Graves in 1914. Crawford turned professional in 2008 signing with the now defunct “TKO Promotions” which was based out of Las Vegas who also led the early careers of Randy Caballero and Dodie Boy Penalosa Jr. Crawford’s decorated amateur pedigree runs deep with solid victories over very successful professional fighters such as Diego Magdaleno, Mikey Garcia and Danny Garcia respectively. Well known throughout the small boxing circles early in career, Crawford got his first shot at the spotlight on HBO just fifteen months ago as he stepped in on a week notice while moving up five pounds north to 140lbs as a late replacement against former world rated contender Brendis Prescott. Crawford at the time was virtually unknown to the casual boxing fan yet put on a show to remember, essentially beating Prescott as his own game all night pounding out a clear upset unanimous decision victory. Under the guidance of manager Cameron Dunkin and promoter Top Rank, Crawford continued to stay busy in 2013 scoring two victories over once beaten Alejandro Sanabria (TKO6) claiming the vacant NABO lightweight title. Closing out the year with a victory over previously unbeaten Andrey Klimov last October becoming the number one contender in the lightweight division. In order to fulfill a life long dream of becoming a world champion, Crawford was forced to go to enemy territory on March 1 in Glascow, Scotland to face hometown hero Ricky Burns. Crawford put on a masterful performance dismantling the long time reigning two-division WBO titlist Burns leaving only one way for the judges to score the fight in favor of Crawford by easy unanimous decision. Crawford is excited to make the first defense of his title in front of his friends and family, “This is what I always wanted to do, make my first title defense in Omaha where I grew up. I never overlook any opponent. I train my heart out because you never know with boxing. I’m just ready for whatever he brings to the table.” Crawford stated at the final presser.
The 32-year old 2004 Olympic Gold medalist from Miami, FL by way of Guantanamo, Cuba, Gamboa defected from his native Cuba to make his professional debut in 2007. Gamboa exploded on the scene with plenty of fan fare while being moved quickly by then promoter Top Rank capturing the WBA interim featherweight world title (Jose Rojas TKO10) in just his fourteenth professional fight. Gamboa made five successful title defenses over a two-year span which included wins over Rogers Mtagwa, Jonathan Barros and successfully unifying the featherweight division with a victory over Orlando Salido to become IBF/WBA featherweight champion in 2010. Over the last three years, Gamboa has been plagued with inactivity having only laced up the gloves four times since 2011 which has led to his stock tumbling down raising more questions than answers at this point in his career. Last year Gamboa was all set up for a career defining fight against a big name in Brandon Rios which ended up falling apart in essence forcing Gamboa on the shelf for months to come. Gamboa originally signed to Top Rank early in his career was bought out of his contract by his new promoter Curtis Jackson (50 Cent) and “SMS Promotions” last year in an effort to land Gamboa the biggest opportunities available which included a interim lightweight title fight last June versus fellow unbeaten Darleys Perez. Gamboa ended up pulling out the unanimous decision victory that night although lacked the explosion and highlight reel moments we were all accustomed to seeing. Gamboa insists his inactivity in recent years will not play a part of the outcome Saturday night, “Not as long as I’m focused, I have stayed active, maybe not in the ring but I have done what I needed to do outside of the ring to be prepared for Saturday night. I have remained active in the gym. Like in any career obviously it is a defining moment and I plan to take full advantage.” Gamboa stated at the final presser.
Crawford is a slick orthodox fighter who remains one of the best in the game at switch hitting smoothly from both orthodox and southpaw stances. Crawford is naturally a counter-puncher who if forced can initiate the lead to set the pace of the fight. The quiet upbeat Crawford always keeps a level head with subtle confidence knowing he has the compact counter-punching skills to give Gamboa loads of trouble. Crawford will be taking a huge leap in class tonight versus Gamboa although history has shown that Crawford has the athletic and defensive prowess to rise to the occasion as it will be interesting to see how Crawford reacts to the high level technician skills of Gamboa. The small stature Gamboa who is listed at 5’5 is accustomed to being the smaller fighter in the ring yet tonight will have to be very cautious and intelligent. Gamboa can be very explosive at times with excellent movement and pinpoint accuracy although the angles he is able to give Crawford tonight could be the key to victory. Gamboa is an excellent finisher in his own right yet is up against one of the most powerful punchers he’s faced in his career and will have to use his quick feet to get him out of trouble when needed. As Gamboa has moved up from the featherweight division to now lightweight, it seems his power has began to nullify itself having not recorded a knockout since 2011. Gamboa has been a fighter who seems to fight down to the level of his opposition while being dropped on the canvas many times throughout his career. Getting in the ring with a caliber of fighter like Crawford it only makes perfect sense that tonight we may see the best Gamboa yet. A few years ago the boxing purists were buzzing about the ability and ceiling of Gamboa yet battling with promotional problems and inactivity the last few years, it looks as if Gamboa is being used by Bob Arum to set up the next star of the 135-140 pound divisions in Terence Crawford.
TV: HBO “Boxing After Dark” (10PM ET/ 7PM PT)
Crawford -175 vs Gamboa +145
Korobov -450 vs Uzcategui +325
Crawford – UD
Korobov – Split Decision