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Since dangerously sneaking away from his Cuban boxing team and crossing the border of Venezuela into Colombia, the mercurial Yuri Gamboa is driven toward stardom. World titles are good but star treatment means so much more.

That’s why he signed with music mogul 50 Cent, a star. Can it rub off?

Talent doesn’t always mean star treatment as the Cuban speedster has discovered. For all of the amateur accolades and professional wins without a loss, the ability to fill a 12,000-seat arena has escaped him. But he’s very close.

Gamboa (23-0 16 Kos) faces newly crowned WBO lightweight champion Terence Crawford (23-0, 16 Kos) and though a win boosts his status, it’s not a signature fight. HBO televises the world title fight from Omaha, Nebraska on Saturday June 28.

Ticket sellers make the big money in boxing. Gamboa sought a fight with popular undefeated Mikey Garcia knowing that a win would open eyes. After hounding the Mexican-American fighter for more than a year, negotiations suddenly collapsed.

“It was legal issues,” said Gamboa.

Top Rank claims that it was Gamboa’s insistence on more money. Others claim it was Garcia’s looking to change portions on his contract. The Cuban prizefighter has been forced to wait like an unmarried man whose friends have all been betrothed.

Loaded with talent, Gamboa, through necessity, needed to take the fight. It could be the most difficult challenge of his career.

Crawford zoomed up the rankings with three decisive wins over Breidis Prescott, Alejandro Sanabria, and undefeated Andrey Klimov. Then he flew to Scotland to challenge and defeat Ricky Burns in his home country. Anyone who fights and wins a title in another country can claim big britches. Those Americans today who can claim a similar feat are Tim Bradley, Robert “The Ghost Guerrero, Steve Cunningham, and a few others.

“I just look at myself as an all-around fighter,” said Crawford, 26, during a telephone conference call. “I just feel that I’m flexible.”

Crawford and Gamboa both have speed and agility. In the past the Cuban has been knocked down but jumps back up like a Jack-in-the Box. He once explained that he realized boxing fans like knockouts and rumbles. So he adapted the pressure style and holds back his box and move tactics for when he absolutely needs it. But he always goes for a knockout.

“People like to see fights with knockouts,” said Gamboa. “If I wanted to box all day I could win every fight easily, but fans don’t like that.”

Crawford can box and move too.

“It’s going to be a good challenge. He’s a good fighter like myself,” Crawford said.

Gamboa needs a win badly to edge up the ladder toward stardom and financial success. One thing going for the 33-year-old Cuban is talent and the savvy business mind of promoter 50 Cent. Somehow he’s managed to find success in everything he does and now he’s maneuvering into the cutthroat world of boxing.

The talented Gamboa does not deny Crawford could be dangerous. But he has one thing in his back pocket that he feels can’t be taught.

“I would say that my boxing IQ is very high and a lot of people underestimate me,” Gamboa said.

Expect a tactical fight if Gamboa can’t knockout the speedy Crawford early in the fight. So far Gamboa has been able to navigate through every dangerous portal. Will Omaha be his Waterloo?


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