Enigmatic Yuriorkis Gamboa in a Make-or-Break Fight vs. Terence Crawford

Kelsey McCarsonFeatured ColumnistJune 25, 2014

Gamboa is ready to get back in the ring.
Gamboa is ready to get back in the ring.Al Bello/Getty Images

Undefeated lightweight Yuriorkis Gamboa heads to the ring Saturday night in what most deem a must-win situation against talented titleholder Terence Crawford. Not only will the enigmatic Gamboa be facing the toughest fight of his career, but the bout will take place in front of Crawford’s home crowd in Omaha, Nebraska.

Both fighters sport an identical 23-0 record with 16 knockouts. The bout will be televised on HBO.

Gamboa told RingTV.com’s Anson Wainwright he was excited for the opportunity:

I wanted the opportunity for a world title against a name opponent. This is something I’ve looked forward to for a long time but nobody stepped up. I’m counting my blessings for this opportunity.

Gamboa’s career has been in somewhat of a tailspin since 2011. While formerly regarded as one of the most talented and exciting up-and-comers in the sport, promotional issues have kept him languishing in relative obscurity since parting with Top Rank back in 2012 for rapper 50 Cent’s SMS Promotions.

Gamboa was set to meet Brandon Rios back then in what was sure to be a blockbuster slugfest, but he ultimately declined the fight to follow a different path.

Gamboa and 50 Cent are all smiles.
Gamboa and 50 Cent are all smiles.Jeff Daly/Associated Press

Since hooking up with 50 Cent in 2012, Gamboa has only fought twice. He defeated Michael Farenas in December of that year and Darleys Perez in June 2013.

Gamboa was hot on the trail of Mikey Garcia over the next year. It’s the fight he and his camp wanted but could never seem to grow to fruition. Gamboa stayed active in training for it, though—something that should keep him sharp come fight night.

In fact, 50 Cent told Bleacher Report last week that he expects fans to be surprised by how good Gamboa looks after over a year out of the ring:

I think they’re going to be surprised at the performance Gamboa offers, because people think that because you have time off that you’re going to come in and display a little bit of rust or something, like you actually have to be under the lights to fight a real tough competitive fight. I don’t believe that, because he hasn’t stopped being active the entire time he’s been training and competing.

And he’ll need to be as sharp as ever on Saturday. While Crawford doesn’t boast the stalwart amateur pedigree of Gamboa, he’s proven to be a slick and smooth competitor as a professional. In fact, many consider him one of the more intriguing fighters in Top Rank’s current stable of fighters.

Crawford will be a tough out for Gamboa. The 26-year-old WBO lightweight titleholder showed his quality by defeating Ricky Burns in Scotland earlier this year.

Let’s face it. The people at Top Rank usually know what they are doing, and they aren’t setting the table for Crawford in front of his home crowd to lose.

Gamboa wants to snag Crawford's belt on Saturday but it will be tough.
Gamboa wants to snag Crawford's belt on Saturday but it will be tough.Nati Harnik/Associated Press

But Gamboa isn’t a nobody. The 2004 Olympic gold medalist is as skilled and talented as any fighter on the planet. He has fast hands and strong power in both fists. He’s smart, crafty and resourceful.

At his best, he fights aggressively and puts pressure on his opponent, something he’ll have to do against the taller Crawford.

Gamboa, 32, still has a shot at making his dreams come true as a professional prizefighter. A win over Crawford puts Gamboa in the driver’s seat at lightweight and gives him the WBO strap for leverage in negotiations with other fighters.

Lightweight and junior lightweight are rich in makable fights for Gamboa. But first he’ll have to defeat Crawford.

According to a press release by SMS Promotions posted at The Sweet Science, Gamboa’s ultimate goal is to become one of the top fighters in the sport.

I really don't have anything to prove to anybody but myself. My goal has always been to be recognized as one of the best fighters in the world. I don't have to prove anything and only need to make accomplishments for me and my family.

It will take the best performance of Gamboa’s career to knock off Crawford. But if he can pull it off, the sky remains the limit for the still-oh-so-promising fighter from Cuba.

Kelsey McCarson contributes to Bleacher Report, The Sweet Science and Boxing Channel.