It was the kind of fight where Yuriorkis Gamboa seemed to have one eye on his hard-hitting opponent, Daniel Ponce de Leon, and the other on his critics. In beating Ponce de Leon in a business-like 8th round technical decision, Gamboa appeared to work harder to demonstrate he was the kind of complete fighter who could one day challenge a Juan Manuel Marquez or Manny Pacquiao, than he did to put on a show worthy of his reputation.
Universally praised as incredibly explosive and talented, the undefeated featherweight Gamboa has also been questioned in the past for his reckless abandon and disdain for defense. The Gamboa who threw a virtual shutout against Ponce de Leon Saturday night before the fight was stopped after an accidental head butt, was neither of those boxers. Compact and controlled on defense and fighting only in spurts, Gamboa seemed to be auditioning more than fighting.
Ponce de Leon (41-4, 34 KOs) came into the fight given only a puncher's chance to win, and Gamboa seemed determined to deny him that possibility. The Cuban even said as much in his post-fight remarks to HBO's Max Kellerman. "My purpose was to extend the fight beyond four rounds," said Gamboa (21-0, 16 KOs). "Many people said if it went beyond four that he would knock me out."
Gamboa seemed confident and in control throughout the fight. While Ponce de Leon landed his share of punches, none seemed to have the impact of the lightening fast ones Gamboa threw. Gamboa said afterwards his eventual target was Pacquiao, but ironically in winning his fight in workman-like, unspectacular fashion, he certainly did little to catch the attention of the pound-for-pound king.
It could have been very different. Several times Gamboa, who fought in flurries, seemed to hurt Ponce de Leon, but then would away and show off his patience and defense, rather than go for the kill. Against a Pacquiao, with his amazing power and speed, that might have been a manner of fighting worthy of praise. Against Ponce de Leon, the 31-year-old, former super bantamweight champion, it did little to draw admiration.
The end fittingly came without an explanation point. Both fighters led with their heads with just under a minute and a half to go in the 8th round and clashed hard. Ponce de Leon in replay looked visibly stunned, Gamboa much less so. More importantly, the Mexican sustained a bad cut over his left eye and referee Allan Huggins separated the two fighters immediately and sent them to their corners. After the ring physician examined Ponce de Leon, Huggins halted the fight and sent it to the scorecards, where it was a foregone conclusion: 70-63 twice and 69-64.
Understandably, the pro-Cuban crowd in Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall, which had chanted "Cu-ba! Cu-ba!" several times in the fight, was subdued at the way it ended--with a thud, rather than the bang they had come to witness.
What the victory meant for the former 2004 Olympic Gold medalist is uncertain. There had been talk in the past of Gamboa fighting either Juan Manuel Lopez or Nonito Donaire, but during the weigh-in for this bout the Cuban's promoter, Ahmet Oner, seemed to feel his boxer had outgrown his division.
After Gamboa had to take off his underwear to meet the contracted weight of 127, Oner was quoted as saying, "Yuri has emphasized a couple of times in the last days that this is his last fight close to the featherweight limit," and indicated his fighter would soon move up to the 130 or 135 pound divisions. After more than 300 amateur fights and 21 as a pro, Gamboa still remains a work in progress, albeit a terrifically talented one.