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Crawford-Gamboa trumps Guerrero’s grueling win in fight-of-year sweepstakes

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Now that we’ve reached the halfway point of 2014, it’s a good time to assess the best fights of the year thus far, and Robert Guerrero’s camp is leading the way.

Guerrero’s contribution was his victory June 21 in one of the best fights, a brutal toe-to-toe victory over Japanese slugger Yoshihiro Kamegai. Guerrero’s publicist, Mario Serrano, recently issued a press release touting the fight as the year’s very best, with Guerrero, the pride of Gilroy, acknowledging “I could have made the fight easier by boxing, but then the fans would have not gotten their money’s worth.”

The only part of the above that’s not debatable is that Guerrero could have won a one-sided fight if he’d preferred. The fans might still have gotten their money’s worth with Guerrero at his most dominating looking like one of the top 10 fighters in the world, which he did not against Kamegai. And Guerrero-Kamegai wasn’t even the fight of the month, much less the fight of the year.

That would be the Terence Crawford-Yuriorkis Gamboa lightweight showdown last Saturday on HBO in Crawford’s hometown, Omaha. Gamboa, still unbeaten going in but not as highly regarded as he was five years ago in his featherweight days, appeared the faster and stronger man in winning the first four rounds . . . and then Crawford, with his height and reach advantages, found a way to turn the tide, eventually knocking out Gamboa in a ninth round that began with Gamboa staggering Crawford.

Two elite fighters, changes in momentum, the partisan crowd, the contrast in styles . . . Crawford-Gamboa had everything.

A close second for the year was Marcos Maidana’s thrilling challenge to the usually invincible Floyd Mayweather, actually leading during the first half of the fight before Mayweather’s versatility dominated the second half.

At the same time, Mayweather’s eagerness to mix it up and give the fans what they want was an artifice much like Guerrero’s compulsion to duke it out despite a first round in which Guerrero actually did look like the top 10 fighter he was accredited to be before his 2013 loss to Mayweather.

There is a difference. Mayweather is a huge draw regardless of how much he mixes it up. Guerrero’s marketability is still a work in progress, and he does seem to be better off as a slugging welterweight than he was as a hit-and-don’t get-hit featherweight.

“One thing you can take to the bank is when you tune in to watch me, or pay for a ticket to any of my fights, you're going to get excitement.,” Guerrero said. “There's nothing better than a toe-to-toe battle.”

Ah, now there’s where the fight-of-the-year criteria differ. Some think you can gauge the excitement level by studying the punching statistics or knockdown totals. For them, it’s the more violent, the better.

For others, and I’m one of them, boxing is a sport full of nuance. There has to be action, yes, but there have to be other redeeming qualities – and it does matter who’s fighting.

In Guerrero’s case, Kamegai was not a sufficiently compelling foil, certainly nowhere near Gamboa in that department. What Crawford, who already was considered the best lightweight in the world, gained from his ordeal was compounded by the worthiness Gamboa brought to the ring.

Guerrero still has not had a fight like that, but let’s hope he gets it before he has to take too many shots from the likes of Kamegai.

He’s eager for more of that.

"My name stands for warrior in Spanish, so that's what I like to do...go to war," Guerrero said. "To my future opponents: I can't wait to get in there and bang it out!"

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