Gambler’s Dilemma: Should Arum go for Lopez-Gamboa right away?

by Andrew Harrison | - Bob Arum had hit pay dirt.

Faced with crafting a mega-fight between two exceptional talents, Arum had encountered a snag. Expert opinion favoured one half of the duo disproportionately over the other and unless the Top Rank supremo could convince his audience that it was more of a two horse race than was being advertised, an inevitable classic would be saddled with undervalued ticket sales..

In an attempt to put a bit of slap on the contest, the decision was made to showcase both men together on a double-header; if the public still needed the fight to be sold to them, it was time to liven up the pitch.

The guy most were picking as the likely victor, one of whom had started to attain an air of invincibility, was thrown in with a tough African, a limited fighter looked upon as having little more than a puncher’s chance. The long shot meanwhile, a dynamic hitter with questionable whiskers and a kill or be kill style, was matched against an opponent he too was expected to best.

In the event, the favourite found himself embroiled in a gruelling war whilst the underdog scored a dynamic stoppage victory. As suddenly as that, the odds had flip flopped and Arum’s smouldering
super-fight had just caught fire.

The year was 1986.

Last weekend’s “Latin Fury 12” card saw Juan Manuel Lopez’s reputation take a bit of a hit on the same evening that his prospective opponent, Cuban hotshot Yuriorkis Gamboa’s spiked, just as it was in March ’86 when Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Tommy Hearns duelled on the same bill in Caesar’s Palace, Las Vegas. 

That evening, Hagler (who had knocked the Kronk puncher senseless last time out after three rounds of savagery and mayhem) found himself ambushed and pushed to his limit by the number one middleweight contender, John ‘The Beast’ Mugabi, before managing to gut out a win throughout eleven soul searching rounds. Hearns meanwhile, blew out the undefeated NABF middleweight champion James ‘Black Gold’ Shuler in just 73 seconds. The proposed rematch no longer looked a certain retread.

Fast forward 23 years.

In a fight of the year candidate, JuanMa found himself sucked into a life and death struggle with Rogers Mtagwa, nicking a majority decision despite coming perilously close to being knocked out on more than one occasion. Gamboa meanwhile, looked a million bucks with a four round wipe-out of Whyber Garcia. Different fighters, different eras, different weights and different levels…….same promoter however and a similar result for Arum’s Top Rank outfit.

The double-header idea is a familiar promotional tool which has reaped dividends over the years despite the inherent gamble it involves.

In 1981, Top Rank Inc in tandem with Astrodome Championship Enterprises, promoted a card in Texas which pitted WBA welter boss Hearns against the unranked Pablo Baez underneath WBC counterpart Leonard’s challenge to the tough Ayub Kalule for the Ugandan’s WBA light middle belt. Both welterweight legends looked sensational; Leonard despatching Kalule in nine with a fierce right-left-right salvo whilst Hearns lowered the boom on Baez in four.

Despite helping to serve up the final appetiser, Arum missed out to Main Events on the main course, the Hearns-Leonard bonanza reportedly generating a then record busting $36 million.
Of course the double-header crap shoot doesn’t always work.

In 2004, Oscar De la Hoya and Bernard Hopkins battled Felix Sturm and Robert Allen respectively on the same bill in a bid to show that firstly, Oscar could excel at middleweight and secondly, that Hopkins remained an elite fighter at the grand old age of 39. The teaser trailer backfired; ‘the Golden Boy’ struggled mightily with his German foe whilst ‘The Executioner’ performed more cautiously than usual, so desperate was he to uphold his end of the bargain. The evening had done little to whet the appetite of fight fans.

The Hearns-Hagler dream rematch never did materialise, Ray Leonard spoiling the party with a dramatic return to arms which resulted in Hagler’s retirement. A re-run of what many still consider to be the greatest boxing match of all time was lost to history.

Arum must work carefully to ensure that the potential Lopez-Gamboa barnburner does not hit a SRL shaped roadblock. A mooted replay of the double-header format in January could unravel the effect “Latin Fury 12” achieved in levelling the odds, whilst a bout between Lopez and his chief tormentor Celestino Caballero could scupper the deal completely.

An expert gambler knows when to play and when to fold; with a Royal Flush like Lopez-Gamboa in the palm of his hand, perhaps it’s time Arum called and collected his chips?

Article posted on 15.10.2009

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