Great Cuban fighters such as Kid Gavilian, Kid Chocolate and Jose Napoles have long since gone down in boxing history. Undefeated Yuriorkis Gamboa may one day join them. One step at a time: right now, the 29-year-old from Guantanamo, just over 500 miles south-east of the capital, Havana, is fast emerging as one of the sport's biggest attractions.
Gamboa, 20-0 (16), is not only exciting in the ring, he also has a story out of it. After a dazzling amateur career, topped by an Olympic flyweight gold medal in Athens in 2004, he defected with others from his homeland and ended up turning professional in Germany. Gamboa then moved to Miami and campaigned in the United States, where he charged to two featherweight championships in less than three years.
Although boxing regulations have robbed him of both belts, Gamboa remains must-see. His journey continues in Atlantic City on September 10, when he meets former junior featherweight champ Daniel Ponce de Leon of Mexico in a 12-round non-title bout, live on HBO. The winner will likely be in line for another title shot.
Gamboa is coming off a one-sided victory over another Mexican, Jorge Solis, in the same city in March, when he dropped his outgunned opponent five times for a fourth-round TKO. The same month, southpaw Ponce de Leon fell to 44-3 (34) when he was decisioned over 10 rounds by the unbeaten, and naturally bigger, American Adrien Broner in Anaheim.
But Gamboa, for all his speed and explosive power, can be vulnerable. He has been down four times in his career, including last September against current WBO titlist Orlando Salido in their WBA-IBF unification bout in Las Vegas. Gamboa took a count in the eighth round before hitting back to floor Salido twice in the 12th and clinch a wide, unanimous decision, despite having two points deducted for a foul.