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Feather Dust-up

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.

Although a veteran, Ponce de Leon hits hard enough to trouble Gamboa if he can nail him. But the 31-year-old might be in the wrong place at the wrong time. In his last fight in Atlantic City three years ago, Ponce de Leon surrendered his WBO junior featherweight title in his seventh defense when he was blasted in the first round by Puerto Rican Juan Manuel Lopez - the only time he has been stopped. Gamboa might feel he can do something similar.

Todd de Boeuf, president of Top Rank, Gamboa's co-promoters, says the former amateur standout is still developing as a world-class 12-round fighter. Ponce de Leon, de Boeuf says, represents another step along the road, which he expects to lead to some bigger tests in the next 12 months.

"Yuri is still a relatively young fighter, mature as he is in the ring, and each fight means a lot," de Boeuf said from Las Vegas. "I think this is one of those 'experience' fights that he really needs to go forward. Ponce de Leon offers a lot of challenges to him. He's strong, he's a very good puncher, he'll be in front of him all day, and we're going to have to see how Yuri responds to that."

Ponce de Leon's manager, Mark Hernandez, says his man brings a lot of experience and is more motivated than ever. He says the fight with Broner was closer than many expected, given the size differential and nine-year age gap, with Ponce de Leon losing by only two points on two judges' scorecards.

Hernandez believes the fight with Gamboa is a more even match-up physically, with Ponce de Leon preparing against fighters with similar attributes.

"Gamboa's a very good fighter," Hernandez said from Los Angeles. "He's fast and he's strong. At times, he does have a tendency to get careless, so we're working on that. I'm sure that, going into this fight, Gamboa's not going to overlook Daniel. It's a tough for Daniel, but it's not an easy fight for Gamboa, either."

“Yuri is still a relatively young fighter, mature as he is in the ring, and each fight means a lot,” de Boeuf said from Las Vegas. “I think this is one of those 'experience' fights that he really needs to go forward. Ponce de Leon offers a lot of challenges to him. He's strong, he's a very good puncher, he'll be in front of him all day, and we're going to have to see how Yuri responds to that."

Posted 12:00 AM | Aug 30, 2011

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