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Tuesday, May 6, 2014
Crawford to face Gamboa on June 28

By Dan Rafael
ESPN.com

Although lightweight world titleholder Terence Crawford has been a professional fighter since 2008, he has never fought in his hometown of Omaha, Neb. But that will change when he makes his first defense there against Yuriorkis Gamboa in a meeting of two of the most skilled boxers in the business.

Crawford will face Gamboa on June 28 in the main event of an HBO-televised card at the 18,300-seat CenturyLink Center in Omaha.

"It's been a real long time coming," a pumped-up Crawford told ESPN.com on Tuesday after the bout was finalized. "I've been looking forward to it since I turned pro. There's a lot of support here for me, a lot of people always asking me when I'm gonna fight here. We got the fight here now and everyone is excited about it. It's gonna be a big opportunity for me to fight in Omaha and be successful with a victory over the likes of Gamboa."

A news conference at the arena -- about 20 minutes from Crawford's home -- is scheduled for Thursday afternoon and is open to the public.

"I was looking at the lightweight picture and I think this matches the two best lightweights in the world," Top Rank chairman Bob Arum, who promotes Crawford, told ESPN.com. "I believe the winner legitimately establishes himself as No. 1 in the weight class. The other thing that appeals to me is that we are doing this fight -- a real high-class fight -- in the heartland of the country and, hopefully, this can help bring back interest in boxing in a significant part of the country, where they don't get too many big fights."

The fight will be only the second world title bout in Omaha history. In 1972, 15 years before Crawford was born, Joe Frazier defended the heavyweight championship against Omaha's Ron Stander at the Civic Auditorium and knocked him out in the fifth round to retain the title.

Crawford (23-0, 16 KOs), 26, won his 135-pound world title by unanimous decision on March 1 when he traveled to Ricky Burns' home turf in Glasgow, Scotland, and put on a boxing clinic to win by clear unanimous decision.

Gamboa (23-0, 16 KOs), 32, a 2004 Cuban Olympic gold medalist now based in Miami, defected and turned pro in 2007. He unified two world titles at featherweight in 2010 with a decision win against Orlando Salido but has only fought four times since while also being implicated in the Biogenesis performance-enhancing drug scandal.

Gamboa has not fought since June 2013, when he outpointed Darleys Perez in Montreal to win a vacant interim lightweight belt in his debut in the division. Initially, Gamboa, who is promoted by rap star Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, was going to return to the junior lightweight division to challenge titleholder Mikey Garcia this summer, but Garcia priced himself out of the bout and Crawford was the next logical opponent.

"This fight is just as good, maybe better than Garcia-Gamboa," Arum said. "We just couldn't live with Mikey's financial demands. A lot of it was fueled by other people, who told him that Gamboa was getting $1.5 million and he was only getting $750,000, which was ludicrous and wrong. But we made a good fight here. Gamboa does have a lot of power, but like most Cuban fighters he's very cautious and a very good boxer. Crawford is a superb boxer.

"I really believe we will see some fireworks, because Gamboa has a tendency to get dropped and with the crowd, it will be a very boisterous and exciting atmosphere. The fact that there hasn't been a marquee fight in Omaha since 1972 is amazing. This will be huge." Said Top Rank vice president Carl Moretti, "You're not going to see your traditional rock 'em, 'sock 'em kind of fight. We know that. With these guys and their skills, speed and boxing ability will probably dictate the winner. Stylistically, it's more of a chess match, more speed and boxing but the kingpin at 135 pounds will come out of this fight."

Crawford said he has followed Gamboa's career for the past several years and never thought he would fight him, but he happily accepted the challenge.

"I look at this fight like it's high risk, high reward," Crawford said. "Earlier in my career, I looked at him as a great fighter and never thought I'd be fighting him, but now that we're here it's a big opportunity for me. We're both gonna be in there and both of us will stick to our game plan and fight a good fight."

As for the potential distractions of fighting at home, Crawford said he would have no problem with it.

"There are distractions everywhere you go," he said. "When I went to Scotland everyone was talking about the crowd and if that would be a distraction. It wasn't. I just have to stay focused and get the job done."

Moretti said he is working to finalize the HBO co-feature, which would pit former unified lightweight titleholder Juan Diaz (39-4, 19 KOs), 30, of Houston, against former title challenger Raymundo Beltran (29-6-1, 17 KOs), 32, a Mexico native living in Los Angeles. The winner would likely challenge the winner of the main event next.

Last September, Beltran fought to a heavily disputed draw in Scotland against Burns in a world title fight. Burns then lost to Crawford in his next fight while Beltran returned for a clear unanimous decision win against Arash Usmanee on April 12 on the Manny Pacquiao-Timothy Bradley Jr. II undercard in Las Vegas.

Diaz has won four fights in a row since ending a nearly three-year retirement in April 2013, including a near-shutout 10-round decision against Gerardo Robles on March 1 on the Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.-Bryan Vera II undercard in San Antonio.