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Yuriorkis Gamboa's boxing career a cautionary tale of wasted opportunity, talent

Yuriorkis Gamboa
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Yuriorkis Gamboa, left, with his promoter Curtis '50 Cent' Jackson. (AP Photo)

Something has always seemed off with Yuriorkis Gamboa.

He's got talent, and loads of it. One wouldn't need all the fingers on one hand to count the number of fighters who possess more physical gifts than Gamboa.

He's extraordinarily fast and quick. He hits hard. He moves well. He punches in combination.

And yet, nearly 10 full years after he won the flyweight gold medal at the Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, Gamboa is still searching for his professional identity.

He'll challenge Terence "Bud" Crawford on Saturday at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Neb., for Crawford's WBO lightweight title belt in the main event of a Top Rank card televised by HBO.

But despite a perfect 23-0 record, Gamboa feels sort of like a failure, as if he didn't do all he could.

He hasn't had a truly significant fight in his career and made an odd decision to pass on a 2012 fight with Brandon Rios from which he still hasn't seemed to recover.

Rios went on to compete in a pair of epic matches with Mike Alvarado and earn a big-money bout against Manny Pacquiao in the aftermath. It's no stretch to suggest it easily could have been Gamboa in the ring with Pacquiao, not Rios.

Gamboa, who defected from Cuba and fought his early pro career in Germany, isn't willing to accept the blame.

When it came time to sign a contract to face Rios or move on, Gamboa inexplicably showed up in Floyd Mayweather's gym. When the proposed promotional company that Mayweather and rapper Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson were discussing never formed, Gamboa signed with Jackson's SMS Promotions.

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Yuriorkis Gamboa, left, defeated Darleys Perez in his last fight in June 2013. (AP Photo)

Yuriorkis Gamboa, left, defeated Darleys Perez in his last fight in June 2013. (AP Photo)

Whether Jackson will eventually turn out to be a good promoter remains in question, but he has done little to keep Gamboa active. After Gamboa won a technical decision over Daniel Ponce de Leon on Sept. 10, 2011, he didn't fight again for 15 months.

He won a fight over Michael Farenas in Las Vegas in December 2012, but then fought only once in 2013. It's ridiculous for a guy with his ability and his money-making potential to fight so infrequently, but it's the way Gamboa has allowed his career to be handled.

He wouldn't take an ounce of the blame when pressed for reasons why he's been so inactive.

"It's not for a lack of trying," he said. "You'll have to ask the promoters. I've been putting my name out there in social media and challenging everyone to step up."

Clearly, that's a cop out. Twitter isn't the place where fights are made and there are plenty of fighters who are all over social media who manage to fight regularly.

Gamboa won't get specific, but he said "the contract wasn't right" to face Rios and was critical of Top Rank for not getting a fight done with Juan Manuel Lopez.

Top Rank CEO Bob Arum deserves some of the blame for that not happening, but that was four years ago. After Lopez defeated Steven Luevano and Gamboa beat Rogers Mtagwa on the same card on Jan. 23, 2010, there was an outcry for Lopez and Gamboa to fight each other.

Arum, though, declined to make the fight, saying he wanted to "let it marinate" and build each fighter up more so the bout would be worth more money. But then Lopez lost twice to Orlando Salido, Gamboa balked at a Rios fight and the two never got into the ring against each other.

"Let's be honest here," Gamboa said of the talks for a fight with Lopez. "Lopez was Puerto Rican and there is more money in a Puerto Rican than there is in a Cuban, so they protected him.

"We wanted that fight, but we were on the outside looking in. They didn't want Lopez to lose because they thought he was a cash cow and they knew what would happen."

There is some truth to that, but Gamboa isn't taking enough of the blame himself. He's had problems getting big fights done regularly, no matter the promoters involved.

Boxing is a strange business and one can never say never, particularly when a guy has oodles of talent like Gamboa, but the fight with Crawford has the feeling of a last-gasp opportunity for the Cuban.

If he doesn't beat Crawford to win the belt, why would any other fighters want to waste their time with him? He's taken guys down to the wire in negotiations and then not stepped up.

And with the public, when you're out of sight, you're out of mind, and Gamboa's inactivity has essentially taken away much of his allure.

But he says all the right things about facing Crawford and insists he's going to put on a show. He didn't look particularly good the last time he was seen in a boxing ring, a little more than a year ago when he defeated Darleys Perez on June 8, 2013.

A motivated, hungry Gamboa is good for the sport. He's an entertaining guy to watch and has the talent to give anyone in and around his weight class a good fight.

But others have seemed to want it more than he does.

He seems content playing the role of a star.

It's about time he becomes one.

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