Terence Crawford vs. Yuriorkis Gamboa: Preview and Prediction for Title Fight

Briggs SeekinsFeatured ColumnistJune 25, 2014

Terence Crawford vs. Yuriorkis Gamboa: Preview and Prediction for Title Fight

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    Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

    On Saturday night (HBO; 10 p.m. ET/PT) in Nebraska, Terence Crawford will return home to defend his WBO lightweight title against two-division world titleholder Yuriorkis Gamboa.

    Gamboa is a former Cuban amateur standout who has been dazzling in the past but relatively inactive over the past two years. Crawford has the look of a potential superstar.

    And somebody's zero will have to go on Saturday night, because both of these men are undefeated in their professional careers. This is the biggest bout to happen at lightweight in years.

Tale of the Tape

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    Jeff Daly/Associated Press
    Per BoxRec      Terence Crawford     Yuriorkis Gamboa 
    Record:     23-0, 16 KOs     23-0, 16 KOs
    Height:     5'8"     5'5.5"
    Reach:      70"     65" 
    Weight:     135 lbs    135 lbs 
    Age:      26     32
    Stance:     Orthodox     Orthodox 
    Hometown:     Omaha, Nebraska     Miami, Florida 
    Rounds:      93     121 

    Crawford and Gamboa bring identical records into this showdown, with Crawford much more active in recent years.

    Physically, they are very different fighters. Crawford is long and angular, while Gamboa is compact.

    Although he makes Miami his home now, Gamboa is a native of Guantanamo, Cuba. He first gained international prominence as a member of the tiny island nation's famed amateur team.

Main Storylines

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    Crawford has emerged as one of the sport's most promising young prospects in recent years. Last March, he took a major step forward in his career when he traveled to Scotland to take the WBO lightweight title from Ricky Burns via unanimous decision.

    Going on the road to beat a popular champion in his hometown is never an easy order of business for a young fighter, and Burns had a history of benefiting from screwy judging decisions at home. "I think it showed a lot about me that I was willing to not care about what happened in the past and make it happen for me in the present, " Crawford told me, when I spoke to him earlier this week.

    Burns was a tough, veteran champion, but Yuriorkis Gamboa is a different order of animal entirely. With blinding speed and explosive power, it was not very long ago that boxing fans were watching Gamboa with eager anticipation.

    But a lack of activity has sent his stock tumbling in recent years. He's fought just twice since 2011.

    When I spoke to him earlier this week, Gamboa acknowledged being from Cuba makes a fighter an outsider in the sport, with good promotional deals tougher to come by.

    "They can't sell pay-per-view or host events in Cuba," he said, speaking through his translator and attorney, Tony Gonzalez. "The other big-name fighters are more protected."

    Still, Gamboa has looked brilliant enough in the past to stick around in the memory, and boxing fans will be excited to see him back in action against another top, undefeated star. It's been a long time since there was a fight this significant at 135 pounds.

Strengths

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    Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

    Terence Crawford is extremely well-rounded in the ring. He's an outstanding defensive fighter with tremendous head-and-shoulder movement and footwork.

    Offensively, he's an aggressive counterpuncher. But, again, he is very well-rounded. He has the hand speed to seize the initiative and get off first.

    Yuriorkis Gamboa is an explosive athlete with highlight-reel agility and reflexes. He is a lightening-quick puncher with pinpoint accuracy.

    At the same time, there is tremendous substance underneath the flash. Gamboa has an elite amateur background and the high ring intelligence that comes with it.

    He uses his speed and athleticism to control ring terrain, changing direction on a dime and stunning opponents with punches they never saw coming.

Weaknesses

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    Terence Crawford has no specific weaknesses that I've been able to observe. But it can be easy to look flawless when you fight people who aren't in your league athletically or skills-wise.

    In Gamboa, Crawford should be facing a fighter who is at his level for the first time. We'll know a lot more about him after we see how he reacts to that.

    Yuriorkis Gamboa has been knocked down a lot for a fighter with elite talent. This has almost always happened as a result of him becoming overaggressive and letting his punches fly without concern for staying covered up.

    Crawford will be the biggest man he's fought as a professional, and the young champion is a skilled counterpuncher. Gamboa will need to be careful about giving Crawford too much space for the big counter.

    When I spoke to Gamboa this week, he said he planned to be more cautious. But some habits can be hard to break in the heat of battle.

Terence Crawford Will Win If...

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    To beat Gamboa, Crawford is going to need to exploit his length advantage and keep the Cuban star at the end of his punches. To do this successfully is going to take strong lateral movement. He has to avoid moving straight back, because if he does, the Cuban star will explode on him with flurries.

    When Gamboa moves into medium range where he can reach Crawford, Crawford should plant his lead foot and pivot while shifting his weight to his back foot. This will force Gamboa to turn and leave Crawford with his own weight perfectly set to fire his right cross.

    In tight quarters, Crawford should be ready to sting the shorter man with uppercuts and then clinch and lean, forcing Gamboa to carry his weight.

    Gamboa will be expecting the jab all night, so it will be worthwhile for Crawford to mix in the lead right hand to both the body and the head. The key to victory in the fight is going to be controlling the distance, and that will be easier for Crawford if he can keep Gamboa guessing.

Yuriorkis Gamboa Will Win If...

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    Gamboa is going to need to stay either inside or outside of Crawford's reach advantage. He's going to need to rely on his quick feet and explosive movement to win this fight and capture a championship in his third division.

    Gamboa should look to double up his jab when he is moving into range. He has very quick hands, and Crawford has a further distance to return after throwing his own jab. That should give Gamboa some space to move forward.

    When Gamboa is not attacking, he needs to be moving on the outside of Crawford's range while he looks for his next angle of attack. Gamboa has punching power, but a lot of it is a result of his speed and surprise. He's going to need to control angles to clip Crawford with punches that the champ didn't see coming.

    Gamboa is extremely confident in his finishing ability, and he's flirted with danger as a result in the past. Crawford is a more powerful puncher than anybody he's faced. If Gamboa lets his hands go wild and fast in an exchange in Nebraska this weekend, it could spell disaster for him.

    So Gamboa is going to need to be a little more cautious and respectful than he has been in the past.

Prediction

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    Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

    I've had a tough time deciding who to pick in this fight. And I don't expect there will be uniformity of opinion among boxing fans and writers.

    A few years ago, Yuriorkis Gamboa was viewed as a budding pound-for-pound superstar. But he's spent a lot of time inactive since 2011 and showed some rust when he fought once each in 2012 and 2013.

    Terence Crawford has shown flashes of brilliance so far in his career. But he's done it against opponents who didn't have anything like the athleticism or skill of Gamboa.

    But ultimately, I think Crawford will win. For one thing, Gamboa hasn't had a stoppage since 2011 at featherweight. Facing Crawford at 135, I don't think his power will be as decisive as it has been.

    I also think Gamboa's penchant for aggression could cause trouble for him against a long fighter with good counterpunching ability. I think it will be a tough, competitive fight but that the hometown champion will eke it out.

    Going forward, don't expect to see Crawford staying at lightweight. When I talked to him earlier this week, he told me "this will probably be my last fight at lightweight," citing both the grind of making the limit and the potential for bigger fights at light welterweight.

    If Crawford can pull it out against a big-name opponent such as Gamboa, he should be an immediate factor after moving up.