When discussing combat sports such as professional boxing and mixed martial arts, many analysts and fans concentrate heavily on styles and match ups. And yes, the fighting style of the combatants will go pretty far in helping to determine the outcome of a particular fight. It also must be noted, and not lightly, that the element of each fighters’ physicality has to be taken into account too when trying to handicap the outcome. Make that two-fold when the fighters are nearly or equally skilled.
This past weekend we saw another example of how the fighter with the superior physicality, size, strength, power and durability eventually bested the more skilled and aethetically pleasing fighter to watch. It was obvious from the first round through the middle of the fifth round that Yuriorkis Gamboa 23-1 (16) was the better technician and boxer than WBO lightweight title holder Terence Crawford 24-0 (17). Starting as early as the mid point of the first round it was blatantly apparent that Gamboa was the better boxer who also possessed better balance and punch placement than Crawford. Gamboa also owned the quicker hands, and on call was able to put his punches together more succinctly than the undefeated title holder Crawford. There were patches during the first four and a half rounds of the fight when Gamboa was getting the better of the exchanges and it didn't matter if he was pushing the fight as the attacker or was stepping back and fighting as the counter-puncher. The bottom line was, Gamboa was getting the better of Crawford early and nobody, at least who knows what they're watching, would dispute that.
Then something happened during the fifth round that changed the fight completely and from that moment on it was only a matter of time before Crawford would be celebrating with his hands raised in victory. Sure, some will point to Crawford switching to his southpaw stance in the second round as the key. However, Crawford clearly lost the third, fourth and was losing the fifth round until he nailed Gamboa real good, after being a little shook himself, with a big counter that hurt and dropped Yuriorkis. After that Gamboa was fighting up hill against Crawford's straight shots and nicely placed counters.
Actually, after being hurt, Gamboa tried to pick up the pace and in a subtle way attempted to impose his will on Crawford, as if to say, "Yeah, you dropped me but I'm still the better man and more explosive puncher in here." Only the problem was, that hastened Gamboa's exit because he began to come straight in without any variation to his attack. And this did two things. First, it caused Gamboa to panic because he felt the physical strain of trying to hold off the bigger and stronger Crawford and was hoping to put something on him so he wouldn't be walked down with impunity. Secondly, coming straight in left Yuriorkis a sitting duck for Crawford's straight one-twos, which froze him in his tracks just long enough for Crawford to land the fight altering uppercuts and hooks to the chin which ultimately ended the fight in his favor with 36 seconds left in the ninth round.
During the first third of the bout Gamboa caught Crawford with some beautiful hooks and right hands to the chin, which should've had Crawford in full retreat, only they didn't. Had Crawford been a little less durable and strong, there's a great chance he'd be the former WBO title holder today. But he was just too big and physically strong for Gamboa. The style change to the southpaw stance was nice from a technical vantage point, however, if his superior physicality wasn't there to carry him through he wouldn't have been around to get off the counters he did starting in the fifth round. And even after the switch to southpaw, Gamboa was able to find him and nail him real good. So don't think the switch to southpaw carried the day because it was only a part of it.
Crawford's tactical change was executed successfully because Gamboa didn't have quite enough size and power to finish Terence before he could box and time Gamboa on the way in. The fact that Crawford could hurt Gamboa when he landed clean and Gamboa really couldn't hurt him when he connected, was huge. Granted, Crawford is a skilled boxer and a fundamentally sound fighter, but he can't box or put his punches together on the same level as Gamboa. The Crawford-Gamboa clash was another example where the better skilled fighter couldn't overcome the physicality of a bigger and stronger but lesser gifted and skilled fighter.
Fight plans are great. Strategy along with X's and O's are nice on paper and on film, but fights are won when the fighters touch hands. And it all comes down to who is skilled and strong enough to execute what they want to do more so than the other fighter. The most dangerous fighters are the highly skilled ones who also possess great physical strength and durability.
Yuriokis Gamboa wasn't physical enough, despite his vast skill abundance, to overcome Terence Crawford's physicality and strength but lesser skill and ability. And Crawford's size and strength allowed him to implement his southpaw style and that strategic implementation cleared the path for him to use his physical tools over the slowed and hurt Gamboa.
Another point regarding the Crawford-Gamboa bout is this… the less accomplished fighter won mostly on size and strength, and that might be worth thinking about when handicapping the upcoming Alvarez-Lara fight. I think we might wind up seeing the same type of result.
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com