Critical Mass: Early Questions About Gamboa – Rios

On April 14th, featherweight Yuriorkis Gamboa is scheduled to face lightweight rancor Brandon Rios. At first glance this is a delectable dialectic of speed, power, size, and strength that promises drama and excitement. While the foregone conclusion becomes increasingly normative in big fights, Gamboa – Rios doesn’t lend itself particularly well to prognostication. The difficulty in predicting an outcome hinges primarily on how both fighters will respond to being lightweights. The influence of the scale betrays the fact that at 135lbs neither fighter may be operating at his optimum weight.

Gamboa will be moving up two divisions to challenge for the title Rios lost on the scales. If he chooses to bulk up to increase his strength and durability, this added mass could prove problematic. The Cuban is a dense and muscular featherweight; the question of whether he can add enough functional size to be an effective lightweight is a legitimate one. Even if he adds the weight properly, his superlative speed stands to be encumbered by the added bulk. His hands will remain blindingly fast regardless of the increase in size, he could hold ten pound dumbbells and still throw faster than Rios. But for a fighter whose defence is predicated on movement both the decrease in speed and the tax of maneuvering a heavier body about the canvas could prove his undoing. This threat is exacerbated both by Gamboa’s tendency to become increasingly skittish later in fights—when he holsters his most spectacular weapons—and Rios’ traditionally strong finish. To be stationary against Rios is suicide. If Gamboa’s intrepid first venture north is accompanied by an inability to evade a hard charging Rios, what transpired in the early rounds will probably be rendered moot by Rios’ inexorable artillery.

Of course, Gamboa may transition seamlessly into the lightweight division. Rather than focus on crafting a lightweight’s body, he may simply allow his frame to expand naturally. Instead of whittling down to 135lbs, he could approach the fight with the intention of barely surpassing the lightweight limit by the time he starts his ring walk. The threat here is that he will then be facing a fighter who is two weight divisions larger. Gamboa will retain all of his dynamism, but concede every possible size advantage to his opponent—an opponent whose style is predicated on capitalizing on those very same advantages.

Rios faces his own challenges with the lightweight division. He has profited from essentially fighting as a welterweight: his durability and power stem from his massive size and the fact that he exchanges blows with fighters he dwarfs. Rios’ body however, seems increasingly less willing to cooperate. In his last fight, when he was stripped of his title for failing to make weight, Rios looked like an achromatic adumbration of himself. He has obstinately remained at lightweight to exploit his natural advantages, but the demands of a maturing body are even more refractory. Perhaps Rios’ struggles with the scale speak more to his preparation and commitment than they do his physiology. Ultimately, determining why Rios finds making weight so challenging is a secondary matter to this enterprise. What is relevant is the fact that, regardless of the explanation, making 135lbs could have a detrimental impact on Rios’ performance.

It may be that Rios’ last fight—where he was stripped of his title for failing to make weight—was an aberration, and that the circumstances that produced his first fight of that weekend have been rectified. However, it is just as possible that those struggles were the death knell of his term at lightweight. On that weekend in April, the battle with the scale may be the only one he can fight.

The questions posed by the lightweight limit present a number of outcomes. Rios, if he makes weight without exhausting himself, seems durable enough to absorb the speed and power of a recent featherweight. However, if Rios again endures attrition on the scale the argument for a Gamboa victory becomes increasingly more plausible. If both men struggle at lightweight an even fight may break out, but the counterbalance will be negative: neither fighter will be at his best, robbing the contest of some of its appeal. Regardless of what transpires between the ropes, the scale will probably factor heavily in the outcome. (Especially if Rios fails to make weight and Gamboa walks—which is exactly what he should do under those circumstances.)

With the scale come excuses.

If Rios wins many will attribute his victory to an insurmountable size discrepancy. And how much credit does he deserve for beating a featherweight moving up two divisions to fight him? If Gamboa wins, Rios apologists will say he outgrew the division and Gamboa merely finished what the scale started. None of these narratives may prove true, but the fact that they can so easily be appropriated by the overarching storyline of the fight speaks to the complexity of the contest.

Given this myriad of questions, Gamboa – Rios is undeniably intriguing. That Gamboa has the audacity to challenge a masquerading welterweight without first acclimatizing to the lightweight division should be applauded. This is not Jones – Ruiz: Rios is arguably the best lightweight in the world if Juan Manuel Marquez campaigns at junior-welterweight. He is certainly the biggest bruiser on the block. Perhaps Gamboa sensed that his development as a draw has stagnated in its infancy and he thought it best to seize the boxing world’s imagination. It could be that he thinks Rios plays to his strengths stylistically. It’s a perilous move regardless, and his bravery should be celebrated. This is prize fighting—and Gamboa is big game hunting.


10 thoughts on “Critical Mass: Early Questions About Gamboa – Rios

  1. Rios should win this. How much credit he deserves, not sure. I’ll be happy just to see a good fight. Gamboa, “if” he loses can still win depending on how he performs. I have a hunch that I’ll have a ton more respect for him after fight. Rios’ Mexican berserker schtick should still work and Robert Garcia will still maintain his status as the Professor Xavier of cavemen.

    This fight has all the makings of a violent spectacle, not sure it’s appeal will be diminished by the weight issues, at least for me. As AF said the other night, you have to give Gamboa a lot of credit for seeking this fight out. With his frame I really don’t know how he puts on functional weight and manages to maintain what makes him “Gamboa.” Perhaps, as you say he’ll come in a little lighter? Either way, Rios is a huge lightweight and although he’s sort of basic….he’s not exactly a stick in the mud. His skills are probably a little better than I’d like to give him credit for, he does put his punches together nicely. But that is an easier trick to pull when you are fighting guys much smaller and/or who don’t have much tread on the tire. Hopefully for Gamboa’s sake, Steward can do something about his jab and lack of head movement. If not, that ring will seem awfully small. Gamboa just turned 30, it might be hard to teach him any new tricks and age might also be a factor in how he manages the additional weight.

    1. I’m confused by this fight. The first edit of this was a rudderless ship until AF provided some much needed guidance.

      Agreed, Rios should win this one, but if it’s so clear that that’s the case, why is everyone so excited about the fight? There more I think about it, the more I’m inclined to think Gamboa doesn’t really stand a chance (unless Rios has to lobotomize the last of the walnut buried beneath his skull to make weight.) But then why did Gamboa push for it? And how does he keep that neanderthal off him? And can he even hurt him? I, like you, imagine I’ll see Gamboa in a more favourable light regardless of the outcome (though I’m already a fan.)

      These guys are gonna look like the Kibbles n’ Bits dogs when they get in the ring, and unless Gamboa is something special, Rios should get the stoppage. Seems rational to me, but people are excited about this fight. Maybe I’m not seeing something beyond my dislike of “the Professor Xavier of Cavemen” and Rios’ trouble with math inhibiting his portion control?

      If Gamboa stops the rancor I will lose my shit.

  2. Hey Jimmy,

    Mental Midget vs the Midget

    I really like this fight. Lots of intrigue and differing variables at play. Big differences in size, speed, and ring skill. My first reaction to this fight is not unlike it was for PAC-DeLaHoya. The little guy is dead. But the more I think about it, the more I start believing Gamboa will win. He’s much more skilled, much faster and as long as the ring isn’t 10 x 10, I think he’ll have enough gas in the tank to finish the fight. The big concern for me is what you alluded to, how can Gamboa put on another 10lbs? Seems close to maxed out now. As for Rios, I love watching him fight, all heart and good skill, but torturing his body like this is bound to catch up to him. Will it be this fight, I have a feeling it will be.

    1. Hey Scott,

      You’re right, there are definitely a lot of variables at play, and that number stands to increase as the contracts are negotiated. The point about ring size is a good one: if I’m Gamboa I make sure that canvas is a s large as possible. I’d also like a fight day weight restriction and I’d walk if Rios didn’t meet those stipulations. Of course, if Gamboa wants to be a fucking bad ass he just says “fuck it, serve him to me,” and leaves all the negotiable advantages out of it. That’s what I really want. That’s a savage power move.

      You, me, and JPF have all expressed this concern about Gamboa beefing up. But my friend Andy Fruman thinks Gamboa just comes in around 138 to retain every natural advantage. That makes much more sense to me, and I’m hoping this is the game plan for Team Gamboa. Another thing I’d do if I’m Gamboa is not load up on each shot. He won’t want to run out of fumes like Cotto did against Margarito – no sense in swinging for the fences if you’re only getting doubles out of it.

      Eventually making 135 is going to cost Rios – if we knew why he struggled we’d be able to better predict when that moment happens. I think it’s physiology and an overrated trainer. I can’t back it up, but that’s my hunch. Gamboa is a much a Jedi as anyone in the sport, and Luke beat the Rancor with speed and strategy – Gamboa can do this, with all the right variables. I hope you’re right: I hope those variables manifest in this fight.

      1. JET/Scott

        SC over at BLH seems to share the same opinion on this as AF, I respect both of those guys, so there’s got to be something they see. I’m picking Rios, but I don’t see Gamboa as a no-hoper. For me, the problem is that while Gamboa is fun to watch and is clearly talented, I’m just not sold on him being “special.” He might be. But I haven’t seen any of the intangibles that allowed Pacquiao to overcome his technical shortcomings and all that. Sounds crazy, but he reminds me a bit of Berto. Fortunately he doesn’t have a twitter, or at least one that I know of.

  3. JPF/Skillz

    Yeah, I defer to the experts re: Gamboa’s intended weight. He is like Berto in a lot of ways, so it’s probably a good thing he doesn’t speak English. I wanna go to this fight, so I certainly don’t think he’s a no-hoper. I also don’t think I’m looking at someone “special.” But if you wanna find him on Twitter, I think this is his account @ElciclonCubano…unless it’s bullshit…which is what most athletes tweet about anyway, so no loss.

      1. JPF, Jimmy

        I do see some Gamboa/Berto comparisons both physically and skill wise. I think Gamboa has a much higher ceiling though, but I don’t think he has the drive needed to truly be “special”. I think his recent performances have show some complacency and he will need every bit of focus if he is to beat Rios, who I think is ripe to be beaten.

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