Wilfredo Gomez: A Will to Destroy

By Ted Spoon on November 3, 2013
Wilfredo Gomez: A Will to Destroy
When everything clicked Wilfredo Gomez worked his way into the ranks like a disease.

Damp plaster, minimal equipment; there is something severe about Latino gyms. They’re the kind of place you’d expect to see abandoned pets…

There are many layers to a great fighter. Capturing their essence isn’t a job for BoxRec.

Wilfredo Gomez’s career paints a fierce picture. A not so subtle nickname of Bazooka leaves no chance for misunderstanding; this Puerto Rican pygmy could dig. He could also box, though the artful stuff was more like the restaurant equivalent of an aperitif. Nobody remembers him for handcuffing his prey with subtle moves; in everyone one of those 122-pound defenses the target was wrecked. 

Knockout streaks will never fail to smitten, but Gomez did something very few punchers can claim. He never stopped hunting; brain cells be damned.

Every now and then you’ll see something which burns itself into the memory. One such instance unfolded in Las Vegas, March 12th, 1982. Twelve rounds into his blistering war with Lupe Pintor and Wilfredo Gomez was hoisted from ring center. Plonked back onto his stool the champion didn’t look so hot. Some fighters just swell badly and Gomez’s cheekbones could puff up like he’d been using a hornet’s nest as a speed ball. Staring right back at him, Lupe’s face was without a mark, but that didn’t stop Gomez trying to level the Mexican.

I saw the same thing against Salvador Sanchez.

Up a weight and on the wrong side of beating, Gomez stormed into no man’s land as if he was the one dishing out the lumps. There was no tell in his body language, just another tenderized mug. Disaster was in store on this occasion but, even when outgunned, Wilfredo stuck to his belligerent philosophy. Usually when knockout artists fail to destroy they lose the plot. Gomez reloaded. 

His career is best read backwards, from retirement to debut, because only when you see how Wilfredo met defeat can you appreciate the dynamo that pulverised a division. 

Out on the weary streets of Las Monjas, one may wonder how such a powerful figure could arise. Houses are small, ill-equipped and full of family. Pa isn’t going to be making such a great wage and so many are forced to relocate. Even as an amateur sensation, at a stage when Amir Khan was sickly groomed by the British media, Gomez slept on a worn mattress and dreamt big. Surely locals are poor of spirit. Conversely hard times strengthen the will, and when Gomez made the bold decision to turn professional he packed his gloves for Panama. Out there they “teach boxers how to move inside the ring” figured manager Yamil Chade.

Plain old nerves may have tainted his pro debut, drawing with Jacinto Fuentes, but there was some much needed polish before Gomez opposed the world’s elite. Just how a puncher makes his gift the deciding factor is a subtlety lost to casual fans. Chade recognized a diamond in the rough when he saw one, and just as they’re formed under high pressure some high intensity training was in store for his protégé. 

Damp plaster, minimal equipment; there is something severe about Latino gyms. They’re the kind of place you’d expect to see abandoned pets. Taster sessions are a laughable notion. You can’t dismiss advancements in sports science, but it’s no lie that modern gym protocol suffers from gimmicks. When Gomez got down to business he did so with an intensity which made sure nothing pointless weaselled its way into the daily grind. 

Versus the mitts Wilfredo would punch through the target, and not with singles but high-volume bursts. There was no posturing or light tapping, even when shadowboxing Gomez had a nasty air about him. To hone his agility he would stand against a wall and have a rubber ball thrown at his head. Instinctively he slipped and ducked out of the way, choosing his angles, demonstrating great awareness.

When everything clicked Gomez worked his way into the ranks like a disease.

Fifteen stoppages brought Puerto Rico’s wonder kid to his first world title. Exposure hadn’t been great as an amateur; not so anymore. At twenty Gomez was favored to rip the title away from South Korea’s Dong-Kyun Yum. It was more wrestled away. Yum may have been up against a nation as well as his opponent but he wasn’t spooked. A counter hook dumped Gomez on his pants in the opener and he was rattled by the same punch in round two. Wilfredo pressured in the third but got it right back. He committed a bit of a naughty in round six, ramming his shoulder under Yum’s chin to escape a clinch, eager to do damage. With a pair of springy legs he darted in and out, firing hurtful punches. The champion was ultimately forced into survival mode but fifteen rounds were three too many.

There was a new champion and there was no escape. Leonardo Cruz managed to make it as far as round thirteen but lasting longer only served to increase tomorrow’s soreness. It all seemed thoroughly hopeless. Who to fight for defense number six was a question that could be solved by looking four pounds south.

Carlos Zarate was Mexican, perfect for an icy rivalry, but more enticing was his video game record, 51 knockouts in 52 fights. It the kind of tally almost certainly forged from wasting taxi drivers and part-time butchers. On the contrary Zarate had done away with the best on offer. Another little crate of dynamite called Alfonso Zamora was chewed up and spat out in less than four rounds. A Zarate win was definitely on the cards. A tough fight was a dead cert.

Strangely enough it was even competitive.

From the offset Gomez exhibited superior movement, drifting out of range, zigzagging near the ropes. Zarate’s legs looked like two sticks of wood in comparison, not much bending at the knees. Each time Gomez landed something his countrymen let him know their approval. In round four a counter hook dumped the Mexican. The crowd was deafening. Defiantly Wilfredo gloated over the fallen. Another knockdown and then came round five.

Gomez started this round viciously, even by his standards. Looping hooks turned those wooden legs to jelly, sending Zarate into the ropes, and then he was decked again. Still in destroy mode Gomez blatantly lamped him on the head when down. In Mexico this would have been heavily punished but with thousands of Puerto Ricans going bananas this wasn’t the time or place for by-the-book officiating. The right man won and super-bantamweight contenders felt that bit more vulnerable.

With his expressive face, well-groomed moustache and curly do, Gomez wasn’t a bad looking cat. Good times were had outside the gym. Money had also greatly improved; initially buying his dad a taxi after turning pro, now swanky pads and sports cars weren’t a problem. And the beauty was (similar to Ray Robinson) Gomez had his eye on the small print. This was a fighter in the driving seat of his career…for now.   

Seven more challengers were put out of their misery. The success of Gomez continued to snowball at a time when Muhammad Ali was a sorry sight indeed. At twenty years of age Wilfredo was doing a lot better than The Greatest, but things were getting trickier. Quite muscular for a man of his inches, the scales had been giving him jip. A move up to featherweight was an inevitability which he had drawn out, though of all the champions there have been at 126 lbs., there could have been an easier touch waiting for him than Salvador Sanchez. 

Looking back you wonder how Sanchez was the underdog. Inside eight rounds, after sampling all kinds of his own medicine, Gomez saw the guy in the white shirt close in for a cuddle. Scalding Carlos Padilla was the start of a frustration which would burn intensely for the next year.

The ironies in a man’s life are not few and a classic one in Wilfredo’s was that his insistence on having control of his career ended up removing those who were of most help. Don King was good at encouraging these things and his presence grew. Wherever Gomez thought he would end up he knew he’d get there by fighting. Roberto Duran’s record of concussive defenses at lightweight was already history but Gomez racked up another three, taking him to sixteen.

The last defense at Wilfredo’s premier weight didn’t promise much. Lupe Pintor had beaten Zarate though whether he deserved the decision is another question. He was also floored to boot; floored by the guy Gomez had obliterated. It was part of a Puerto Rican doubleheader with countryman Wilfred Benitez tackling Thomas Hearns in the main event. Things were usually pretty explosive when The Hitman showed up, not so on the night, but what came before would have trumped most fights you could care to name. 

When the best rounds of a fight are three and twelve you know it hasn’t followed a regular pattern. It was high-tempo, gritty, but there were times when combinations seemed to last three whole minutes. Gomez poured everything on Lupe, pinning him to the ropes, and then, having digested punches that thudded through the speakers, the Mexican would start ripping in left uppercuts, inflaming that fragile skin, invigorated at the fact he had absorbed punches you weren’t supposed to.

Before being picked up from the danger zone, Gomez was wobbled at the end of the twelfth. The puncher looked like he had used up every last magazine and ration of strength. Many a brave fighter would have gotten on their bike under these circumstances but Gomez just came out with the same old intentions. When Pintor was finally done in the fourteenth he wasn’t knocked senseless. It didn’t look like he could stomach another round.

Held above his team for all to admire, Gomez had reached the summit of his warpath. Long-time manager Yamil Chade was soon fired and five days later Salvador Sanchez was tragically killed in a car crash, eliminating Gomez’s sole motivation. Suddenly life didn’t make much sense.

Pressing forward usually solved everything and so he continued to do so. Juan Laporte was relieved of his WBC featherweight title, a curious, possibly fictitious decision win, but Azumah Nelson was too strong and halted Wilfredo in the eleventh; the efforts to rise are some of the most ballsy you’ll ever see. This warrior spirit was happy to drag his body through a few more ordeals.   

It was far from easy, actually it was pretty ugly, but Gomez managed to snatch a third title at 130 lbs. after winning a majority decision over Rocky Lockridge. The moment had come to get his fill of limelight. What used to be a simple office job had turned into back-breaking labor. Three more fights and it was adios.

Getting into the Hall of Fame was child’s play.

Recently Wilfredo turned fifty seven. The voice that recalls yesteryear is a particularly raspy one; something he attributes to Lockridge having socked him in the throat. Unmistakably plump, the picture is now one of a man who has indulged, a little too much admittedly, falling foul of drugs and cursing empty pockets. Fortunately his darkest hour became known as the past.

Earlier this year Gomez suffered respiratory arrest. That he refused to succumb isn’t surprising though it may be timely for Puerto Rico’s most explosive fighter to meditate on some of his more sober philosophy; an adage to get everyone thinking.

“In this world we are only visitors.”

I’m inclined to agree with the one they called Bazooka.

Most who fell under his aim didn’t last.

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Wilfredo Gomez vs Dong Kyun Yum [Full Fight]

Boxing Wilfredo Gomez vs Carlos Zarate

Salvador Sanchez vs Wilfredo Gomez

Wilfredo Gomez vs Lupe Pintor[Full Fight]

Wilfredo Gomez vs Azumah Nelson[Full Fight]

Wilfredo Gomez vs Rocky Lockridge

BAZOOKA: The Battles of Wilfredo Gomez (English Subtitles)

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  1. Ted Spoon 02:45am, 11/10/2013

    Cool memories, George R, and nice prediction! nicolas, you may be right here; the word was used to merely to denote a smaller man, but of course, Gomez was no midget. Point taken.

  2. nicolas 09:39am, 11/09/2013

    Don’t believe in political correctness, but I would not call some one a “pygmy”, and certainly not at 5 foot five. I gave praise to Mr Spoon many years ago when he wrote an article on another boxing site regarding I believe the Japanese world champ Yoko Gushiken, and found it sad that no one but myself commented, but fight his use of the world describing Gomez not very flattering at best.

  3. George R 07:29am, 11/09/2013

    I was visiting Puerto Rico with some of my Puerto Rican friends when Wilfredo Gomez was to fight Salvador Sanchez of Mexico. I had seen both fighters in many title fights before, and was impressed with both as champions. I did favor Sanchez to win the fight because of his impressive conditioning and boxing ability, but of course I would be rooting for Gomez along with all of his fellow countrymen to win. I was surprised to see that all of my friends and many other Puerto Ricans were betting alot of money on Gomez to win. I asked some of my friends if they had ever seen Sanchez fight, and they said they had not. I told them that he was an excellent fighter and that I wouldn’t bet against him, but they did so anyway. It was a great fight and Gomez put up a tremendous battle even though his jaw was broken and his eye closed during the fight. I felt badly that I gave the impression that Gomez would lose to my friends, but I was just trying to help them to enjoy the fight without worrying about losing their shirts in the process.

  4. Ted 08:37am, 11/05/2013

    The Sanchez fight was a monumental one and most thought Gomez would KO him such was his mystique. But that was the one that cemented Chava’s greatness among Mexican fans.

  5. Tony 10:05am, 11/04/2013

    Thanks for the enjoyable read and reminder.

    One thing that always struck me about watching Gomez: he always looked to be extraordinarily loose and relaxed for a big puncher.  Lots of fluid guys don’t seem to be able to generate much force (Chris Byrd is an example that comes readily to my mind).  And lots of punchers seem to be in a perpetual state of rigid, high-tension, full windup (that’s what Julian Jackson always looked like to me).  Gomez looked like he didn’t have to crank his whole being into a punch, and yet that punch could change the course of practically any fight in the 122-pound ranks.  It was fun to watch.

  6. Clarence George 04:15am, 11/04/2013

    Terrific tale, wonderfully told.  Good use of David Goodis tough-guy lingo—“They’re the kind of place you’d expect to see abandoned pets…Gomez worked his way into the ranks like a disease.”  Nice.

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