- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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Lightweight Darleys Perez was on the worldwide stage as an amateur when he was in the 2008 Olympics for Colombia. Now he will be on the biggest stage of his professional career.
Perez will face Yuriorkis Gamboa, a 2004 Cuban Olympic gold medalist, for a vacant interim lightweight belt on Saturday night (HBO, 10 ET/PT) at the Bell Centre in Montreal. The fight will open for the headliner of light heavyweight champion Chad Dawson in a title defense against Quebec's Adonis Stevenson.
Perez (28-0, 19 KOs), 29, is the bigger, stronger man. Gamboa, 31, who holds an interim junior lightweight belt (and is a former unified featherweight titlist) is long on skills and speed. He also has good pop, but he'll be fighting as a lightweight for the first time, so it remains to be seen whether the punch he had at lower weights will still be with him when he faces a naturally bigger man.
Without question, this is the biggest fight of Perez's career. It's not even close to that for Gamboa (22-0, 16 KOs).
Perez is well aware of Gamboa's amateur and pro credentials. He said he specifically sparred with Cuban fighters to get a feel for the style that so many of them have in common.
"I have been sparring against many Cuban fighters because their style of fighting is very similar to Gamboa's fighting style. They are great for sparring purposes," Perez said, noting the tremendous success that the Cuban national team has had at the Olympics for decades. "I have learned a lot by sparring with them. I feel comfortable going into the ring to battle it out against Gamboa."
Perez has a sparkling record but will be facing by far the best opponent of his career when he meets Gamboa, who won a vacant interim 130-pound belt by unanimous decision against Michael Farenas on Dec. 8. But Gamboa has talked about going to 135 since even before facing Farenas, so he will probably remain at lightweight, win or lose.
"I have been training very hard for this fight," Perez said. "I had to step up my regimen and train harder because I am taking on Yuriorkis Gamboa, who is a higher-caliber fighter. Everyone watching the fight should know that it is going to be a great fight and that I am prepared to go toe-to-toe with Gamboa. The most important thing for me would be to win big against a fighter as skilled as him."
One note on Perez's first name: For years, in press releases, on television graphics and on official fight records, his name was always spelled "Darley." However, according to HBO, Perez told one of the network's producers in preparation for Saturday's telecast that it is really spelled "Darleys" and that it has just been misspelled for all these years.