Lara’s style keeps him in Gamboa’s shadow
Of the most recent pack of very good fighters to trade the suffocating drabness of Cuba for the drab tackiness of America, featherweight Yuriorkis Gamboa has received the most attention. The reasons are plain to see: he’s explosive, fearless, exceptionally fast, and more vulnerable than you’d expect of one so prodigiously gifted.
Put this all together and you’ve got a very exciting, very marketable prizefighter.
Gamboa’s compatriot, junior middleweight Erislandy Lara, who fights on Wednesday night on ESPN2, isn’t nearly the puncher that Gamboa is. He’s not as fast or as dynamic or as reckless; he doesn’t take a lot of chances. Moreover, he’s a southpaw, which is almost never a good thing from a fan’s perspective.
In the marketing business they’d say Gamboa is “sexy.” Unfortunately for Lara, in all of boxing history there might not be a single southpaw counter puncher one would describe using that term.
That doesn’t mean he’s not just as good as Gamboa is, or better even, although it wouldn’t seem it comparing their records.
Gamboa, who is 18-0 with 15 knockouts, has been moved much faster, already beating two experienced, undefeated fighters in Marco Ramirez (KO 2) and Jonathan Victor Barros (W 12).
He already has some version or another of an alphabet title, for whatever that’s worth, and THE RING rates him sixth among the world’s 126-pounders.
By comparison, Lara, who is 12-0 with seven knockouts, is taking the scenic route; the best fighter he’s faced is Contender season 2 winner Grady Brewer, who he stopped in 10 rounds in January.
His opponent Wednesday night, Willie Lee of Gulfport, Mississippi, is 17-6 with 11 knockouts. Lee’s been stopped five times, most recently by promising young Vanes Martirosyan. He is representative of the majority of Lara’s opponents.
Lara would like him to be the last journeyman type he faces.
“I feel that I am ready for a title right now,” Lara said recently. “I have 12 professional fights and over 300 amateur fights. But we know that this is a business and some fighters have the luxury of not being forced to fight the best. I have been after (Alfredo) Angulo, (Sergio) Martinez, (Kermit) Cintron, (Cornelius) Bundrage, or any other champion out there that is willing to give me the opportunity.”
Unless the rest of the world’s junior middleweights leap like 154-pound lemmings off a cliff, it’s unlikely Lara will get his wish. He just doesn’t have Gamboa’s appeal, and appeal equals big fights.
Veteran trainer Joe Goossen, who trained the excellent Cuban southpaw Joel Casamayor for much of his career, understands why fans and media are drawn more to Gamboa.
“Gamboa’s fast, hard-hitting, very quick on his feet, and he’s gotten better,” Goossen told RingTV.com. “He had a few leftover amateur traits which got him dropped a few times, but he gets up and knocks you out. He brings that type of excitement to the ring which I love. He’s not afraid to put himself in the danger zone. He’ll throw caution to the wind, which you’ve got to love. You’re almost certain to lose against a guy like Gamboa.
“The kid’s a powerhouse,” Goossen continued. “He’s built like a tank, he’s just incredible — very athletic, agile, and again, explosive punching power. Give him three years and he’ll be the most dangerous guy on the planet.”
Goossen thinks highly of Lara too, but in a different way.
“He’s just as cunning and calculating as Casamayor, a very smooth guy. He’s the type of guy I’ve trained before — Michael Nunn, Casamayor, Frank Liles, and other southpaws that brought a lot to the table,” Goossen said.
“In his pro debut he looked a lot more polished than Gamboa, but Gamboa is catching up. When Gamboa gets to that point (that Lara is), one star will be shining brightly and one will be fading. Even though a style like (Lara’s) will keep you in the business for a long time, I just don’t see the excitement factor there with Lara like I do with Gamboa.”
Goossen noted that even though Lara has been fed a mostly steady stream of journeymen, just over half his wins are by knockout. When he starts fighting better guys, that kayo percentage will drop even lower. And that hurts him at the box office.
“People like a little mystery with what’s going to happen,” Goossen said. “With a guy like Gamboa you know there’s going to be excitement. With Lara I don’t think you’re ever really going to see that. He’s a winner and will probably continue to win, he just won’t be knocking out the good guys.”
Certainly there’s no crime in being more boxer than puncher. Floyd Mayweather has done pretty well for himself, as has Ivan Calderon, Juan Manuel Marquez, Chad Dawson, and Tim Bradley to name a few. Casamayor, never a huge puncher, had a wonderful career, one that may see him into the Hall of Fame.
And because he’s started slower than his flashier compatriot and tends to go by the book does not mean necessarily that Lara will have a less successful career. There is something to be said for the man who relies more on technique and fundamentals and less on raw physical ability. A good, but not perfect corollary might be Roy Jones and Bernard Hopkins.
Nevertheless, under-appreciated expertise is an old story. We’ll see sooner or later whether it is Lara’s.
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The next episode of Ring Theory will feature RING editor-in-chief Nigel Collins, just back from Quebec where he presented Pascal with the RING belt. Look for the show later this week.
Bill Dettloff, THE RING magazine’s Senior Writer, is the co-author, along with Joe Frazier, of “Box Like the Pros.” He is currently working on a biography of Ezzard Charles.
Bill can be contacted at [email protected]