By Jaime Estades: The invictus Puerto Rican champion had a perfect record of 32 consecutive KOs, most of which were won with relative ease. He was the first expression of invincibility on the island in a long time, perhaps ever. No one embodied the expression “yes we can” to his people more than this boxer. The gods blessed him with an abundant talent in defense, reflexes, speed, accurate aim, and overwhelming power on every punch.
This time he was moving up in weight (126 pounds), and there was no one more dangerous than this opponent. His opponent was Mexican champion who seemed to be transplanted from an ancient era where fighters sometimes fought 40 rounds under an iron sun. Many have said that during fights his heart rate significantly increased when the fight was over after 15 rounds. His cardiovascular system was cooler than Steve McQueen. His physical conditioning was supernatural, and his discipline had no equal in boxing.
The 122-pound KO artist, Puerto Rican fighter was too confident before the fight. But, he was also distracted by his fame and a smoking salsa band vibrating next to his corner, while the 126-pound Mexican champion breathed with concentration between his two eyes, which focused like lasers as he crossed the ring.
The bell rings. They circle. Thirty five seconds later, they move closer to the ropes. Exactly forty seconds, and a straight right send the Puerto Rican demigod to the canvas. He is shocked. He asks himself the same questions more than a thousand times in less than a second, “What happened? ”
On his island, hundreds of thousands of people who were gathered in living rooms and bars simultaneously screamed and yelled in terror the same question their boxer was asking himself: “What happened?” People walked around in circles with their hands on their heads, saying, “How is this possible?” “Get up! Get up!” “Nothing happened!” “He will be ok.”
The champion stumbles. His legs don’t find the floor. He keeps pushing his feet down to see if they find solid ground on which to insert his legs, like the roots of a tree. But, the canvas eludes them like space eludes an astronaut trying to walk in orbit.
The battle continues for eight rounds, with the eyes of the embattled 122-pound champion completely closed. He lets his heart see instead of his eyes. Suddenly, he hits his opponent with a combination that literally lifts him off his feet. The Mexican champion’s physical conditioning make his legs invulnerable. He survives. In the 8th round, the Puerto Rican gladiator falls, not able to see punches coming toward his face.
On the island, the thousands of televisions were sweating blood and tears. Puerto Ricans had never experienced such a collective exorcism of emotions in such a short period of time. Pain surrounded the island like a Tsunami. People were literally gasping for air. Grown men walked depressed, like they had lost a relative. Wilfredo Gomez, the champion himself, did not leave his home for almost two months due to the embarrassment.
Eventually, he got up, returned to his 122-pound weight, and established a record (to this date unsurpassed) of 17 consecutive defenses of his title, all by KO. Two years later, he defeated Lupe Pintor by KO in 14 rounds in what many who witnessed it consider to be the best fight they ever saw.
The rematch that he always wanted never materialized. Salvador Sanchez, died at the age of 23 with the speed of his punches embodied in a car that crashed in his beloved Mexico. Puerto Ricans were in disbelief again, not because of the lost opportunity to revenge the defeat of that night, but because of the respect and love they had for a great boxer.
You may ask how so much passion could exist on an island just 100 miles long and 35 miles wide with only 3 million people? How could the home of so few create close to 60 world champions, more per capita than any country? I do not know. I only know that Puerto Ricans have no problem in showing their victories, defeats and pains. Perhaps is our way of saying, “ We are afraid of nothing, not even the pain of defeat.”