20-20 vision – The greatest fighter from Puerto Rico: Wilfredo Gomez
Most countries have produced at least one or two special boxers whose ring exploits have been etched permanently in our collective memory. That includes tiny nations like Puerto Rico and behemoths like the U.S. and Mexico, as well many in between.
In this feature, The Ring looks closely at 20 countries with strong boxing traditions and selects the best fighter from each.
The process wasn’t easy. First, we had to select the 20 countries, which proved to be painstaking. Some nations that have produced memorable fighters didn’t make the list. And, second, choosing a single boxer from the countries that did make the cut was easy in some cases – Panama, for example – but excruciating in others.
The countries will be rolled out in alphabetical order one day at a time at The Ring.
Notes: The “five more” listed at the bottom of each capsule were among other fighters in the discussion for each nation. … Some boxers lived in more than one country. We assigned each to the country where they spent their formative years. For example, a fighter who left one country as a small child was assigned to his second country.
Birthdate / place: October 29, 1956 / San Juan
Years active: 1974-89
Record: 44-3-1 (42 KOs)
Major titles: WBC junior featherweight (1977-83), Ring junior featherweight (1979-83), WBC featherweight (1984), Ring and WBA junior lightweight (1985-86)
Greatest victories: Juan LaPorte, Rocky Lockridge, Lupe Pintor, Dong Kyun Yum, Carlos Zarate
Background: The numbers are mind boggling: 44 victories, 42 knockouts; 17 successful defenses of his 122-pound title, 17 knockouts; 20-3 record in world title fights, 18 knockouts. You get the idea. Gomez’s otherworldly punching power – combined with better skills than many realize – made him one of the most successful and compelling fighters of his time. Gomez was an excellent amateur fighter, reportedly compiling a record of 96-3, winning a world title and fighting for Puerto Rico in the 1972 Olympics. He started his pro career with a draw but then embarked on one of the greatest knockout runs in history and won major titles in three divisions. He won his first belt by rising from a first-round knockdown to stop sturdy South Korean Dong Kyun Yum and take his WBC junior featherweight championship, which he would hold for six years. One of his defenses, an early classic in the Puerto Rico vs. Mexico rivalry, probably was his greatest victory. He and Mexican slugger Carlos Zarate entered their epic October 1978 fight with a combined record of 73-0-1 – with 72 knockouts. Somebody was going to get knocked out. And it turned out to be Zarate, who went down three times before the fight was stopped 44 seconds into Round 5. If Gomez wasn’t a hero among his countrymen before that fight, he was after it. His run of uninterrupted success would continue for three more years, when he decided to challenge another Mexican – the great Salvador Sanchez – for the Ring and WBC 126-pound title in August 1981. This time, it was the Mexican who prevailed in a wild fight. Sanchez put Gomez down in the first round and again the eighth, at which time the fight was stopped with the challenger’s face a battered, swollen mess. Gomez was beaten but hardly finished. He successfully defended his 122-pound title four more times before moving up again to 126 in 1983. The following year he outpointed Juan LaPorte to win the WBC featherweight title and, in 1985, he did the same against Rocky Lockridge to win the RING and WBA 130-pound championship. He lost both belts in first defenses and fought only a few more times before retiring as one of the most popular boxers ever.
Quote: “He was very tough,” Lupe Pinter said of Gomez. “He was like a train, like me. It was like a train clash. Unfortunately in the 14th round I got hit.”
Five more from Puerto Rico (in alphabetical order): Wilfredo Benitez, Miguel Cotto, Felix Trinidad, Edwin Rosario, Hector Camacho
Next up: Russia
Ones you missed:
Argentina: Carlos Monzon
Australia: Jeff Fenech
Canada: Sam Langford
Cuba: Jose Napoles
France: Marcel Cerdan
Germany: Max Schmeling
Ghana: Azumah Nelson
Ireland: Barry McGuigan
Italy: Nino Benvenuti
Japan: Fighting Harada
Mexico: Julio Cesar Chavez
Panama: Roberto Duran
Philippines: Manny Pacquiao
You can order the current issue, which is on newsstands, or back issues from our subscribe page.