by James Slater: Now that they are finally set to meet Juan Carlos Gomez and Vladimir Virches get the chance to earn a shot at the WBC heavyweight title later this year. Set to meet in a final eliminator in Germany on the 27th of September, Virches and Gomez will likely put on a good, fan-friendly fight. But who wins?
Southpaw Gomez, now aged 34 and originally from Cuba, has seemingly been around forever. A former long-reigning WBC cruiserweight champion who gave up his belt as opposed to losing it, the southpaw turned pro in 1995. A decorated amateur before his defection from Cuba, “The Black Panther” relocated to his current home of Germany. In compiling a very good pro record that now stands at 43-1-0-1(35), Gomez has won a number of fights up at heavyweight since his decision to give up his cruiserweight world title after capturing it ten years ago and making as many successful defences.
Good wins over Oliver McCall (in a return fight after engaging in a bout that was ruled a No-Contest afterwards due to Gomez’s taking of an illegal substance) and Sinan Samil Sam are noteworthy, but Gomez’s wins down at cruiserweight came against his best opposition. With wins over the likes of Marcelo Fabian Dominguez, Al “Ice” Cole and Jorge Castro, Gomez proved he was a very fine cruiserweight. Can he go on to become a champion up at heavyweight?
Aside from the shock (fluke?) one round loss to Yanqui Diaz he suffered back in August of 2004, Gomez has done nothing that would suggest he has any less chance of winning a version of the heavyweight title than any of the other top-ten guys out there. Gifted, in possession of a good boxing brain and wiling to face the best, the 34-year-old just might win something at heavyweight even this late in his career. Can he beat the 24-1(20) Virches though?
The same age as Gomez at 34, Virches has fought a number of notable heavyweights. Losing closely on points to Ruslan Chagaev (like Gomez, a southpaw) in a WBA Inter-Continental title fight in March of 2006 is nothing to be ashamed of, and the 6’5″ Virches has won four fights since. Good wins over Michael Sprott (W UD12) and Taras Bidenko showed that Virches can fight. Still, he won neither of these fights easily. Behind on points against Bidenko before forcing the stoppage and deemed somewhat lucky by some to get the verdict over Sprott, there is no doubt Virches can be limited at times. The 34-year-old from Ukraine has a decent punch and is very determined, however. The fight with Gomez is a good match-up.
In terms of size, Virches is the taller and heavier man. At 6’3″ and approx 225 pounds, Gomez will be giving away both height and weight (Virches weighs-in at around 250) – could this be a factor in the fight? Gomez is by far the better boxer, however, and his pedigree is vastly proven – at least at cruiserweight. Both men will be coming off fairly long inactive periods when September’s fight rolls along. Gomez has not fought since his points win over McCall in October of last year, and Virches hasn’t boxed since stopping Robert Hawkins in 5 rounds this past November.
With a shot at the WBC heavyweight crown on the line both men will be at their best and ready to win. This writer picks the faster and more skilful Gomez, though he is not the natural heavyweight of the two, to win a close decision.