Numerically WBO lightweight titlist Terence Crawford and challenger Yuriorkis Gamboa match up almost perfectly. Both are 23-0. Both have the same number of knockouts with 16.Each has scored six first-round knockouts and their longest knockout streak is eight fights.
But boxing is a game of perception and in that respect Crawford and Gamboa couldn't be more different. Crawford is viewed as a star on the rise, a man who came from obscurity to score a series of impressive wins on HBO that culminated in a victory over Scotland native Ricky Burns -- in Glasgow -- for the WBO lightweight title.
Meanwhile, Gamboa, once considered a superstar-in-the-making, hasn't fought in more than a year and that outing (W 12 Darley Perez) was a mind-numbing bore. Saturday's fight will only be his third since September 2011 and it has been even longer than his last impressive performance, a fourth round TKO over Jorge Solis in March 2011. At 32 he is no longer considered on the rise but rather a fighter that has passed his peak.
All that said, boxing is also the stage for surprises and, by definition, one never knows when that surprise will leap out and bite the viewer directly in his preconceived notions. Will Crawford-Gamboa be one of those fights?
Statistical factors that may determine the outcome include:
Crawford's Many Layers: During his rise to prominence, Crawford has shown himself to be someone capable of using multiple facets to achieve victory.
Against Sidney Siqueira (KO 6), Crawford used high volume (81 punches per round) and an excellent body attack (40 connects among his 101 total power shots) before applying the knockout drops. When the dust settled, he out-landed Siqueira 125-47 overall, 24-5 jabs and 101-42 power while earning a 42%-24% gap in power accuracy.
In beating Prescott and Burns he defied conventional wisdom by out-boxing the taller man and fluidly switching stances. Against Prescott he threw few punches (43.2 per round) and boxed more than he slugged (286 jabs, 146 power punches) but still out-landed him 119-71 (total), 55-35 (jabs) and 64-36 power. Crawford's jab (28.6 thrown/5.5 connects per round) outdid Prescott's (21.8/3.5). Against Burns, he upped his work rate to 67.6 per round while keeping Burns to 46, featured a more balanced attack (422 jabs, 389 power shots) but produced lopsided connect numbers (213-76 overall, 52-27 jabs, 161-49 power). The jab again was key (35.2 thrown/4.3 connects per round to Burns' 23.7/2.2).
In beating Andrey Klimov, the work rate was slightly below the 62.2 lightweight norm (60.4) but his commanding jab (36.5 thrown/8.8 connects per round) was more than enough to limit Klimov to 29 per round and also created big connect gaps of 192-57 overall, 88-29 jabs and 104-28 power en route to a clean sweep 100-90 decision.
Jekyll and Hyde: While Crawford has stylistic layers, Gamboa's are far more stark. He's either a crowd-pleasing dervish or a painfully dull stylist. More often than not, Gamboa fights as if he is at war with himself; his natural desire is to trade but his fragile chin and the wishes of his trainers compel him to rein himself in. The results have been dramatic, on both ends of the scale.
When Gamboa is in an explosive mood, he can be tremendously exciting and statistically productive. Of his 16 knockouts, 13 have come within four rounds and 10 within two. The fire runs extremely hot early and if Crawford hopes to take away Gamboa's zero in the loss column he'll have to prepare for the possibility of heavy initial pressure.
In nine CompuBox-tracked blowouts (four rounds or less) Gamboa landed 35% of his total punches and 45% of his power shots. He averaged 47 punches per round, of which 33 (70%) were either hooks, crosses or uppercuts. His best efforts came against Rogers Mtagwa (49% overall, 60% power), Gilberto Luque (61% overall, 69% power), Jorge Solis (40% overall, 45% power) and Whyber Garcia (35% overall, 47% power).
But when Gamboa is forced to go 10 or more rounds (five CompuBox-tracked fights), his output rises from 47 to 54.2 punches per round but his accuracy drops dramatically. In five such fights Gamboa landed just 25.9% of his total punches and 37.5% of his hooks, crosses and uppercuts. Once Gamboa realizes his opponent is there to stay, his attention shifts to piling up points rather than producing fight-ending pyrotechnics.
Gamboa's most recent effort against Darley Perez is typical of this trend. His work rate was 59.4 per round, which is good. But his approach yielded sub-par numbers -- 18% overall, 9% jabs and 35% power while Perez landed 31%, 30% and 33% respectively. Gamboa jabbed far more than slugged (462 jabs, 251 power shots) and Perez's punch selection was similar (209 jabs, 156 power shots). The mix made for long tedious stretches that caused the Bell Centre crowd in Montreal to either observe in silence or boo. Even worse news for Gamboa: The Perez fight was the second in a row that drew jeers instead of cheers. But in boxing there is always room for hope and Gamboa may realize that it's now or never in terms of fulfilling his vast promise.
Prediction: After Crawford wins a lopsided unanimous decision one can only ponder what might have been for Gamboa -- and what can still be for Crawford.