COMMENTARY | Platinum-selling hip-hop star and upstart boxing promoter, 50 Cent, may have his eyes set on Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather, and the infinitely impossible mega-fight, but the short-term fate of his boxing dreams rests in the fists of a much smaller figure.
Cuban Olympic gold medalist and former featherweight world titlist, Yuriorkis Gamboa (21-0, 16 KOs), is the gem of the rapper's SMS Promotions stable. As the most accomplished and currently most marketable fighter under contract, Gamboa represents 50 Cent's move straight to boxing's main stage.
But, while Gamboa is well-known among hardcore fight fans, he's not a big draw and it's extremely unlikely that a non-English speaking, smaller-weight fighter will someday do enough to become a major force in the sport. Even with the awesome might of Bob Arum's Top Rank promotional machine behind him, Gamboa never really became a mover and shaker in the sport, at least not in terms of star power.
There's no doubt that the 31-year-old, who will turn 32 in a couple of weeks, has true pound-for-pound potential coursing through his veins. The talent is there and has been there ever since the fighter defected from his native Cuba to begin a new life in the non-Communist world. The problem is that there's a definite ceiling in boxing when it comes to the level of stardom allowed to a smaller, non-American fighter.
In the history of the sport, only Manny Pacquiao has been able to break that barrier, coming from flyweight and working his way to super-stardom as a welterweight. But Pacquiao began his trek as a teenager, was supported by 90 million rabidly loyal Filipino fans, and got a career-long boost from exposure against a score of Mexican and Mexican-American talent. Plus, Manny is Manny-- a unique talent benefited by a once-in-history alignment of the stars. Yuriorkis Gamboa is no Manny Pacquiao.
Usually, the best of the best below 135 lbs. reach a certain level of stardom and never pass it. Fighters like Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales became well-known names in the sport and earned enough money to live comfortably, but despite their obvious talent and a laundry list of outstanding performances, they never became true superstars. Even with a driving force of about 200 million Mexicans and Mexican-Americans behind them, they were only able to reach a certain level.
For Gamboa, who has no such laundry list of memorable performances in his past and only a relatively small Cuban fan base behind him, that ceiling on his potential stardom may be even lower.
Most recently, the talented fighter had to sit on the sidelines for fifteen months while legal issues surrounding his promotional ties were sorted out. Gamboa had balked at the money involved in a bout with Brandon Rios, originally scheduled for this past April, and simply walked away. The move sent then-promoter, Bob Arum into backlash mode and, for awhile, it looked as though the Cuban former world champ would be sitting out a significant chunk of his career-- Until 50 Cent came along and was allowed to buy out the remainder of Gamboa's contract.
Now, "El Ciclon de Guantánamo" is set to make his return to the ring this Saturday on the Manny Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez undercard against the pedestrian Michael Farenas. This will be 50 Cent's grand debut as a boxing promoter. Lack of a real infrastructure for his SMS Promotions company means that he has to settle for a guest spot on Bob Arum's card, but a start is a start.
Assuming Gamboa wins and 50 Cent gets plenty of camera time, all will be well in the world of the upstart promotional company. But then what?
Fighters need paydays and guys like Gamboa will be seeking million-dollar paydays. Then, it's right back to where Gamboa was before he became a hip-hop star's side project. How do you deliver quality paydays to a world class talent in a weight range where there are no marketable stars? The task will be doubly difficult for SMS Promotions, which has no history with premium cable outlets, HBO and Showtime, and no real bargaining power with which to get TV dates.
For 50 Cent, the questions are piling up even before he really gets things off the ground.
How do you keep your biggest star content when the money doesn't come rolling in? And, incidentally, how do you build a company name when your biggest star isn't all that big of a star?
Paul Magno was a licensed official in the state of Michoacan, Mexico and a close follower of the sport for more than thirty years. His work can also be found on Fox Sports and as Editor-in-Chief of The Boxing Tribune. In the past, Paul has done work for Inside Fights, The Queensberry Rules and Eastside Boxing. For breaking news, additional analysis, and assorted crazy commentary, follow him on Facebook, @TheBoxingTribune or on Twitter, @BoxingBTBC