• Steve Bunce

Gamboa: The Forgotten Cuban

Steve Bunce June 23, 2014
Buncey's Boxing Podcast

This Saturday Yuriorkis Gamboa, one of the finest Cuban boxers to ever fight as a pro, will try and win another world title when he fights unbeaten Terence Crawford.

Gamboa was one of the highest profile defectors at the time, and he has been in and out of the limelight since he escaped; not all of his profile has been for the right reasons.

The Cuban boxers love an exit and during the last 25 years they have made a few. The boxers have escaped to the 'West' by dressing as women, jumping over big walls, hiding in tiny boats and they have carried out their freedom breaks in Venezuela, Finland and Mexico.

There was a time when a 'jumper' was big news, especially if he left behind an Olympic gold medal in Havana. However, the Cubans have not dominated at the last four Olympics and now young Cuban boxers show up on shows in all parts of the world on a regular basis.

Yuriorkis Gamboa was a big loss for Fidel Castro, make no mistake. Gamboa was one of El Presidente's favourites. Gamboa was the heir to the glory created by Teofilo Stevenson, Felix Savon and Mario Kindelan; the trio stood resolute behind their Cuban principles and said "No" to the millions on offer from the professional promoters. Stevenson uttered something like: "What is a million dollars compared to the love of a nation." What indeed.

Gamboa went over the wall at a training camp outside Caracas, Venezuela, and jumped with Odlanier Solis and Yan Barthelemy; all three were gold medal winners at the Athens Olympics. It was a bad, bad night for Cuban boxing and there is a very solid argument that all three would have repeated their gold-medal wins in Beijing and London.

Yuriorkis Gamboa faces Terence Crawford for the WBO world crown © Getty Images

The three great fighters jumped into an uncertain world and only Gamboa has so far managed to win a world title; Gamboa's passage from his midnight defection to the ring on Saturday night in Omaha, Nebraska, has been deeply troubled and controversial.

Gamboa travelled through Venezuela and into Colombia and finally arrived in Germany under the care of volatile promoter Ahmet Ohner. The fighter was in Miami by the end of 2007 and in 2009, in just his 15th fight, he won the WBA's featherweight world title.

In 2010 he added the WBA and IBF super-featherweight version and in June last year he won the WBA's lightweight title. He is unbeaten in 23 fights, has won world titles at three weights but has not fought for a year.

He has also left promoters, management groups, had trouble with the police after arrests for domestic violence and has been implicated in a messy performance-enhancing drug scandal. Gamboa, it should be said, has never failed a test. But then again he has never been tested for loyalty or common sense.

This Saturday he fights Crawford for the WBO lightweight title and it is a crunch fight for the one-time Cuban idol. Right now Gamboa's career is being guided by Curtis '50 Cent' Jackson, who took advantage of Floyd Mayweather's incarceration to agree a deal with Gamboa and take him away from the Mayweather Empire. It was a cheeky move.

Jackson seems like a nice enough guy and has said all the right things about helping Gamboa to have a wonderful and full life; there is no doubt that too many Cuban boxers have been tricked and lied to over the years, but there are also quite a few that have helped create their own nightmares in the boxing dreamland they were promised. Gamboa is an extreme case and his fight with Crawford is magnificent.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
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Steve Bunce has been ringside in Las Vegas over 50 times, he has been at five Olympics and has been writing about boxing for over 25 years for a variety of national newspapers in Britain, including four which folded! It is possible that his face and voice have appeared on over 60 channels worldwide in a variety of languages - his first novel The Fixer was published in 2010 to no acclaim; amazingly it has been shortlisted for Sports Book of the Year.