Photo: Ed Mulholland
By Kieran Mulvaney
There are times – such as his 2013 outing against Darleys Perez -- when Yuriorkis Gamboa can be as frustrating to watch as he is challenging to fight. There are other times, notably his two-round demolition of Rogers Mtagwa, or his four-round annihilation of Jorge Solis -- when his talent is on full display, and his combination of hand speed and power is breathtaking.
In the ring, in other words, Gamboa can be something of an enigma. Is he any less so outside the ropes? Inside HBO Boxing sat down with him (and a Spanish translator) to shed some light on Gamboa the boxer, and Gamboa the man.
I recently read an article that asked if you are too good for your own good, that you sometimes get bored in the ring. Is that fair?
I wouldn't say so much that I get bored. But I do what I need to do to win. Sometimes, whoever it is I'm dancing with knows my history and doesn't want to take a chance and we end up with a ho-hum fight.
Cuban pros are all technically gifted. What is it about Cuban system that produces such technically sound fighters?
I would say that the big thing is that, in Cuba, they make you master technique in the ring first. That might be unlike some professionals over here where it can be the other way around: they want to fight first, and then learn to box.
Why did you become a boxer?
I became a boxer because my dad was an amateur fighter in Cuba. I would go see him train, I would go see his fights, and little by little it grew on me and I began to like it myself.
Were there any boxers you idolized growing up?
[Former Cuban amateur star] Candelario Duvergel. I think he was the master technician in the ring, something a lot of people, not just myself, admired in him. Basically he was dubbed the star of the counterpunch. He was very defensive, but masterful in his counterpunches. He was very measured in his counters, much like Floyd [Mayweather] is now. He was contemporaneous with my Dad's time, and he was from my neighborhood.
Is there anyone in history you would have liked to fight?
[Eric] Griffin, an American champion; he competed in the 48 kg division. He beat a lot of Cubans and I would love to fight him. He was a very fast fighter. And in the professional ranks, I would have loved to have fought Sugar Ray Leonard. I think both of our styles would have complemented each other. I would have loved to have seen whose style would have been superior.
All these fighters had creativity, they had speed, and they were very elegant in the way they fought -- which is what I try to master in the ring. I'm not so much focused on the power. I want to do what I saw them do: fight elegantly, master the technical side of the sport, and of course, the speed.
It isn't often you hear a fighter talk at such length about the "sweet science."
Unfortunately, a lot of people don't see the sport as an art, the way that I do. In the Cuban school of boxing, they showed us that boxing is an art, to the point that you hit and don't get hit. We were pretty much drilled into appreciating that. To a certain level, you can almost compare it to a dance. And that's why you see a lot of Cuban fighters -- especially those who come up from the Cuban amateur program -- we fight with our fists and our feet.
How long did it take you to decide to come to the U.S?
I think the first time it crept into my mind was when I won the gold medal at the Olympics in 2004. At that point in my amateur career, I had reached the highest level. You can't go higher than winning Olympic gold. The only step to follow after that was turning pro and testing my skills and abilities in the professional ring.
Personally, it must have been a very difficult decision to make.
Obviously, it was a very difficult decision to make. Unfortunately for Cubans, there is absolutely no support system to help you move into the professional ranks. It was both a life-changing and a life-threatening decision at the same time.
Do you hope to be able to return one day?
What would you have done if you weren't a boxer?
I like singing. I like the hip-hop sound of singing, rap. I like that style. But I would have to say that I would have been an athlete in some shape or form. I was always a gifted athlete.
How did you end up working with 50 Cent? And what are your impressions of him?
It's kind of amusing, but I also don't think it's a coincidence, because I was a big fan of his, even back in Cuba. I just think it's part of the plan that God has for us. I always dreamed of him leading me into the ring with his lyrics, and he's done that for me twice.
When he came down out of the ceiling before your fight with Michael Farenas, that was something.
I'll never forget that. Ever. It was the first time in 50's short boxing career that he has ever come out with his fighter. And I guarantee you he won't forget it either. He's done a lot of big things, but he won't forget that. I know in the time that I've spent with him, that he's always been an admirer of the game.
Finish this sentence. I will retire from boxing when …
It is the time when God is telling me spiritually that I should leave the ring. And that's reality, because He will tell me when it is time, and I will know when He is telling me.
Is there anything fans might be surprised to know about you?
I'm a very big believer in God. I have a lot of faith in Him and His work and I have dedicated my life to Him. That's a side of me that I'm pretty sure not many people know.