Yuriorkis Gamboa jumps two weight classes to face Brandon Rios for WBA lightweight title

Yuriorkis Gamboa has been longing for a big fight, and the 2004 Olympic gold medalist got it on Thursday, in more ways than one.

Gamboa, a former featherweight world champion, will jump to lightweight to face ex-champion Brandon Rios on April 14 in an early Fight of the Year contender that will be televised by HBO from the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas. The bout will be for the vacant World Boxing Association lightweight belt.

Rios not only will be the biggest man Gamboa has faced, but it will be the most significant bout in both of their young careers.

Gamboa once held two featherweight belts.
(Hunter Martin/Getty Images)

Gamboa, 30, will be jumping two weight classes to meet Rios, who had been expected to jump from lightweight to super lightweight after his last fight. Rios, 25, lost his WBA title on the scales on Dec. 2 in New York when he failed to make the 135-pound limit for a Dec. 3 title defense against John Murray.

His weight-cut problems were documented in the debut of a new feature done by HBO Sports that aired first on Feb. 4, “2 Days: Portrait of a Fighter.” HBO had behind-the-scenes footage of Rios’ struggles to attempt to make the weight, which he ultimately failed to do three times. The fight went on, with Rios (29-0-1, 22 KOs) winning by 11th-round stoppage, though he had to surrender his belt because he did not make weight.

He’ll have an opportunity to win it back against Gamboa (21-0, 16 KOs), who won the gold medal at flyweight for Cuba in Athens in the 2004 Olympics. Rios’ management team believes part of his issue in missing the weight in New York had been that he trained in Mexico for the bout and didn’t have a dedicated strength and conditioning coach working with him.

“He worked hard there, but he didn’t have a strength and conditioning coach with him and he just ate everything,” Rios manager Cameron Dunkin said. “That whole camp was just crazy, but he’s going to do things right and he’ll have no issue.”

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Gamboa, who was frustrated by his inability to land a super fight with former featherweight champion Juan Manuel Lopez, finally opted to call out Rios last year after a victory over Daniel Ponce de Leon in Atlantic City, N.J.

The bout pits two of the most offensive-oriented fighters in the game. Gamboa arguably has the fastest hands in the sport and has used those to become one of the sport’s elite fighters. He’s ranked 12th in the latest Yahoo! Sports rankings.

One of his weaknesses, though, has been that he has been so offensive – he has been easy to hit and he has been dropped four times in his career. He has won each of those, but he never has faced anyone nearly as big or as heavy-handed as Rios.

It’s a risk to move up two classes and take on a solid puncher like Rios, but Gamboa promoter Ahmet Ohner is unconcerned.

“Gamboa is a special fighter,” Ohner said. “This is the fight where everyone is going to see he is a rising Cuban star. This is his place, 135 pounds. He will not go in as the underdog.”

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Kevin Iole covers boxing and mixed martial arts for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Kevin a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Thursday, Feb 16, 2012