(Yuriorkis Gamboa, left, with his promoter 50 Cent, via Top Rank Facebook page)
Keep coming back here for updates after each undercard fight on Saturday's HBO pay-per-view broadcast of Manny Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez 4. We'll begin with the off-TV portion of the show airing on TopRank.TV, highlighted by an appearance from Dodie Boy Penalosa of the Fightin' Filipino Penalosa fam and the pro debut of 2012 U.S. Olympian Jose Ramirez. The other highlights of the broadcast undercard include the 50 Cent-promoted phenom Yuriorkis Gamboa, and the Snooki-promoted Patrick Hyland against top prospect Javier Fortuna. NOTE for those with questions about start time: We will update minutes after each fight, so after we post results from the final undercard fight of the evening, Gamboa-Michael Farenas, look for Pacquiao-Marquez 4. Don't expect it before midnight ET.
Weird lineup of celebrities in the crowd Saturday: Mitt Romney, Metta World Peace, Steven Seagal, Magic Johnson...
We'll go in reverse chronological order.
Yuriorkis Gamboa made his ring return after a more than year layoff due to some promotional silliness, and while he won clearly, it was anything but a cinch. Michael Farenas dropped him in the 9th round and had him very wobbly, unlike sometimes when Gamboa goes down from a glancing punch due to balance and isn't badly hurt. Gamboa was going for the knockout at that moment himself, at the time. Gamboa's two knockdowns in othe rounds made it difficult for Farenas to get a foothold on the card, though, and Gamboa's overall talent level -- speed, showy defense -- meant he took all but a handful of rounds as-is. The scorecards of 117-109, 118-108, 117-108 were a bit wide, unfortunately. Perhaps the judges were wowed by Gamboa's promoter 50 Cent being lowered from the rafters, rapping on his way down, kicking his feet like a lil kid during Gamboa's ring walk. Farenas gave a good account of himself, for sure, but this fight was more about Gamboa's shortcomings; at 130, he doesn't hit as hard as at 126, and he almost certainly was rusty after such a long layoff. Around these parts, he used to be known as YURIORKIS GAMBOA!, but he'll need a better showing than this one to get that status back.
Lightweight Miguel Vazquez blanked Mercito Gesta, or thereabouts, in Vazquez's second consecutive contender for worst fight of the year. Gesta made a willing partner in this ugliness, as he usually is notable for his laziness in throwing punches. Vazquez did what he does when he's at his ugliest, which is to run around in circles, not get hit, throw the occasional scoring blows and hold his opponent when he gets close. I had Gesta winning the 5th, but maybe that was just me giving him a comparison round because he tried a little bit in that round. The judges scored it closer than most people scoring it at home, or even HBO's Harold Lederman: 117-111, 119-109, 118-110. Gesta landed a total of 61 punches; that's five punches a round for 11 rounds, and six in the 12th. Ugh. Vazquez can fight, and might be the world's best lightweight today based on resume, but right now there is no worse boxer to watch in the sport.
Super prospect Javier Fortuna beat Patrick Hyland by decision, but the featherweight did himself few favors with his performance. He faded over the back half of the bout, and never could hurt Hyland, which given all the highlight reel knockouts he's scored counts as a disappointment based on the expectations that he would have an easy time of it with the Irishman. Perhaps worse, he was dirty, landing low blows and repeatedly throwing punches after the bell in a way that looked deliberate, including after the 12th round. You could see the tide turning against him in boxing fandom on Twitter, and the fans booed the decision -- they can't have thought Hyland won, either. The judges saw it 118-110, 116-112 and 115-113, and the 115-113 was generous to Hyland. That said, he proved he was a tough sumbitch, winning three rounds on my card as Fortuna slowed, and he responded at one point to Fortuna's repeated dirty doings by tossing Fortuna to the ground and low-blowing him when he got up. If Hyland had turned up the heat over the late rounds, he might've had a chance to win, but instead he got his first loss. Fortuna's fortunes (get it?) will take a bit of a dip after this performance, but it ought to be clear to him from this stern test that he needs to improve his conditioning for late in fights. He was also wild and inaccurate, often throwing his left hand off to the side of Hyland's gloves. These are the tests that reveal prospects' flaws in a way that will lead to their later demises, or give them something to work on and come back even better.
The other night on ESPN2, Felix Verdejo made his professional debut against a far better opponent than you usually see any pro, let alone an Olympian, fight in his first bout, raising questions about whether this was a philosophical move by Top Rank to test a prospect right out of the gate, or if they just didn't know the other dude was that good. If it is a philosophy, it only applied to Verdejo, because Jose Ramirez fought a more typically hopeless pro debut foe in Corey Seigwarth. Siegwarth had three fights total in his career and this was his first this year. Ramirez, a lightweight, attacked immediately and let punches fly with abandon, dropping Seigwarth on a body shot and then refusing to relent after Seigwarth rose, other than a brief gentlemanly moment when he let Seigwarth turn his back like he wanted then spin back around. The ref stepped in as Ramirez did more damage. These debuts are rarely worth broadcasting as competitive events ("Easy for you to say," answers Verdejo in my imaginary dialogue with him), but hey, might as well broadcast debuts for Olympians for posterity.
You gotta like what Dodie Boy Penalosa, Jr. did to did against Jesus Lule Raya in a featherweight bout, and I don't think you have to have my soft spot for the Penalosa family like I do to be impressed. In the 1st round, he came out firing super-quick punches, landing almost everything. Raya, to his credit, decided it was no longer time to sit around and get out-quicked, so he began pushing Penalosa backward in the 2nd, even cornering him on the ropes and landing some body shots. But this is what trying gets you, when you're overmatched: knocked out. Penalosa, with his back to the ropes, dug a left hook to Penalosa's body and then came upstairs with a killer right hook that put Raya down and immediately convinced the referee that he was in no shape to continue. One caveat: Penalosa's competition in his 10 fights has been rough-looking even for a young prospect. But you have to like the speed, and you have to like this finish.
Ernie Sanchez, who has been working in Pacquiao's camp, failed to impress me in a featherweight tilt against Coy Evans. He's just 20 years old, so there's room for improvement, and he did win, by scores of 77-74 and 78-73 twice. Sanchez scored a knockdown in one of the early rounds (couldn't get the Top Rank stream to work for a bit), only for Evans to come back and win a couple rounds in the middle of the eight-round bout. Evans said he hurt his hand, though, and maybe that helped slow him down after that. Sanhez has just five knockouts in 14 wins, and he isn't really even that sharp a boxer or that fast, but, yeah, 20 years old. During the fight, Top Rank showed some highlights in infrared. I don't know that is terribly useful. I once saw a porn in infrared. That was a little useful.
(One bout didn't air anywhere, Jazzma Hogue vs. Alexis Hernandez, at featherweight. Frequent TQBR contributor Steve Zemach is ringside, and he relates this.) Hernandez dropped Hogue with some wild punches in the 1st round. Hogue got up and was hurt, then got dropped again by a wild right-left combo. Hogue got to his feet and then the fight was waved off at 2:20 of the opening round.
Gamboa is going to go down as one of the truly failed talents of this generation.
I remember I saw a potential top-three pound-for-pounder when I first saw this guy fight on "Friday Night Fights" a few years ago. Now he's really not that much more special than the myriad belt-holders that infest the sport.
Is it just me, or has Gamboa's development stagnated since his arrival in the U.S.? He just doesn't seem any better. The defensive deficiencies that lesser fighters couldn't expose during his ESPN days are now being pried open fairly regularly by medium-level foes.
I think his best win came against Salido more than two years ago, yet he was knocked down in that fight.
I'm not sure if Gamboa isn't as good as I thought. I'm not sure if the promotional difficulties and resulting lack of activity have hurt him. I'm not sure if he went mentally soft once he reached the promised land of the U.S. and started earning real money, a problem that was rife among Eastern Bloc defectors to the NHL in the late 1980s and early 1990s and still exists in boxing.
But for whatever reason, I doubt we'll see YURIORKIS GAMBOA! again. Yuriorkis Gamboa is a good fighter, but he won't electrify the sport on its grandest stages like the ALL CAPS! version could have.