Down for the Count: Wilfredo Stops Zarate in Five (Defense #6)

By Christian Giudice on August 29, 2014
Down for the Count: Wilfredo Stops Zarate in Five (Defense #6)
Gomez and Zarate had a combined record of 73-0-1, with an astonishing 72 KOs. (AP)

Many boxing experts would look back to this bout as the precursor to the popular Mexican-Puerto Rican boxing rivalry…

It was one of those fights where the rabid Mexican and Puerto Rican fans expected all hell to break loose. Fixated on the middle of the ring, fans in the Roberto Clemente Coliseum in San Juan, Puerto Rico appeared ready to explode. A wave of excitement spread through the venue; that same passion would only intensify as the fight took hold.

Many boxing experts would look back to this bout as the precursor to the popular Mexican-Puerto Rican boxing rivalry. The enmity was fueled by WBC super bantamweight champion Wilfredo Gomez, who had earned a reputation for dousing the fire of Mexican challengers, the most recent a seventh-round stoppage of Mexico’s Juan Antonio Lopez in April 1978. Now, nearly five months later, Gomez was making his sixth title defense and successfully chartering a path to greatness. An opponent inextricably linked with Mexican’s past boxing giants, Carlos Zarate entered with a record of 52 victories, no losses, with 51 knockouts.

To add to the fervor surrounding the bout, Gomez and Zarate had a combined record of 73-0-1, with an astonishing 72 KOs. Similarly, when Roberto Duran and Sugar Ray Leonard met in 1980, they combined for a record of 98-1, but lacked the same impressive knockout ratio. Physically, Zarate stood two inches taller than Gomez, but lacked the same fluid movement and speed. Zarate relied on power in both hands, and would be in hot pursuit of the knockout punch; comparatively, Gomez had confidence that his pressure and ability to adapt to any challenge would be the key. For Gomez, there was no hurry: the knockout would eventually come.

Neither fighter made the 122-pound limit on the first attempt as both weighed over 124 pounds. In fact, Zarate needed four trips to the scale to make 122. When the bell rang on October 28, 1978, neither fighter looked to set a blistering pace. Zarate and Gomez took turns as the aggressor. Instead of coming forward, Gomez appeared comfortable in the counterpuncher role. As Zarate stalked, Gomez flitted in and out of punching range.

Eventually, Gomez’s confidence grew when he landed the first significant punch of the fight. It occurred when Gomez countered Zarate with a straight right and then eased him into a lunging left hook. Both fighters spent a good portion of the first round devising a clear strategy to get inside. Patiently, each fighter embraced this more passive approach over the first three rounds. Although Gomez was more effective landing an overhand right, Zarate opted for a left uppercut thrown from below his waist.

Toward the end of the third round, Gomez beautifully set Zarate up with a lazy left, and then immediately closed the gap with a jolting right hand that landed directly above Zarate’s guard. Amid a torrent of fans itching for the typical Gomez attack, the champion had still not yet unleashed his blend of speed and power.

Early in the fourth, Gomez was content to fight going backwards and let Zarate come to him. Mixing in a check left hook and an occasional jab, Gomez disrupted Zarate’s gameplan. Susceptible to left hooks and an occasional straight right, Gomez hadn’t completely deciphered the Mexican legend’s style. Still, Gomez recovered to land a lead hook that sent Zarate to the canvas toward the end of the round.

Zarate took a standing eight-count and immediately began to take more punishment. Gomez followed him to the other ring post and cautiously looked for an opening; seconds later he found one, a clean right hand that staggered Zarate. Not finished, Gomez followed him to the middle of the ring where he sent him down for the second time with a glancing right hand after the bell. The referee, Harry Gibbs, stepped in to start the count, but Zarate had risen and Gomez ran over to him to land one more left hook.

Gomez’s intensity reached its peak as he refused to sit in his corner, anxiously awaiting the chance to end the fight.

Continuing the onslaught in the fifth and final round, Gomez landed three hooks, the last one a glancing blow off of Zarate’s head. Then, Gomez moved Zarate to the ropes – with a right hand to his ear – where he landed the same uncontested vicious left hook that sent him down a round earlier. Seconds later, Gomez sent Zarate through the ropes as Gibbs made a half-hearted attempt to step in.

“When Wilfredo fought Zarate, Zarate was not at his best,” said Paul Ruiz, who managed Alfredo Escalera at the time. “Gomez did get ready. He had to be at his best. But I didn’t expect that type of performance.

“I did expect a better fight from Zarate. Everybody was going crazy in Puerto Rico. Gomez had just beaten the best Mexican since Ruben Olivares. Zarate could punch like a mule, but he didn’t show anything that night.”

The fight was stopped at :44 of the fifth when Gomez knocked Zarate down again and then viciously stepped in to land a straight right as Zarate crawled on his knees. Zarate’s corner threw in the towel even before Gibbs began the count. In the end, Zarate, a courageous warrior, wilted under the extreme pressure that Gomez applied. As soon as the towel was thrown, the celebration began!

Christian Giudice
Author: The Rise and Fall of Alexis Argüello
Author: Hands of Stone: The Life and Legend of Roberto Duran

Twitter Account:!/chrisgiudice
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Wilfredo Gomez | Carlos Zarate 1/4

Wilfredo Gomez | Carlos Zarate 2/4

Wilfredo Gomez | Carlos Zarate 3/4

Wilfredo Gomez | Carlos Zarate 4/4

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  1. Antonio Santiago 07:07am, 01/31/2015

    @Eric: Lets not forget Duran’s trilogy with Esteban De Jesus, as well as his fight with Wilfred Benitez! :)

  2. Eric 07:35pm, 08/29/2014

    Pete…Tough call. Gomez would’ve surely been more focused in training for the rematch if what he says about his lack of training for the first bout is indeed true. Sanchez was boxing’s equivalent to the 5-tool baseball player. He could punch, he had good speed, moved well, solid chin, and his stamina was unbelievable. I don’t recall ever seeing the guy get that tired. Sanchez had the frame to probably add two-three more world titles at 130, 135, and possibly 140lbs, had he not tragically died so young.  Along with Gomez, I liked two “Boricuas” fighters from the “80’s in particular. Edwin Rosario was one, and a tough little rock of a fighter named Carmelo Negron was the other. Was in San Juan a couple of times back in the 80’s. Puerto Rico is indeed the “pearl of the Carribean.”

  3. Pete The Sneak 06:36pm, 08/29/2014

    ” Gomez was the original Mexicutioner, but for that one night, Sanchez humbled him badly.”...No doubt Eric, that was a rough night for us Boricuas…But despite all that, we maintained a grudging respect for Sanchez and wanted nothing more than our guy to get his rematch/revenge…Now what I am saying here will be considered heresy on the island, but as a realist, I think Sanchez would have won in the rematch as well.. Styles make fights and I think Salvador’s style of fighting would have always beaten the great Wilfredo…Peace..


  4. Eric 03:01pm, 08/29/2014

    Pete, One has to wonder why Zarate agreed to have a fight in Puerto Rico instead of a neutral setting. I had read that Zarate actually had trouble making weight, kind of ironic since he was the smaller man that was moving up. This led to accusations that the scales were tampered with. Another excuse used was that Zarate had been “sick” during the week leading up to the fight, but we seem to always hear stuff like that from the losing fighter. Gomez would later claim he didn’t have enough time to properly prepare for Sanchez. I believe Gomez stated he and his bride were on their honeymoon when the fight was made and he had only a brief time to get in fighting shape. Gomez was the original Mexicutioner, but for that one night, Sanchez humbled him badly.

  5. Pete The Sneak 01:41pm, 08/29/2014

    Eric, what, you don’t like us Boricuas?...LOL…Just kidding…Actually, I agree with you on Gomez going a bit overboard with his victory over Zarate, but there was a lot of crap going on leading up to that fight and I think Gomez let his emotions get the best of him there. No excuse, just saying…As for Salvador and Gomez, yeah man, that was a rematch we were all waiting for. Sanchez sudden demise not only took away a great boxer from his family and Mexico in general, but also deprived us boxing fans of some very intriguing and exciting bouts that would have occurred during that time…Peace…

  6. Eric 08:06am, 08/29/2014

    Loved both fighters but was rooting for Zarate in this fight. Absolutely shocked at how Gomez dominated. Gomez made Zarate look as if he had cinder blocks tied to his ankles. I nearly always root for the Mexican fighter in these Mexico vs. Puerto Rico matchups, with a few exceptions. I always liked Gomez but think he was pretty classless in this particular victory over Zarate, it even appears he spits on the fallen Zarate. When “The Battle of the Little Giants” took place a few years later, matching Gomez against Sanchez, I found myself once again rooting for the Mexican fighter, Salvador Sanchez. Gomez really showed how much tremendous heart he had in that fight, and actually had his moments despite the beating Sanchez put on him. Unfortunately, Sanchez would tragically die before a rematch could be made. I feel Gomez would’ve been more prepared for the rematch, he had reportedly not had enough time to train for the Sanchez fight. You almost could include the Panamanian, Roberto Duran, in these Mexico vs Puerto Rico fights since Duran’s father was Mexican. Duran had quite a feud going with Adolfo and Edwin Viruet brothers in the ‘70’s. The combined record of 73-0-1 with 72 knockouts! How often will that happen. Of course Zarate, like Duran with Leonard, had posted the bulk of those wins.

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