Boxing Roundtable: What's next for Gamboa? Will Kirkland be a star?
1. Yuriorkis Gamboa's fourth-round knockout of Jorge Solis was easily his best win to date. Were you impressed with Gamboa?
CHRIS MANNIX: Impressed? How about wowed, dazzled and amazed, too? For weeks we heard about Solis's experience, how he had once gone toe-to-toe with Manny Pacquiao and, for a while, held his own. Against Gamboa, Solis was a punching bag, and not a very sturdy one at that. Gamboa's blend of speed and power is frightening; he puts together combinations that appear fast even when played in slow motion. Top Rank CEO Bob Arum seems determined to make the world wait for Gamboa-Juan Manuel Lopez but I don't think he can keep putting that fight off much longer.
RICHARD O'BRIEN: In a word, sure. The Guantanamo Cyclone put together just the sort of performance he needed -- one that included the type of pyrotechnic attack that earned him his nickname, coupled with a more disciplined approach that kept him out of trouble. "I am completely different -- the package is complete," said Gamboa through an interpreter after the bout. "I'll fight anyone now." That last part is welcome news to fans hoping to see the 29-year-old Cuban star in a 126-pound showdown with WBO champ Juan Manuel Lopez. Lopez was on hand in A.C. on Saturday night and joined Gamboa in the ring afterward. We're the best in the division. We have to do it," said Lopez. After seeing Gamboa's work on Saturday night, I have to agree.
BRYAN ARMEN GRAHAM: The drumbeat for a Gamboa-Lopez showdown began in earnest 14 months ago, on the night both fighters came through with scintillating knockouts in their HBO twinbill at the Theater at Madison Square Garden. Nothing between then and now has upset the pair's collision course, certainly not Gamboa's electric performance Saturday on the Boardwalk. "Believe me, it will be a huge, huge fight," said Arum, who's since floated the idea of holding it at New Meadowlands Stadium. While the idea of a featherweight superfight at the 82,566-capacity arena may seem quixotic, the climate within the sport might never be more favorable. Small men have always benefited from periods when interest in the heavyweight division is dragging. Leonard, Hargler, Hearns and Duran benefitted from the dip between Ali and Tyson, just like Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather wouldn't be threatening pay-per-view records if there were a Bowe, Holyfield or Lewis on the scene. With some of the country's biggest Puerto Rican and Cuban enclaves in the vicinity, there's no reason Gamboa-Lopez couldn't attract more than 20,000 to North Jersey. With any luck, it comes off this summer (which was Arum's original target date). This being boxing, however, Top Rank will likely wait until the momentum for the fight is past its peak before making it.
2. On paper, the Marcos Maidana-Erik Morales junior welterweight fight on April 9 looks like a monster mismatch. Is it?
MANNIX: This is an execution. Morales is a long since faded featherweight/super featherweight going up against a natural 140-pounder with crushing power. Maidana is going to be highly motivated to rebound after his disappointing loss to Amir Khan and Morales -- who fights with his chin out -- makes for an appealing opponent. Golden Boy is looking to cash in on Morales's name one more time, and it will. But anyone that thinks Morales has any chance against a monster like Maidana is kidding themselves.
O'BRIEN: Probably. But Morales reportedly begged for this fight, convinced that he has the style to beat Maidana. Certainly the veteran of 57 fights (51 wins) has the experience. But, at age 34 (to Maidana's 27), he may simply have too much mileage on the tires. Consider that before racking up three wins against less-than-stellar competition in 2010, Morales hadn't fought in over two and a half years -- and had lost four straight before that. Then again, his last win before that oh-for-four streak had come against a guy named Manny Pacquiao. Morales has great skills and great experience; I just don't think it's going to matter against the power, youth and urgency of Maidana.
GRAHAM: "One of the saddest sights in boxing is to watch a young man beat up an old one," wrote Thomas Hauser in The Black Lights, "and the great majority of the time, when the two meet, that's what occurs." British oddsmaker William Hill lists Morales as a 10-to-3 underdog, which seems awfully charitable for a guy who's taken nothing but light touches since coming out of the retirement David Diaz sent him into back in 2007. I do think Morales' technical superiority can match up favorably against a crude bomber like Maidana, but I have grave doubts he can keep it up for the scheduled 12 rounds against the younger, bigger Argentine.
3. Will James Kirkland ever be a star?
MANNIX: I'm wary about jumping on a big puncher's bandwagon -- thank Jeff Lacy for that -- and Kirkland makes me especially nervous. No question, in the ring Kirkland is a whirling dervish with the kind of power that could knock out anyone from 147-160 pounds. But he has no defense and has been wobbled when hit on the chin by journeymen fighters. That doesn't bode well for a guy who has been earmarked for a shot at middleweight champion Sergio Martinez. Unless Kirkland makes significant changes to his fighting style, Martinez will pick him apart.
O'BRIEN: Yes. But he's going to have to stop, y'know, going to jail. Over the course of his career, he's been, er, away for almost five years. Still, he's only 27, and this is a guy with a record of 27-0 with 24 KOs. That's star potential right there. Golden Boy is still committed to promoting him, and he has seemingly hunkered down with new trainer Kenny Adams in Las Vegas. We'll see how he looks when he takes on Japan's Nobuhiro Ishida (22-6, with just 7 KOs), on the undercard of the Maidana-Morales card, but I expect that the heavy-handed Kirkland can get people excited again.
GRAHAM: Like Mannix, I'm hesitant to go long on Kirkland, whose pristine record is thus far a product of good but not great opposition. I do think he's a dangerous floater anywhere from welterweight to middleweight and the sport is richer with him in play. The idea of a Martinez-Kirkland fight seems to have taken on a life of its own since Martinez flattened Sergiy Dzinziruk earlier this month, but why not put Kirkland in against WBC light middleweight title-holder Saul Alvarez instead? And there's always Miguel Cotto ...
4. Golden Boy's signing of Nonito Donaire away from Top Rank set off the latest skirmish between the promotional giants. How much is this cold war hurting the sport?
MANNIX: It's crushing, because every pie fight these two get into makes the interesting fights (Manny Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez, Saul Alvarez-Julio Cesar Chavez) less and less likely. You would like to think cooler heads will prevail when they see the kind of money that can be made if they call a truce but there doesn't seem to be any end in sight. The fight over Donaire is likely to end up in court, which will be another chance for Richard Schaefer and Bob Arum to call each other names. And in the end, it's the boxing fans that will continue to suffer.
O'BRIEN: It's not helping. I don't claim to know or understand all the legal machinations involved, but I have to think that Donaire facing six months or more of legal squabbling -- at a time when he's one of the hottest prospects in boxing -- is hardly good for the sport. Certainly, we're used to squabbles between boxing promoters (didn't Arum used to have some issues with a fellow named King?), but there's always been the confidence that money (in the form of a superbout) would carry the day and smooth over differences, but Golden Boy and Top Rank seem truly committed to their feud, and it has already gotten in the way of some important bouts. Can this all really go back to the bad blood between Arum and Oscar?
GRAHAM: So Golden Boy reportedly offers Donaire a bigger purse for an upcoming bantamweight title fight, but Top Rank claims he was still under contract. Why the confusion? Normally, Donaire's pact would have expired in June 2011, but Top Rank claims a pair of medical suspensions (of six months and four months) should toll the expiration date until April 2012. It's a legitimate gripe, but there's no question boxing needs another high-profile legal dispute between promoters like Manny Pacquiao needs another hobby. This destructive feud has done more to undercut boxing and keep it on the fringe than anything in recent memory, while lending renewed credence to Nat Fleischer's famous words of caution: "The most serious threats to boxing have always come from within."
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