Klitschko won’t have an easy time with underrated Gomez
Vitali Klitschko’s ninth-round stoppage of Samuel Peter last October — after nearly four years out of the ring — was the consensus pick for Comeback of the Year for 2008.
Klitschko, at age 37, showed no signs of rust as he expertly stifled Peter’s offense with a punishing jab that controlled the distance and pace of the fight while he broke the Nigerian puncher down with powerful and accurate right hands.
The WBC title-winning effort was one of the best “feel-good” sports stories in Europe, and probably one of the top news stories, period, in Klitschko’s native Ukraine.
However, lost in the euphoria of Klitschko’s masterful performance were two facts:
1. Peter, a heavy handed but plodding and technically raw fighter, was tailor-made for Klitschko, stylistically speaking.
2. The Las Vegas-based beltholder — whose best wins had come against a badly faded and undersized James Toney, and had been dropped three times against Jameel McCline — was overrated.
Juan Carlos Gomez, the WBC mandatory challenger that Klitschko faces Saturday in Stuttgart, Germany, is not tailor-made, and the former Cuban amateur star is probably underrated.
How can Gomez, a world amateur champ and former cruiserweight titleholder who logged 10 title defenses and holds an impressive pro record (44-1, 35 KOs), be underrated?
Well, the last time the Germany-based heavyweight fought in the U.S. he was blown out in one by round by Yanqui Diaz, a Peter KO victim, and that fight was televised on Telefutura.
The dismal performance led most U.S. fans and media to assume that Gomez, only three fights removed from his cruiserweight title reign, was either not strong enough to compete in the heavyweight division or another in the long list of amateur standouts from Cuba who underachieved after they defected and turned pro.
Gomez’s eight subsequent heavyweight bouts suggest that the 6-foot-4 southpaw can effectively carry 220 to 230 pounds, but the one non-victory in that streak — a 10-round decision over Oliver McCall that was changed to a no-contest after he tested positive for cocaine in a post-fight drug test — keeps his dedication to the sport in question.
However, since that setback against the former titleholder in October of 2005, Gomez has looked sharp, particularly in his last two bouts — 12-round decisions over McCall and once-beaten Vladimir Virchis.
If there is a prime example of why Gomez will be a more difficult fight for Klitschko than Peter was, it’s the Cuban’s performance against Virchis, a well-schooled, 6-foot-5 orthodox boxer whose only loss going into the WBC title-elimination bout last September was a majority decision to current WBA titleholder Ruslan Chagaev.
In that unanimous-decision victory, Gomez showed all of the talent and tools that made him a dominating cruiserweight: textbook technique, good balance, fluid footwork, fast hands, an educated jab and a very sneaky left cross that produced a fourth-round knockdown.
Gomez was at his relaxed and confident best against Virchis, out-jabbing the Ukrainian and consistently beating him to the punch with counters hots and quick combinations in close.
Unlike the slow and stationary Peter, Gomez has the height, reach and speed to catch Klitschko from the outside and the footwork to constantly change the angle of his attack.
However, even at his best, Gomez won’t have as easy a time with Klitschko as he did with Virchis.
Aside from being tall, orthodox and from Ukraine, Virchis really can’t be compared to Klitschko, who is a much better athlete and smarter boxer.
But Gomez believes that he’s a smarter boxer than “Dr. Steel Hammer” and claims that he often out-foxed Klitschko in sparring sessions the two had a decade ago when both were trained by Fritz Sdunek and promoted by Germany-based Universum.
Said Gomez, who weighed in at 230 pounds for Saturday’s fight, “I’ll toy with ‘Dr. Wimp’ and outbox him in a way that there won’t be two opinions about the outcome.”
Klitschko, who weighed in at 249 pounds, refutes Gomez’s sparring stories and says the two got along when they were in the same stable and always engaged in friendly workmanlike sparring sessions.
“I like Juan a lot. He’s a nice guy and a buddy of mine,” Klitschko (36-2, 35 KOs) said. “It’s a real pity that I now have to beat him up.”