ATLANTIC CITY - The price of freedom for WBA/IBF featherweight champion Yuriorkis Gamboa was $1,500.
Just a few months after winning a gold medal in the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, the native of Guantanamo, Cuba, sought to throw a first birthday party for his daughter, Brenda, but didn't have enough money to even buy a single candle to place atop a cake.
"When I won the gold, I was told that I would be receiving certain benefits," Gamboa said through an interpreter during a training session Monday at the Atlantic City Police Athletic League. "But I got nothing. I wound up selling my medal for $1,500 to pay for my daughter's party."
That was about the time he realized that he needed to leave Cuba, both for his professional and personal well-being. Three years years later, while training with the Cuban national team in Venezuela, Gamboa and two other 2004 gold medalists - Odlanier Solis and Yan Bhartelemy - defected.
With the help of manager Tony Gonzalez, they first made their way to Colombia before ultimately settling among Miami's large Cuban population. Gamboa (19-0, 14 KOs), who will defend his belts Saturday night against Jorge Solis (40-2-2, 29 KOs) at Boardwalk Hall's Adrian Phillips Ballroom, now lives in Miami in a six-bedroom home with his wife, Dunia; 6-year-old Brenda; infant son, Yuriorkis; father, Carlos; and younger brother, Yoelvis. Gamboa's mother, two sisters and extended family still live in Cuba.
"It was very difficult for me to leave because I didn't want to break up the family," Carlos Gamboa, who also serves as his son's co-trainer, said through an interpreter. "But I've been with Yuriorkis since the beginning, so when he left, naturally I had to join him."
Yuriorkis began his boxing career when he was around 5 years old. Carlos Gamboa was also a national champion in Cuba, having earned a 110-15 record as an amateur. When he was training, little Yuriorkis would tag along to the gym and whack the sandbags that served as heavy bags.
After his boxing career was over, Carlos took a job working at a factory that made made fiberglass casts. He now works his son's corner with head trainer Ismael Salas, who was also Carlos' trainer in Cuba.
Carlos has helped his son rise to the top of the 126-pound division and also earn the accolades that he was never able to achieve in Cuba. Three months ago, Miami mayor Tomas Regalado presented Yuriorkis with a key to the city.
"Miami and Guantanamo are very similar in a sense," Yuriorkis said. "But the way of life is much different. In a general sense, the difference is the liberties you have in Miami versus the ones you don't have in Cuba."
Since turning pro in 2007, Gamboa has rolled through the featherweight division. In his last outing, he defended his WBA belt and won the IBF version with a 12-round, unanimous decision over Orlando Solido in Las Vegas last Sept. 11.
But he still has to share the featherweight pedestal with fellow champions Chris John (WBC) and Juan Manuel Lopez (WBO). A victory over the rugged Solis, who is the WBA interim super-featherweight champ, would set up potential megafights with his main rivals.
Outside the ring, he has another, perhaps even more important, goal.
He wants his gold medal back.
"That medal meant a great deal to me, but I had to sell it for my daughter's party," Gamboa said. "I have no idea who bought it (the medal was sold through an intermediary), but I'm hoping to find out who has it and buy it back from him."
Punchlines: Two other intriguing fights are on the card. HBO's "Boxing After Dark" series also will air a 10-round bout between undefeated featherweights Mikey Garcia (24-0, 20 KOs) and Matt Remillard (23-0, 13 KOs). Local fans are more interested in the 12-round duel between New Brunswick super-bantamweight Jorge Diaz (15-0, 9 KOs) and Teon Kennedy (16-0-1, 7 KOs), of Philadelphia.
In addition, Baltimore Ravens safety Tommy Zbikowski (2-0, 2 KOs) will face Caleb Grummet (0-0-1), of Lake Odessa, Mich., in a four-round heavyweight bout.
Tickets are priced at $50, $100 and $200. They are available at Bally's Atlantic City, Caesars Atlantic City, Boardwalk Hall, Ticketmaster and PressofAtlanticCity.com/tickets.
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