Terence Crawford fighting for Omaha vs. Yuriorkis Gamboa
By the time Terence Crawford enters the CenturyLink Center in his native Omaha, Neb., to defend his WBO lightweight title against Yuriorkis Gamboa on Saturday, the 26-year-old switch-hitting boxer will have had plenty of time to appreciate the significance of the moment.
Crawford-Gamboa represents the first title fight in Omaha since Joe Frazier stopped Ron Stander in Round 5 of their heavyweight championship in 1972. Crawford is the state's first titleholder since Perry "Kid" Graves won the vacant welterweight crown in 1914.
Crawford addressed his big night during a Wednesday media conference call that also included Gamboa.
"I have a sense of what the magnitude of this fight is. This is not just for me, but to the entire city of Omaha, Nebraska," said Crawford, who survived a gunshot wound to an area behind his right ear in September 2008.
"I feel like I give hope not only to the boxers, but to the other people who are trying to push forward and do something positive for themselves. I give the hope that they can be whatever they want to be. All they have got to do is to believe."
During Crawford's last time in the venue, when it was called The QWest Center in the spring of 2006, he lost an amateur bout to Jesus Mendez III in the 132-pound final of the National Golden Gloves.
Crawford's local hero status was a concern for both manager Cameron Dunkin and the boxer's manager-trainer, Brian McIntyre, who assured Dunkin that distractions would be kept at a minimum.
"These guys have lived there their whole life. Brian and I were concerned about it, and we had long talks about it, and he said that I'm going to set everything up and deal with all of the distractions," said Dunkin.
"We talked about it, and Brian did a great job and he put everybody in different jobs around him, and so Terence is just focused on the fight and ready to go, and he hasn't had any distractions. Brian assures me that he's ready to fight."
"We've been keeping a low-profile. When we got into town, there wasn't a big entourage," said McIntyre. "It's been kind of cool. We're just chilling and waiting on the fight."
Crawford's record of 23-0 with 16 knockouts is identical to that of the 32-year-old Yuriorkis Gamboa, who stands nearly three inches shorter at just over 5-foot-5 than the 5-8 Crawford, but who will be ending a more than one-year ring absence on Saturday.
Crawford was last in the ring for a dominant title-winning decision over Ricky Burns in Glasgow, Scotland, in March. Gamboa's most recent bout was a unanimous decision over previously unbeaten Darleys Perez on June 8, 2013.
Gamboa said that he had considered a bout with unbeaten WBO junior lightweight titleholder Mikey Garcia, THE RING's No. 2-ranked 130-pounder, before the Crawford fight came to fruition.
"I think that it's well-known that the conversation, or the dialogue between my team and Top Rank was to do a fight with Mikey Garcia," Gamboa said (through translator Tony Gonzalez) of Garcia, who is promoted by Top Rank.
"But, unfortunately, that couldn't happen because there is some legality between them [Top Rank and Garcia] that did not allow the fight to take place. Then, that's when Top Rank suggested to make this fight happen. At the time, we felt like that was just as good of an option, as well."
Crawford was asked about the perceived vulnerability of Gamboa, whom former rival, Michael Farenas, said has a "made in China chin" prior to their 130-pound clash in December 2012.
Against Farenas, whose southpaw style Crawford may be able to emulate, Gamboa rose from a ninth-round knockdown after scoring one each in the second and seventh of a unanimous decision victory.
"I don't go in there looking for the knockout. If it comes, then it comes, but it's all about as long as I just get the win," said Crawford.
"I'm not going in there looking at his past performances to determine what this is going to be like. I'm just going in there and fighting my fight. I just look at myself as an all-around fighter," said Crawford.
"I don't look at myself as being one-dimensional. I can change up in a lot of ways in the ring. I just feel like I'm flexible. I think that the guys that he has probably fought, I'm pretty sure that they don't have the same style as me. They probably have similar styles, but I feel there's no one out there with the same exact style as me, so we're just going to see that on Saturday. I just think that it's just about me being myself, and me going in there and just fighting my fight."
A Cuban Olympic gold medalist, Gamboa said the last time he recalls being in the position of an underdog in hostile territory was as an amateur in Kazakhstan in 2006. Gamboa, nevertheless, feels as if he will be whatever Crawford brings.
"It's part of the sport where you're going to face guys who are going to be able to switch up on you. Obviously, you're going to have to be able to master your skills against the southpaw stance and the orthodox stance, not that one is better than the other, but that's just something that you have to deal with in this sport," said Gamboa.
"You're going to face different challenge, and it's just a matter of getting yourself to face those challenges…I would say that my boxing IQ I think is very high, and I would say that is one thing that people underestimate in me. My physical abilities also give me an edge, I think, in a lot of the fights that I have gone into. My speed, my reflexes, and at combination of all of those things is going to lead me to a victory on Saturday."