There's reason to wait for Gamboa-Lopez

Kevin Iole
Yahoo! Sports
Juan Manuel Lopez (above) is the man most fans want to see fight Yuriorkis Gamboa. But there is good reason to wait

There's reason to wait for Gamboa-Lopez

Juan Manuel Lopez (above) is the man most fans want to see fight Yuriorkis Gamboa. But there is good reason to wait

Timothy Bradley and Devon Alexander could have sold 80,000 tickets to their Jan. 29 super lightweight unification fight at the Pontiac Silverdome, engaged in the Fight of the Century and set ratings records on HBO and it would have done nothing to help move a featherweight showdown between Yuriorkis Gamboa and Juan Manuel Lopez closer to reality.

But the fact that the Bradley-Alexander fight was a bomb in virtually every way – in the ring, at the gate and in the ratings – has given promoters a built-in excuse to put off the Gamboa-Lopez fight even further.

Other than perhaps the welterweight fight the world demands, between pound-for-pound king Manny Pacquiao and the unbeaten former No. 1, Floyd Mayweather Jr., there is no better fight that can be made in boxing than Gamboa-Lopez.

And though Gamboa and Lopez have nowhere near the name value or marketability of Pacquiao and Mayweather, a fight between them would likely be more enthralling to watch than Pacquiao-Mayweather.

Top Rank, which promotes both Gamboa, the World Boxing Association featherweight champion and 2004 Olympic gold medalist, and Lopez, the unbeaten World Boxing Organization featherweight champion, has opted to wait.

Gamboa, 19-0, is a dazzling combination of speed and power who has been one of boxing's elite fighters since the day he defected from Cuba and turned professional in 2007. He won a world championship less than two years into his career and 10 of his 15 knockouts have come in either the first or second round.

He's won decisions in his last two fights, but he's a guy who comes looking for the knockout early and often.

But instead of fighting Lopez, No. 9 in the Yahoo! Sports pound-for-pound rankings, Gamboa will meet Jorge Solis on Saturday in the main event of an HBO-televised doubleheader Saturday at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.

Solis is no stiff; he gave Pacquiao a good fight on April 14, 2007, before being stopped in the eighth round and currently holds the WBA's interim super featherweight champion, one division above where he'll meet Gamboa.

Solis, though, is not Lopez, and that's the issue that bothers boxing fans. But Top Rank has decided to take the slow road, hoping to build Gamboa and Lopez into more recognizable personalities before putting them in against each other.

"When you see Gamboa fight, you see incredible natural ability that is very Roy Jones-esque," Top Rank president Todd duBoef said. "He has speed and power in both hands that are not seen too often in this sport. What he needs now is the ring experience. We are also working on his marketability. People need to see him fight more often and need to see him out there more often, not just to show the great gifts that he has, but to show them against tough competition.

"That's how guys get known. Those performances are what will captivate the consumers, fight fans and the media."

The failure of the Bradley-Alexander fight to live up to its billing, as well as Gamboa's own indifference, have made it easier for Top Rank to put the potential Gamboa-Lopez slugfest on ice.

Gamboa said on a conference call Thursday that he doesn't "feel rushed to make that fight" with Lopez.

As a result, duBoef followed the script first laid out by Top Rank chairman Bob Arum about 15 months ago, when he said he was going to let the bout percolate. Given that, while duBoef said he's thinking about the Gamboa-Lopez fight, he wouldn't speculate when it might occur.

"I wouldn't say that (Gamboa-Lopez) is not on the radar," duBoef said. "I would say that the business models around the two of them are separate and I think there is time to build the fight into a really big fight and the time, both fighters will benefit from … so that we maximize the interest. We saw a recent fight between Alexander and Bradley that was a little early for it to happen. We all talk about when (Oscar) De La Hoya fought (Felix) Trinidad (in 1999), that bout captivated everybody.

"I think there is something in between, to build up the marketability of both fighters, fighting good fights along the way and building up demand. I don't think we do well with timelines. We do well building businesses around both fighters and when it's ready to go, it's ready to go. We have seen them both progress substantially over the past 12 months and their ratings have grown over both premium networks, and we've seen interest grow from people in the community. Yuri got a late start and has moved rather quickly to a high level of fighting and he delivered. We have to take into consideration his marketability as he moves up."

Top Rank vice president Carl Moretti said that if Gamboa wins, the company would try to make a bout with Chris John, who, in the zany world of sanctioning body politics, also holds a WBA featherweight belt. That, though, may be even more difficult to get done than a Gamboa-Lopez fight, since John, who is 44-0-2, appears to want to fight more in his native Indonesia and in Asia rather than in the U.S.

DuBoef said it would be difficult to send Gamboa to Indonesia to fight John, given that the company's top goal is to increase Gamboa's marketability in the U.S.

As a result, Gamboa and Lopez are going to remain on parallel paths, possibly for more than a year, without fighting each other. Top Rank had put them together in separate bouts on a pay-per-view card from New York in October 2009 with the intention of perhaps building interest in a match in early 2010 between them.

But then, they followed that up by putting them again in separate bouts on the same card on an HBO show from New York in January 2010.

And after that bout, Arum said he owed it to the fighters to delay a match between them in order to maximize their earnings. The more successful they are and the more popular they become, he reasons, the more they'll ultimately earn when they do meet.

"I want to hear you guys ask me that question (about when they'll fight) over and over and over," Arum told Yahoo! Sports at the time. "Because then I know they're taking care of their business and we're doing our jobs. They're terrific young fighters and terrific kids, but this fight is going to be huge one day. If I just threw them in there now, yeah, you'd love it and it would be a great fight, but it wouldn't do the kind of business it's going to do a while from now. "Believe me when I tell you, down the road a fight between these two guys is going to be huge. You watch."

It's a risk, because an injury could derail the bout forever. Get prepared to wait and beg, though. If the Bradley-Alexander disaster did anything, it convinced Arum to sell no fight before its time.

There's going to be plenty of talk about Gamboa and Lopez throughout 2011, but sadly, it won't be about them fighting each other.

We've heard this story before. And though the failure to make the Pacquiao-Mayweather fight has raised the ire of more than a few customers, it's also, in an odd sort of way, created more demand for it.

Arum and duBoef are betting the same thing will happen, albeit on a significantly lesser scale, for a potential Gamboa-Lopez fight.

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