Omaha, Neb. hadn’t seen a world title fight since Joe Frazier’s 1972 annihilation of Ron Stander, so it was safe to say this bout was overdue. The 11,000 who packed the CenturyLink Center certainly seemed to think so, and they were not to be disappointed as Terence Crawford defended the lightweight belt he won from Ricky Burns earlier this year. Yuriorkis Gamboa might be more of an enigma than an elite fighter these days, but he’s someone who brings excitement in his wake, whether that comes from his blinding speed or the way he dangles out his chin so tantalisingly during exchanges.
Gamboa seemed aware early on that he could not win a boxing match. And with good reason. Not only was he severely undersized when set against the lanky Crawford, but he was faced with an opponent who simply does not make dramatic mistakes in the ring. If it can be pinpointed, Crawford’s one great strength is that he so rarely gets caught out. From the outset the Cuban wore an expression that suggested he knew he would need to take a chance or two if the fight was to open up in his favour.
The Crawford jab dominated the opening round, but Gamboa began to dart in and out in the 2nd and had some success. His stature was always a major obstacle, and you got the sense he was virtually having to leap away to avoid the long right hands of Crawford, but he made his marginally superior speed tell, and he took rounds 2 and 3 by nipping underneath Crawford’s shots and doing good work inside. He was being more defensively responsible than usual, holding his right glove high and was clearly wary of Crawford’s power. Still getting caught on occasion, he took a right hand very well in the 4th, a round which contained more action in its final two minutes than the totality of Matt Korobov’s win on the televised undercard, and appeared to be settling in nicely.
Across the ring, Crawford needed to set about a process of adjustment, given how readily his Cuban opponent was making his speed advantage count. The challenger continued to land hard single shots in the 5th and although Crawford never seemed hurt, his head was rocked back more than once. Yet, as is his want, Gamboa got a little careless in the last minute of the round and was put down by a right hand. He was on Bambi legs from that point on and barely made it back to his corner after taking at least a dozen clean punches in the final 30 seconds of the round. He needed to go back to boxing, but with his advantage on the scorecards now eroded, he made the valiant decision to press on and take the fight to Crawford, who remained patient, seemingly safe in the knowledge that Gamboa did not possess the power to really hurt him at this weight.
Round 6 felt like somewhat of a last stand for Gamboa, as he continued to plod forward desperately waiting for his legs to come back under him. Crawford was content to pick him off with single shots, and although he didn’t hurt him as he had done in the 5th, he won the round at a canter. Crawford’s intelligent body work was starting to tell as the fight passed the midway point, with Gamboa attempting to pot-shot while dripping water all over the ring apron courtesy of an over-zealous corner. His legs appeared to have returned at one stage, but the rhythm that so troubled the hometown favourite in the early rounds had been thoroughly disrupted, and any semblance of sustained aggression was vanishing fast.
Launched forward at the close of round 8, Gamboa opening up with a barrage of consecutive hooks, was caught again and dropped for a second time. The size difference was manifesting itself in the power department ever more clearly, and even when both fighters found their target it was the larger Crawford that did the damage. The Cuban did look to have landed something meaningful early in the 9th round, but was clocked in a late exchange and put down with alarming force, far more heavily than at any other point in his career. He rose to his feet for the third time, but an uppercut connected within seconds, sending him to the canvas once more, giving the referee little choice but to wave it off.
What had long been thought of as an excellent fight on paper turned out to be every bit as thrilling for the casual fan. Gamboa was valiant to a fault, but Crawford once again demonstrated a remarkable ability to keep his head — even when all around him were losing theirs amidst the frenzied hometown atmosphere — and ultimately made his size advantage count when it mattered. Gamboa’s been down plenty of times before, but Crawford sent him to the canvas to finish the fight in a brutal manner no one else has come close to matching. Bigger things surely await for a man visibly growing into the role of the dominant force at lightweight, while his vanquished opponent will need to get back in the ring sooner than has been his habit if he is to remain relevant at this level. He couldn’t have been any braver tonight, but Gamboa will be ruing those wasted years when he was at the peak of his physical powers. He’s simply not a lightweight, and Crawford exposed that more conclusively than any of us expected.
TQBR had it 77-73 for Crawford at the time of the stoppage.