1000 Fights: Gamboa-Mtagwa

 Photo by Will Hart

Photo by Will Hart

By Hamilton Nolan

This Saturday, HBO Boxing airs its 1,000th fight. To commemorate the occasion, HBO Boxing Insiders selected their favorite fights from the HBO catalog and wrote about them.

January 23, 2010

In January of 2010, Yuriorkis Gamboa and I went to Madison Square Garden. It was one of the first fights I’d been to at The Garden’s theater in person, under the famous crisscrossing roof lights. Gamboa was co-headlining a card with Juan Manuel Lopez, part of Top Rank’s attempt to hype the two featherweights up for a theoretical future superfight that never happened. Gamboa had to suffer the indignity of not only having to cede the main event spot on the card to JuanMa, but also having to fight Rogers Mtagwa, a sturdy stepping-stone type from Tanzania whose last fight had been a loss to Lopez after 12 rounds.

Gamboa remedied all of the indignities in five minutes.

More: HBO Boxing Insiders Pick from 1000 Fights

This was not history’s most important fight. You might even argue that it meant little, in the grand carousel of boxing titles and belts and championships. Yet for me, it was one of those events that became stamped on my memory and shaped my understanding of what boxing could be. At the time I had just started boxing myself, and was still struggling to throw a clumsy left hook, with no semblance of grace. In Gamboa that night, I saw the very peak of the athletic mountain I was trying to climb. He was one of those fighters whose mastery of boxing had reached such a stage that he seemed to care little for the finer points of technique. He had achieved total spiritual meld with the concept of fighting. His punches were not straight; his elbows were flared; he seemed to walk in the ring rather than scamper. But when he threw punches, always in hectic flurries, they knocked Mtagwa into teetering stumbles like a man who had just walked into a powerful wind tunnel.

In the first round, Mtagwa went down from what appeared to be little more than the wind off of a Gamboa left hook. In the second round, Gamboa started doubling up his hook, pounding Mtagwa to the body and then instantly again to the side of the head. I remember my sense of awe at the sheer amount of shoulder torque necessary to not only pull off this shot--with enough speed to move a fist from body to head before Mtagwa could even move his arm a few inches to protect his cheek--but to generate enough power on the second hook to send a tough man reeling like a drunk. Gamboa, in a second round TKO win, seemed like a gorilla with cement hands fighting an outmatched human. That night established in my mind the meaning of domination in the ring.

When I rewatched the fight recently, it looked like a one-sided boxing match. But in my memory, it stands as a superhuman slaughter.