Over the last few years, Yuriorkis Gamboa has seen his career go from pole position to what appears to be a permanent spot in the pit stop. And the leaderboard is nowhere in sight for “El Ciclone de Guantanamo.” Last week, negotiations for a fight with undefeated lightweight Mikey Garcia collapsed because of the biggest boxing bugaboo of all: Benjamins.
Well, part of it had to do with money and part of it with the valuation of fighters, which has been overinflated for years because networks like HBO so often pay premium fees for matchups few people care about. This largesse allows fighters to use each other as economic milestones for future purses. Fighter A sees what Fighter B gets, and demands a similar amount, until, eventually, everybody wants to take over the Monopoly board. Professional prizefighters are basically independent contractors—in one of the most hazardous occupations in the world—without pensions, health insurance, or unions, so they should be encouraged to get what they can. Too often, however, what they get is not indicative of anything other than the strange whims of corporate executives. Although there are basically only two ways to earn serious money in boxing—via HBO or Showtime—big fights are still hard to make. How do you like that for a sport?
Garcia and Gamboa, both lightweight titlists of some sort, were unable to split the pot, and their May 17th date fizzled out. After weeks of trash-talking via the miracle of micro-blogging, Gamboa finally Tweeted this:
Just so u all know. Done looking 4a fight w/Mikey Garcia. There are champs like juanMa da would fight for the fans and 4pride not just $$$$$
— Yuriorkis Gamboa (@gamboa) March 23, 2014
But Gamboa has not exactly been faithful to the concept of fighting for fans or for pride.
After defecting from Cuba in 2006 and turning pro, Gamboa showed promise as a slashing featherweight with an explosive finishing touch. In 2008 and 2009, a series of sensational performances on HBO raised eyebrows and quickened pulses, but Gamboa eventually proved to be his own worst enemy. First, he sabotaged a fight against popular Brandon Rios because he was unhappy with the terms. Then, he changed his style from that of a two-fisted banger with remarkable speed and reflexes to that of a dull perimeter potshot-artist. After that PR coup, Gamboa was linked to the Biogenesis scandal that waylaid Alex Rodriguez. And, because Gamboa seems intent on upstaging himself, he was next charged with domestic violence in Florida.
But perhaps the worst move Gamboa made was signing a contract with 50 Cent, the hip-hop impresario and neophyte promoter who entered boxing in 2012 on the coattails of Floyd Mayweather, Jr., and has almost nothing to show for it other than a highly-publicized fallout with “Money” last year. Sure, 50 has made a few lively entrances—his foul-mouthed rhyming seemed to leave Mitt Romney nonplussed in the audience at Marquez-Pacquiao IV—but his ringwalks only make you wish that Nas or Big Daddy Kane were in the house. For now, 50 Cent is as bad a boxing promoter as Dee Dee Ramone was a rapper, and Gamboa is suffering under the auspices of a celebrity who spends more time plugging headphones than he does pitching fights for his clients.
Despite his raw talent and his Olympic gold medal, Gamboa is no closer to achieving his American Dream than he was when he defected from Cuba. And dreams, after all, are what prizefighters feverishly pursue, enduring physical hardships unimaginable to most in hopes of achieving glory and riches. Right now, unfortunately, Gamboa is short of both.
Carlos Acevedo is the editor of The Cruelest Sport and a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. His work has appeared in Boxing Digest Magazine, Maxboxing, Boxing World Magazine, and Esquina Boxeo.