A Fire Burns Within: The Real Wilfredo Gomez

A Fire Burns Within: The Real Wilfredo Gomez

 

“No one can beat me” – Wilfredo Gómez

 

There was something special about Wilfredo “Bazooka” Gómez long before he fought for the 122-pound world championship. The way he carried himself. The confidence. The feeling of being invincible. The utter defiance. For Gomez, it was only a matter of time before he would become champion of the world. Anyone who saw him fight during this time was likely to concur.

Despite only having 16 fights heading into the June 21, 1977 championship showdown, Gómez (15-0-1, 15 KOs) was mentally and physically prepared for world-class competition. He jumped to the professional ranks after winning gold at both the prestigious Central American Games in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic and the World Championships in Havana, Cuba in 1974. By the time South Korean WBC super bantamweight champion Dong Kyun Yum defended his 122-pound crown against Gómez in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Yum had already fought over 50 bouts, and was on the downside of his career.

In 1977, Yum was making the third defense of his title. It had not been an easy journey for the South Korean who entered the fight with a record of 47-2-6 (20 KOs).  Yum lost his first attempt at a world champion when he dropped a highly controversial 15-round split decision to Panama’s Rigoberto Riasco in August of 1976. Subsequently, Riasco relinquished his belt two months later when he was knocked out by Royal Kobayashi in eight rounds. That loss opened the door again for Yum, who earned his second title shot within a three-month time span. This time Yum took advantage of his opportunity and won a 15-round majority decision over Kobayashi to earn the title.

As is the case with so many young fighters competing for a world title, Gómez came into the title bout overanxious. Yum was not in Gómez’s class, but few fighters were in 1977. He was a young dynamo who could do everything a great fighter was supposed to do in the ring. If Gómez needed to box, he boxed beautifully. If Gómez needed a knockout, he coolly pressed the action. If Gómez needed to win a round, he spent nearly the entire three minutes attacking his opponent. However, young fighters make mistakes, and Gómez got his out of the way early on in the bout.

Thus, nearly a minute into that first round as Gómez wound up to release his vaunted left hook, he blindly walked into a left hook and immediately went down. Shocked more than hurt, Gómez had made a tactical error. It was a flash knockdown, but Gómez was able to gain a couple of extra seconds of recovery time as the referee Dick Young concerned himself with keeping Yum in the corner. A stinging jab and a right hand that jostled Yum quickly reminded the Puerto Rican faithful in Roberto Clemente Coliseum that the knockdown was a fluke, but Yum stayed relentless as he tried his best to end the fight.

Yum fought with a style that resembled Roberto Duran in many ways – the way he threw the right hand with reckless abandon; the hop step before every punch; the manner in which he reset after every combination. He even resembled Duran when he threw those wild punches and his black hair flailed back and forth. Yet, Yum lacked the head movement and the speed,  which were two attributes that Gómez utilized in abundance.

As the fight progressed,Yum felt Gómez’s sharp jab and right hand more frequently. In order to avoid the brunt Gómez ‘s incoming flurries in the second round, Yum clinched and grabbed and tried his best to slow the exceedingly fast pace that Gómez had established. On the other hand, Yum realized how vulnerable Gómez was for that left hook, and landed two consecutive ones in the middle of the round.

Still screaming at each other at the end of each round, Yum and Gómez both came back in the third and had their moments. Each time Gómez hit Yum, the WBC champ flopped and flailed, and Gómez responded again with another attack. The fans gave Gómez a standing ovation a round later as Gómez ‘s speed, power, and accuracy were on display. It was rare to see a young fighter evoke such emotion within a crowd, while showcasing veteran moves. Mixing in vicious right and left uppercuts, Gómez began to dominate the fight and even hurt Yum in the sixth round. Trying to withstand a barrage of right hand leads, Yum staggered and turned his head away from the fight completely – a desperate act. Gómez continued to forge ahead and attack. The pressure was too intense for any fighter in that weight class. Gomez had six more rounds left before becoming a world champ.

Battered, exhausted, and virtually helpless, Yum rarely fought back in the final three rounds. With the crowd on its feet anxiously awaiting the announcement that the kid from Las Monjas was now a world champ, Gomez obliged by ripping left hooks and shuttering straight rights that only the most resilient opponent could survive. In the ninth and tenth rounds, Gomez was supposed to slow down, but he hardly relented.

In the 12th and final round, Yum absorbed such vicious blows that a cautious referee may have stopped it after the first minute where Gomez tripled on his hooks, raked him with a lunging hook, jarred him with an uppercut, and continued to chase and punish him. Yum ran, clinched, threw a counter, covered up, and then finally went down from a right cross that landed while he was in a crouching position. Yum quickly rolled over and listened as Young counted him out. It was the most electrifying and vicious two minutes and forty seconds that a fight fan could imagine. Gomez was immediately engulfed by his people, as dozens stormed the ring to touch him. He was the new champion, and, at 20, Gomez was on the brink of becoming the country’s next hero.

 

 

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