Jonny Oakley catches up with Alfonso Gomez to find out why he can win a world title
30.08.07 - By Johnny Oakley: Alfonso Gomez lives for a challenge. ‘I’ll definitely be a world champion by next year’ beams an accommodating and expansive California resident. The trade winds have caught his sails of late, most notably with his efforts in dethroning former two-division ‘world’ titleholder and crown prince of pain, Arturo Gatti.
Article posted on 30.08.2007
Gomez is now a hot commercial property on network television and in the true spirit of his propensity to make an already demanding profession even more so; he has set his sights on becoming a world titlist by 2008. But it hasn’t always been this way.
Alfonso was born into the fledgling Gomez clan in Guadalajara, Mexico, in 1980, and into the grip of abject poverty that consumed it. ‘I grew up in a lot of poverty’ confessed Gomez. ‘It was hard to find opportunities for my parents, and for us (Gomez has 2 brothers) in school, so that’s why we moved to America, when I was about 10.’
It was necessity rather than desire that prompted Alfonso’s first fistic encounters. Fighting did not come instinctively to the young Gomez, who suffered bullying as a Mexican immigrant in the US, with a mastery of the English language comparable to that of Pingu. ‘That was a long time ago. Kids bothering kids – I’d come from Mexico, and I didn’t speak any English – but the good thing is that I got into boxing. It was a new experience. I didn’t know boxing existed, I didn’t even know what a punching bag was, but ever since the first day, I enjoyed it.’
Gomez possessed talent that quickly surfaced. ‘I started having amateur fights after just a few months’ he declares proudly. Compiling an 80-10 record over almost ten years as an amateur, Gomez has genuine pedigree in the unpaid ranks. ‘I was amateur champion in the US, and in Mexico’ says Gomez. ‘I missed making the Olympics by one fight. I think I would have done great. Yeah, I was disappointed. It was my own fault; I was a little undisciplined back then. It was a hard lesson to learn.’ Promising Olympians often find their careers bankrolled by the courtship of promoters and network television. That door had closed. Gomez had to do it the hard way, but he’s Mexican, and it’s in his blood. The harder the road, the harder he runs. ‘It comes from inside me, its just something a boxer is born with. You can’t teach that sort of thing. When the heat is on, and you have to raise your game, you can’t teach that to someone who doesn’t have it.’
Borne out of the hardship he knew as a child was another truth fundamental to his success – the closeness of his family. ‘My parents sacrificed a lot for me, and my brothers. The sacrifices they made, I guess I compensate for. We try to be close together. If I’m making weight, when I have to diet they (his brothers) diet with me. When I can’t eat pizza, they stop eating pizza.’ Under no illusions as to the gravity of his family’s sacrifices, Gomez harbours dreams of paying it all back. ‘We’re all sacrifice right now, and when I’m through boxing we can start enjoying ourselves. It definitely makes me fight harder, always moving forward.’ The nuclear Gomez family has bred into Alfonso an atomic energy, harnessed by his father and trainer Alfonso senior. ‘My family is a big part of my success, particularly my father’ is Gomez’ concise assessment.
The pattern of tough beginnings that is Alfonso’s existence repeated, this time with his professional debut. ‘Most other fighters known right now have their records padded with OK fighters. As for myself, I started out fighting prospects. I was always the smaller guy, or I would go to their backyards, there was always something against me. It was tough, but the advantage is that I gained a lot of experience that way.’ In losing to Ishe Smith and splitting two fights with Jesse Feliciano in his first eight professional outings, Gomez suffered a more fraught baptism as a prizefighter than Oliver Cromwell did as Lord Protector. After only thirteen fights, Gomez entered the pioneering Contender tournament. Alfonso’s popularity soared, his boyish charm and underdog’s pluck easy to root for. ‘I always knew I would be somebody great, a famous person, somebody who had money. It was a shortcut for me. I have no doubt I would still be in the spotlight’ he claims. It is interesting that Gomez treats the Gatti encounter, and not the Contender as his breakthrough. It is too simplistic to dismiss Gomez a future champion on the grounds of his defeat to Peter Manfredo (after previously beating Manfredo in a previous round) on the television show. Gomez is still a relative novice, and if the Contender seemed like last chance saloon, Gomez was an underage drinker.
‘The Gatti fight was the sharpest, best performance in my professional career, because of the importance of the fight, and also my training regimen. My team did a great job with my nutrition, so that played a big part.’ Promising activity levels see Gomez face another wily old pro in just a few weeks time. ‘Oh I’ve definitely improved. On October 16th I’m fighting a great fighter in Ben Tackie. He’s been in with Kostya Tszyu and Ricky Hatton so he’s very experienced. I want to show how much better I’m getting and I’m ready for a name fighter in the division.’ Ghanaian Tackie is durable, extending both Tszyu and Hatton for the twelve round duration, and registered a gallant losing effort to promising Freddy Hernandez. Instilling confidence in a fighter is a prerequisite to develop their performance levels. Gomez is gifted with the innate confidence his rough emergence supplied. ‘I built up an amateur record of 80 wins and 10 losses. Also, fighting Ishe Smith and Jesse Feliciano gives me a lot of confidence now, because I have accomplished so much already.’
Gomez, though, aspires to much loftier designs. ‘I’ll definitely be a world champion by the end of the year (2008)’ he declares. Much copy was devoted to a possible face-off with undefeated Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., and with Gomez known as the ‘executioner of the undefeated’ in the Mexican press during his early career, the assumption that it will eventually come to fruition is not without merit. Gomez certainly continues to pursue it. ‘Its definitely an attractive fight, and if its made then it will possibly be early next year.’ Gomez’ horizons however, remain typically broad. ‘He’s one of the recognised names, but the welterweight division is packed with great fighters. Then you have great light-welterweights like Hatton moving up and great junior middleweights like De La Hoya moving down.’ As an afterthought, he adds ‘so its not all about Chavez.’
It remains too soon to eulogise his performance against Gatti. Similar to over-ripe fruit in the grocery store, the expiring welcome of Arturo’s ripened countenance in the prize ring is evident. Gomez punished him mercilessly, although Gatti’s slowed reflexes did him few favours. I’ve seen people on fire move better. Although ageing fighters are a good litmus test for their younger counterparts, judgement instead should be reserved until Alfonso hunts down the name fighter his burgeoning reputation stalks. ‘I do see myself challenging them, I’ve got a style that will cause them problems.’ Williams seems to be the man off Gomez’ agenda for the time being. ‘The toughest for me would be Paul Williams. He’s a very good fighter, very tall, a southpaw, and he works hard. He throws over 100punches per round!’
The best is yet to come from Gomez. After only 22 bouts he’s no veteran and walking around at 26, his peak physical years may be just around the corner at 27th or 28th street. Although unpalatable to boxing connoisseurs, cooking in the alphabet soup are the options allowing Gomez to pursue a particular avenue offering the best opportunity to complete the return journey with a world title. As for the dream, ‘its becoming more real as the fights go on’ says Gomez, an admission perhaps that there are still fighters to come who aren’t transparent and can’t afford to be treated as such. Nevertheless, ‘When I do become world champion,’ he says, ‘I’ll definitely be one of the more popular champions.’ Certainly, that can’t be up for discussion.
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