LAS VEGAS – Yuriorkis Gamboa is a hard man to overshadow. He's one of the world's most dynamic fighters and he put on a stellar show Saturday by routing Orlando Salido at the Palms to retain the World Boxing Association featherweight title and win the International Boxing Federation belt.
Gamboa had nothing to apologize for after knocking down Salido twice, outlanding him by 120 punches and winning at least nine rounds on all of the judges' cards.
Yet after the HBO-televised card had ended, Brandon Rios, not Gamboa, was the primary topic of conversation.
Rios outslugged Anthony Peterson in a sensational lightweight contest that ended when it appeared a beaten and wearied Peterson was looking for a way out. Peterson hit Rios low four times and referee Russell Mora took away two points in the seventh round. The fourth, just before the bell in the seventh, was one too many, as Mora justifiably disqualified Peterson.
The win vaults Rios into the upper tier of lightweights, heady company for a 24-year-old whom his promoter, Bob Arum, said was "a screw-up" as recently as two years ago.
"Back in the day, I was a troublemaker, I have to admit," Rios said, beaming, after the performance of a lifetime in improving his record to 25-0-1. "I believe at one time, Top Rank wanted to drop me because they didn't know if I was really serious about boxing. I was always in and out of trouble, never at home. But I got over that and I put the past behind me."
He was anything but a screw-up in the ring Saturday, manhandling a world-class opponent. He was raking Peterson with a blistering right uppercut and a quick left hook behind it from the fight's early moments. The action was fever-pitched for most of the match, bringing the near-sellout crowd to its feet frequently.
Each man landed a lot of clean, hard shots – "At one point, he hit me with a hook and I heard this buzzing when I went back to the corner," Rios said with a chuckle – but Rios' shots were harder and took more of a toll as the fight wore on.
"You saw a terrific night of boxing here and that's exactly what we want our 'Boxing After Dark' programs to look like," HBO Sports executive Kery Davis said. "They were good, young fighters in there in action-packed fights. We like to see new stars born on 'Boxing After Dark,' and I think we got one tonight in Brandon Rios."
Rios, who was ahead 68-62 on all three scorecards at the time of the disqualification, is going to get himself a major fight. He was winning fights on talent but impressing no one along the way until trainer Roberto Garcia pulled him aside for a heart-to-heart.
Garcia had heard Top Rank wasn't happy about Rios finding trouble so frequently and told him frankly that he wouldn't amount to anything if he didn't begin to clean up his life and take boxing seriously.
The result has been a dramatic turnaround. He had won his last six fights by knockout entering Saturday's match, and he grabbed his biggest victory by defeating the previously unbeaten Peterson.
"He trains with a lot of world champions and former champions and he looks at himself and he looks at them and he realized, I think, that he could do it, too," said former world champion Fernando Vargas, who like Rios is from Oxnard, Calif. "Being with those guys and training with them every day gave him a lot of confidence and he could see that he had the ability to do it, too."
No one doubted main-event fighter Gamboa's ability, and he proved why he's considered by some to be the world's best featherweight. He was knocked down in the eighth round in what essentially was a fluke. He hurt Salido and was beginning to move forward to pour on the pressure when Salido winged a right that caught Gamboa off-balance and dropped him.
Gamboa, though, quickly bounced up and continued his dominance. He decked Salido twice in the 12th, but he is fortunate he escaped with the win. After the second knockdown, as Salido was on all fours in the corner, Gamboa hit Salido with a cheap shot in the back of the head. If Salido had said he was unable to continue, Gamboa would have been disqualified. But Salido opted to continue to fight and Gamboa closed it out.
He won by scores of 116-109, 115-109 and 114-109. Yahoo! Sports also scored it 115-109 in favor of Gamboa.
The bout keeps alive hopes of what would be a scintillating match with World Boxing Organization champion Juan Manuel Lopez. Lopez, who attended Saturday's fight, has a Nov. 6 date with Rafael Marquez, but said he's certain he could handle Gamboa should they meet.
"It was a real war," Lopez said of Gamboa-Salido. "I said Salido would be a tough guy, a dangerous guy, but I never doubted Gamboa would beat him. He can't lose, because we still have to fight.
"He's a great fighter, very fast, but we saw some things we can work with. The night we fight, it will be a war, but the best guy will win it and that's me."
Gamboa smiled and nodded, knowing his biggest work is yet ahead of him. Lopez has to fight twice more, in November against Marquez and then in early 2011 against an unnamed opponent, while Gamboa has one more fight before Arum pairs them.
Gamboa has long been an offensive juggernaut, but Saturday's bout might have been his best as a professional. He was far less wild than he has been and had a much tighter defense than he showed in his previous 17 fights. Salido connected on just 140 of 759 punches, according to CompuBox, a not-so-hot 18 percent. Gamboa landed 260 of 738, connecting at a far better 35 percent.
"I would have to say this is one of my greatest fights, particularly since it was against a very good opponent," said Gamboa, the 2004 Olympic gold medalist from Cuba. "I didn't expect anything less. It was a great night for me."
It was, but on this night, he had to take a step back because Rios stole the show. Rios is hardly a household name yet, but if he keeps fighting the way he did Saturday, you can bet his name is going to be well known very quickly.
"Fight like that all the time and he's going to get a lot of big fights," Arum said. "Believe me, he won't be begging for them if he keeps that up."