Featherweight star Yuriorkis Gamboa would love to still have the title belt that was unceremoniously stripped from him by a sanctioning body this summer for no apparent reason. But Gamboa knows it is even more important -- if he wants to make big money and earn wider recognition -- to just keep beating top opponents in impressive style, hardware be damned.
That's what the blindingly fast and powerful 2004 Cuban Olympic gold medalist will aim to do when he meets Mexican slugger Daniel Ponce De Leon, a former junior featherweight titlist, in a matchup of crowd-pleasing 126-pounders.
The fight is on Saturday night (HBO, 10:30 ET/PT) at the Adrian Phillips Ballroom at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J., a scheduled 12-rounder that will advance the winner to greater stardom regardless of whether a belt is strapped around his waist.
"I think he's a very good fighter, a very good boxer, but I am not here really to talk about the fight," Gamboa said. "I am going to show it on [Saturday] in the ring. From there, we will go on."
Said Ponce De Leon: "Gamboa is a very good fighter. He is tough. But I fought the best in the past. I fought them all, and I'm looking forward to this fight.
"I know it is a very important fight, and that's why I accepted it. I take challenges. I love challenges. I took Gamboa because he is the best in the division, the most dangerous in the division. But I feel very good. I feel very comfortable, and I've trained very hard, and I'm going in there to win. I'm still young, and a loss doesn't cross my mind."
The HBO telecast will open with a replay of the fight that will air live earlier in the day between heavyweight titlist Vitali Klitschko and Tomasz Adamek from Wroclaw, Poland.
Gamboa hopes to eventually clean out the featherweight division and move up in weight to do the same there.
"I am ready to fight at 126, 130 or 135," Gamboa said. "I am ready for anything. Right now, this [fight] is something the promoters want. I will fight at any of those weights. I just want the big fights."
Ponce De Leon will be the third consecutive titleholder or former titleholder from Mexico whom Gamboa will face. That fact isn't lost on him.
"I know that Mexico has a great history of world champions, but so does Cuba," he said. "I welcome this chance I am getting to continue to prove I am one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world. I will not disappoint my fans."
Indeed, the 29-year-old Gamboa (20-0, 16 KOs) blew away Jorge Solis, a top 130-pounder who came down in weight, dropping him five times en route to a fourth-round knockout in March. In his previous fight, Gamboa outpointed Orlando Salido, who would later score a major upset by knocking out titlist Juan Manuel Lopez -- the big fight Top Rank was moving Gamboa toward before it went up in smoke as a result of Lopez's defeat.
"I want to box with the best and do the big fights," said Gamboa, who lives in Miami after defecting from Cuba in 2007. "Whatever they bring to me, that's what I am going to do."
Fighting Ponce De Leon (41-3, 34 KOs), 31, doesn't come without danger. Although Gamboa's speed is on a different level, Ponce De Leon is known for his prodigious power.
"Yuriorkis Gamboa is recognized as one of the great fighters in boxing today," said Bob Arum, Gamboa's co-promoter, who is putting on the fight with Golden Boy Promotions' Richard Schaefer, Ponce De Leon's promoter. "He's going to be tested by Ponce De Leon, who is a tremendous puncher and a very good fighter. So it should be an extremely interesting match."
With the rival companies calling a truce in their bitter business battle, this is the first fight they are working on together since they co-promoted Manny Pacquiao-Ricky Hatton in May 2009.
The promoters have sought to keep the focus on the fight, not their relationship.
"No question about it that Gamboa is a tremendous fighter with a tremendous background with a gold medal," Schaefer said. "Ponce De Leon is a 2000 Olympian as well. He has a tremendous record with huge punching power, and that's what he's going to be looking for -- to take it to Gamboa and show what he's all about. He's looking for his second world title in a second weight class."
Arum promotes several top featherweights, so if Gamboa gets past Ponce De Leon, a number of interesting fights await him. He is planning a Salido-Lopez rematch and would like to match Gamboa with the winner next year.
But there is an even more intriguing showdown on Arum's mind. He also promotes bantamweight champion Nonito Donaire, one of the world's top five pound-for-pound fighters. Donaire is scheduled to defend his title Oct. 22, then plans to move up to junior featherweight and, eventually, to featherweight.
Gamboa could be waiting for him.
"Probably the biggest fight in the featherweight division would be against the up-and-coming bantamweight champion Nonito Donaire, who will be going up to featherweight next year -- and that should be a big, big match," Arum said.
Ponce De Leon doesn't have a huge fight looming for him if he beats Gamboa. He's just trying to re-establish himself in the featherweight division.
He was closing in on a title opportunity when he was offered a chance to face rising junior lightweight contender Adrien Broner, who is also with Golden Boy, in an HBO fight in March. So he moved up in weight and gave Broner everything he could handle in a controversial decision loss.
Ponce De Leon is now back at featherweight with no regrets about the fight against Broner.
"Everybody saw the fight," Ponce De Leon said. "I took the fight because an opportunity was presented to me. It was a fight that could be done through our promoter. I took it, and everybody saw the results, except the judges.
"It was an opportunity and I took it because I felt I could beat Broner. I wanted to check to see how I felt at 130. But right now, 126 is best for me."
Toney to face Lebedev in Moscow
Russian cruiserweight contender Denis Lebedev apparently likes picking on old guys.
After he dropped a split decision in challenging Marco Huck for a title in December, Lebedev next fought in May, when he knocked out the long-faded 42-year-old Roy Jones Jr. with one punch in the 10th round in Moscow. Now Lebedev is being lined up to fight 43-year-old former three-division champion James Toney (73-6-3, 44 KOs), who is years past his best.
The fight is close to being signed, Ivaylo Gotzev, Toney's adviser, told ESPN.com. If the deal is finalized, the bout would take place Nov. 5 in Moscow and would be fought at the cruiserweight limit of 200 pounds. Toney, with a long history of weight trouble, has been a heavyweight for years. He hasn't fought at cruiserweight since he won the title in 2003 and vacated it without defending to move up in weight.
Toney has fought sporadically for the past few years and weighed 257 pounds for his last fight, a shutout decision against Damon Reed in February. But Gotzev said Toney has "been walking around the last couple of weeks at 215 pounds. He feels very comfortable, and he can go down to 200 with no problem."
"James will be in a good fight, and we are looking for him to make a statement against Lebedev and then we want [titlist Alexander] Povetkin back at heavyweight," Gotzev said. "James Toney beat up Vassiliy Jirov to win [a cruiserweight] title and then went on to TKO the great Evander Holyfield in his next fight. James will try to repeat history. If James knocks out Lebedev, it's only right that he gets a shot at Povetkin."
Gotzev said the negotiations with Lebedev are going well and that they are close to a deal.
"All parties are on board," Gotzev said. "We are working on a few details. I think James can turn back the clock. I watch him every day, and I am confident of that."
A fight for the undercard has been signed, a light heavyweight title eliminator between Gotzev-managed Ismayl Sillakh (16-0, 13 KOs) of Ukraine and Houston's Chris Henry (25-2, 20 KOs).
Square Ring CEO John Wirt, Sillakh's promoter, said the fight was signed Wednesday and that the winner would be mandated to fight former titlist Zsolt Erdei, with the winner of that bout earning a mandatory title shot against the winner of the Oct. 15 fight between champion Bernard Hopkins and Chad Dawson.
Aydin-Dan rematch set
Welterweight contenders Selcuk Aydin (22-0, 17 KOs) and Jo Jo Dan (29-1, 16 KOs) will meet in a rematch of their controversial June 2010 bout in Aydin's native Turkey. They will meet Nov. 19 in Trabzon, Turkey, Aydin's hometown, promoters Ahmet Öner (Aydin) and Chris Ganescu (Dan) announced after making a deal and avoiding a purse bid.
In their first fight, Aydin claimed a narrow split decision against Dan, a Montreal-based Romanian, in a fight many believed Dan, who was knocked down in the first round, should have won.
"It's good to hear that the deal is done," said Aydin, who turned 28 on Sept. 4. "Although I won the first fight, I was not happy with my performance. So this is a chance for me to prove that I can do better and stop him. He is a good and slick fighter and moves well in the ring. But that won't help him this time. I will do what I have to do. I will knock him out and then go on to fight the big names in the division."
Dan, 30, said he is OK with going back to Turkey.
"I am used to fighting on the road," he said. "Boxing fans everywhere like me and my style. I will have the best preparation ever, and I will leave no doubt. There will be no controversy now."
The WBC ordered the rematch as a final eliminator, with the winner becoming the mandatory challenger for the winner of the Sept. 17 bout between welterweight titlist Victor Ortiz and former champion Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Sanchez a hungry fighter
Before fighters reach big-money championship fights -- and most of them never do -- they usually struggle to make ends meet, fighting to feed their families, with every win so important to paving the way to another payday.
Junior welterweight prospect Hector Sanchez (19-1, 9 KOs) of Puerto Rico is just that kind of fighter, and he faces a fight very important to his career when he meets fellow Puerto Rican Vincent Arroyo (11-1, 7 KOs) of Buffalo, N.Y., in the main event of "ShoBox: The New Generation" on Friday night (Showtime, 11 p.m. ET/PT) at the Grand Casino in Hinckley, Minn.
Sanchez is desperate to help lift his family out of poverty.
"The eight of us live in a two-bedroom house," said Sanchez, 25. "One of my sisters will have a baby, so that is going to complicate the matter further. The most important thing for me is that they have everything they need and, for that reason, I must win this fight and many more. We have suffered enough."
Sanchez, who was a top amateur, was handed his only pro defeat via fifth-round knockout to Cleotis Pendarvis in an upset in April 2010, and has won his only fight since. Now he's shooting for two in a row.
"I've been climbing through the ranks, getting closer and closer to where I want to be," Sanchez said. "All I have to do is keep winning. Boxing is an opportunity to earn enough money to give them everything they need and move them out of the house that we live in."
In the opening bout, Los Angeles-based Nigerian cruiserweight contender Lateef "Power" Kayode (17-0, 14 KOs) faces battle-tested Felix Cora Jr. (22-5-2, 12 KOs).
• ESPN3.com will offer live streaming coverage in the United States of Saturday's junior welterweight title eliminator between Colombian slugger Breidis Prescott (24-2, 19 KOs) and Northern Ireland's Paul McCloskey (22-1, 12 KOs) from the Odyssey Arena in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Coverage begins at 3:45 p.m. ET. The winner will be in position to challenge for one of the 140-pound belts held by Amir Khan, who has already faced both fighters. (Both are seeking a Khan rematch.) Prescott handed Khan his only loss, a first-round knockout in 2008, and McCloskey lost a one-sided six-round technical decision in a title challenge in April.
• Plans are in the works for a Nov. 26 HBO tripleheader to take place in Cincinnati, the hometown of junior lightweight contender Adrien Broner (21-0, 17 KOs). Golden Boy hopes to match the 22-year-old Broner, a mandatory challenger, with 130-pound titlist Ricky Burns (32-2, 9 KOs) of Scotland, according to Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer, who has worked out a deal with Burns' promoter, Frank Warren. However, Schaefer said there is a chance Burns won't take the fight because of issues making weight that could force him to vacate the belt.
"I'm waiting for Frank Warren to get back to me about Ricky Burns, but it looks like he is not going to take the fight and Broner will be fightng for a vacant title." That means Broner could end up facing Golden Boy stablemate Eloy Perez (22-0-2, 6 KOs), who scored a second-round knockout of Daniel Jimenez in the main event of last Friday's Telefutura card. Schaefer said that for the other two televised bouts he and HBO are targeting heavyweight prospect Seth Mitchell and featherweight prospect Gary Russell Jr. (18-0, 10 KOs), who rolled past Leonilo Miranda for a shutout eight-round decision in his HBO debut on Sept. 3. Broner, Mitchell and Russell are all in adviser Al Haymon's stable.
• Before the proposed November HBO appearance, Mitchell (22-0-1, 16 KOs), 29, of Brandywine, Md., has to win his Sept. 16 main event that will air live simultaneously on Spanish-language Telefutura and English-language Fox Sports Net from the Texas Station Casino in Las Vegas. Mitchell now has an opponent for the evening. He will face Hector Ferreyro (21-10-2, 12 KOs) of Laredo, Texas, in a scheduled 10-rounder on the eve of the Mayweather-Ortiz HBO PPV fight that Golden Boy is promoting at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Mitchell was supposed to open an HBO card against Mike Mollo on Aug. 27, but when headliner Robert Guerrero suffered a shoulder injury, the card was canceled. In the co-feature, welterweight Felix Diaz (9-0, 6 KOs), a 2008 Olympic gold medalist from the Dominican Republic, will face Larry Smith (10-5, 6 KOs) of Dallas.
• Junior featherweight titlist Rico Ramos is supposed to make his first defense against interim titlist Guillermo Rigondeaux. A purse bid has been scheduled for Monday at the WBA headquarters in Panama if the sides don't make a deal. Ramos (20-0, 11 KOs) won his 122-pound belt when he rallied for a seventh-round knockout of Japan's Akifumi Shimoda on July 9 in Atlantic City, N.J. Rigondeaux (8-0, 6 KOs), a two-time Cuban Olympic gold medalist, had stepped aside to allow Ramos-Shimoda to take place, with the contractual obligation from the winner to face him next.
• In preparation for the Oct. 29 final of the Super Six World Boxing Classic between super middleweight titleholders Andre Ward and Carl Froch -- a fight that will finish the two-year tournament -- Showtime has unveiled a schedule of special programming around the fight. First is "Staredown: Ward vs. Froch," which premieres Oct. 5 (7:45 p.m. ET/PT). Showtime broadcaster Jim Gray will moderate a conversation between the two finalists. The network will air the final three episodes of its "Fight Camp 360°: Inside The Super Six World Boxing Classic" series, which has followed the tournament from the beginning with behind-the-scenes coverage and fight recaps. The 10th episode of the series will debut Oct. 8 (10 p.m. ET/PT), and Episode 11 will premier Oct. 22 (10 p.m. ET/PT). They will cover the semifinal results and buildup to the final. The series finale will air later in the fall, on a date to be determined, and wrap up the tournament. Showtime will also use its Showtime Extreme channel during October to replay Froch and Ward tournament fights.
• Pound-for-pound king Manny Pacquiao and lightweight champion Juan Manuel Marquez, who meet for Pacquiao's welterweight title Nov. 12 (HBO PPV) at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, will be featured in a four-part "24/7" series on HBO. The network announced this week during a promotional tour stop in New York that the Emmy award-winning series will return Oct. 22 (10:30 p.m. ET/PT) and follow the fighters throughout their preparation for the fight. The second and third episodes will air on subsequent Saturday nights (Oct. 29 at 10 ET/PT and Nov. 5 at 9:45 ET/PT), with the finale set for the night before the fight, Nov. 11 (8:30 ET/PT).
• Super middleweight prospect Shawn Estrada (13-0, 12 KOs), a 2008 U.S. Olympian, has had his career slowed by a series of hand problems. Now, just as he was getting back on track, and with an aggressive schedule in the works by promoter Dan Goossen, Estrada has suffered another setback. He suffered a tear in his meniscus and needs arthroscopic surgery, according to Tom Brown, Goossen's matchmaker. Brown said Estrada's next two fights have been scrapped, an appearance on a Sept. 15 ESPN Deportes-televised card in El Paso, Texas, and an Oct. 28 fight slated for the main event on Showtime's "ShoBox: The New Generation." Brown said the hope is that Estrada, who already had fought three times this year, will be ready to return to fight on ESPN2's annual "Salute to America's Heroes" Veterans Day card on Nov. 10.
• British heavyweight prospect Tyson Fury (15-0, 10 KOs) will return to the ring against Ohio's Nicolai Firtha (20-8-1, 8 KOs) in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on Sept. 17 (Ch. 5 in England). The 23-year-old Fury, who holds the British and Commonwealth titles, is coming off the biggest win of his career, a unanimous 12-round decision against Dereck Chisora on July 23.
"There was a lot of talk about me fighting Martin Rogan, and a few other names like Mike Perez and Leif Larsen were mentioned, but I've accepted to fight Firtha, who's a lot younger than Rogan and has mixed in a lot higher company than any of those other guys," Fury said. "With two weeks to go, I know this is a risk, a gamble, but I'm a true fighting man and a man of honor and I'm prepared to fight any man on the planet." In his most notable fight, Firtha, 32, went the distance in losing a lopsided decision to Alexander Povetkin in December.
• Heavyweight contender Alexander Dimitrenko (31-1, 21 KO) of Germany will defend the European title against England's Michael Sprott (36-16, 17 KOs) on Sept. 24 in Hamburg, according to Universum Box-Promotion. The fight had originally been scheduled in August but was delayed. The undercard will feature cruiserweight prospect Rakhim Chakhkiev (10-0, 8 KOs), a 2008 Olympic gold medalist, against Michael Simms (21-14-2, 13 KOs), and heavyweight contender Denis Boytsov (28-0, 23 KOs), trying to shake off continued hand problems, against Matt Greer (14-6, 13 KOs). Former cruiserweight titlist and former heavyweight title challenger Juan Carlos Gomez (49-2, 37 KOs) may be added to the show.
• San Antonio's Raul Martinez (28-1, 16 KOs) and Mexico's Rodrigo Guerrero (15-3-1, 10 KOs) are slated to fight for a vacant junior bantamweight belt -- the one Cristian Mijares recently relinquished to move up in weight -- on Oct. 8 in Tijuana, Mexico, according to Martinez manager Lou Mesorana. The fight would headline a "Top Rank Live" card (Fox Deportes), according to Top Rank's Carl Moretti. It will be a rematch of Martinez's split-decision victory against Guerrero in a November 2010 title eliminator.
• Coming off the most notable win of his career, blue-chip junior middleweight prospect Demetrius Andrade (14-0, 9 KOs), a 23-year-old 2008 U.S. Olympian and former world amateur champion, will face Saul Duran (38-12-2, 31 KOs) in the main event of the 10th annual Fight To Educate on Sept. 21 in Manchester, N.H. On Aug. 19, Andrade stepped up in competition and rolled to a one-sided decision against veteran Grady Brewer, a former winner of "The Contender" realist series. This will be the second year in a row that Andrade, of Providence, R.I., will fight on the Fight To Educate card, which raises money to assist children and seniors in New Hampshire.
• Former undisputed cruiserweight champion O'Neil Bell (26-4-1, 24 KO) of Atlanta will try to shake off a three-fight losing streak when he returns for a scheduled 10-rounder against an opponent to be named on Sept. 24 in North Bergen, N.J. Bell, 36, knocked out Jean Marc Mormeck in the 10th round to become the undisputed champion in January 2006, but he hasn't won since, losing all three of his bouts while also taking layoffs of 13 months and nearly three years. He lost a decision in a 2007 rematch with Mormeck, was stopped in the eighth round by Tomasz Adamek in April 2008 and then returned on June 2 and was knocked out in the second round by Richard Hall. "I'm slowly working to regain my status with the boxing world and get my belts back," Bell said. "I'm still a champion, but on paper I'm not, so I still have to get it back."
"This fight will answer all doubts. There have been a lot of changes in me since those first two fights. I learned a lot of different techniques. I improved my power, and I now have a right hand."
-- A confident Manny Pacquiao on facing Juan Manuel Marquez, against whom he has a draw and controversial split-decision win, in their third showdown on Nov. 12 (HBO PPV) at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas
"Manny knows I beat him twice. I know he thinks about our two fights all the time."
-- Marquez, on meeting his great rival Pacquiao for a third time
"What would it mean to fight David Haye? He touched my brother Wladimir and my life very personally. I wish Wladimir knocked him out. I will be very happy to do that, to knock him out in the future. It will be good for my personal ego to send him to the floor."
-- Heavyweight titlist Vitali Klitschko on the prospect of facing Haye -- who trash-talked the brothers relentlessly before losing a lopsided decision to Wladimir on July 2 -- if he gets past a title defense against Tomasz Adamek on Saturday (HBO, 4:45 p.m. ET)
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter at danrafaelespn.