Both electrifying fighters in their prime, Cuba’s Yuriorkis Gamboa and Puerto Rico’s Juan Manuel Lopez seemed to have superstar status ahead of them. Both men managed to win a world championship – in fact both fighters won a couple of belts each – but overall the lofty heights that were expected were never reached.
Today, with both fighters trying to fight on whilst being way past their best (Gamboa recently suffering a shock stoppage defeat at the hands of Robinson Castellanos, “Juanma” having suffered a number of especially gruesome KO defeats) there is a big sense of ‘what if?’
Gamboa and Lopez could have, in fact, should have, fought each other, either in 2010 or in 2011. Bob Arum’s plan, though, was to let the fight “marinate,” and become the next massive lower weight super-fight. But Arum got it wrong, and Lopez’ shaky chin caught up with him in dramatic fashion, as Orlando Salido stopped the lethal but vulnerable southpaw in April of 2011 -the teak-tough Mexican both taking his unbeaten record and forever ruining the Gamboa fight. Salido then put the final nail in the coffin by repeating his win over Lopez in 2012
Gamboa, who defeated Salido by wide decision in 2010, suffered his own misfortune in the form of enforced inactivity; his once glittering career being robbed of the signature bout it needed (Gamboa also seeing a huge fight with Brandon Rios fail to take place). Had Gamboa, then 19-0, and Lopez, then 30-0, got it on before disaster struck, we would in all likelihood have been treated to a great fight, maybe one that would have spawned a sequel; a trilogy even.
Who would have won? From what we know now, Gamboa, being faster and in possession of, if not a slightly better chin (both men have tasted the canvas on numerous occasions, having done so even in their peak years) then better recuperative powers, would probably have beaten Lopez. But how thrilling would the action have been? Would the sport have seen the latest intense rivalry, with these two featherweight/super-featherweights lighting up the lower weights in a major way?
Sadly we will never know. Imagine if we had been robbed of great lower weight wars like the magnificent Rafael Marquez-Israel Vazquez epics, or the Barrera-Morales classics? Could Gamboa and Lopez, between them, have given us something equally as special? Again, we will never know.
Both warriors gave us some terrific fights – Gamboa’s classic with Terence Crawford being a real highlight, Lopez’ incredible action fights with Salido (twice) Rogers Mtagwa and Daniel Ponce de Leon (twice) also thrilling millions – but without each other, Gamboa and Lopez never quite made the magic they could have.
In terms of, ‘coulda woulda shoulda,’ Gamboa and Lopez collectively tick the most boxes. What a shame.
Gamboa, 26-2(17) will probably fight on after the Castallenos disaster, while Lopez, 35-5(32) actually won his last fight; stopping fellow veteran Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. in October of last year. But the glory years have gone. And how glorious they might have been.