05 June 2008 – by Mark Doyle
There is very little left to be written about Michael Gomez that has not already been written. Well, thats the common consensus, at least in terms of his boxing career.
However, the man himself believes that there is one last glorious chapter left, one last twist in the plot.
On June 21, at the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham, Gomez will challenge Britains latest boxing superstar, Amir Khan, for the Bolton natives Commonwealth title.
It is being viewed as a mismatch, nothing more than a tune-up fight for Khan ahead of a proposed bout with Gavin Rees, just another stepping stone on Khans seemingly pre-destined path towards world title glory.
Gomez, it is felt, will provide game resistance for a couple of rounds but will be ultimately blitzed by Khans blistering hand speed. Gomez, those supposedly in the know claim, has nothing left.
He is, according to many, shot after a career in which he has featured in several monumental wars.
Others believe he no longer has the heart for it, pointing to the night he chose to stop fighting in the middle of his Irish lightweight title fight with Peter McDonagh.
However, Gomez insists that the fire still rages within; it just took a fight of this enormity of reignite it.
This is the biggest fight of my life and Im in the best shape of my life. Things are going really well so I cant wait, he enthuses in an exclusive interview with irish-boxing.com.
I havent been looking the best in my last couple of fights. I really have been up and down since the McDonagh fight and people have been saying that Im finished. But its not about having nothing left or being finished its about interest. I just lost interest in boxing.
I lost interest half way through the Carl Johanneson fight [ a sixth-round stoppage defeat in October of last year] and stopped moving my head, even though that was a good war.
I also had a good warm-up since then, against Baz Carey, and I felt good after that. I was feeling slicker and I was just thinking to myself, I can still box, Im enjoying training again and I can still make a good bit of dough of this.
And then the Amir Khan fight came up and I thought, what a way to end your career, by turning over Amir Khan!
And Ive done it before. Ive been in fights where nobody was giving me a chance and theyre all writing me off at the minute but Im going to go in there and shock the world.
And a shock it would be. Khan, at 21, is one of the most exciting young talents in boxing. He is the reigning Commonwealth lightweight champion, undefeated in 17 professional bouts, with 14 coming by way of knockout, and a former Olympian who is now within perhaps two fights of a shot at the WBO world title.
Gomez freely admits that Khan is a special talent but insists that he is not unbeatable.
His hand speed is incredible and thats the main problem Im going to have to deal with particularly in the first couple of rounds. I do believe he is world class, because Ive mixed in world class before, he concedes.
But, in saying that, there are lots of vulnerabilities about his fighting style. Willie Limond is a personal friend and he knocked Khan down in their fight last year.
Now, although hes got a bit of punching power, he shouldnt have been able to do that to Khan.
I really dont think Khans ever been in with anyone who can hit like me so we dont know how hell react to that. Lets see how Khan reacts when he gets hit, when he gets cut. So I want to jump on him and get a good stiff jab going into his face and see what he does.
Of course, some people are more interested in seeing what Gomez does. He is one of the fight games great imponderables. Nobody has ever really known what to expect from the Irish-born Mancunian. Nobody has ever known what was coming next.
Outside of the ring he has faced murder charges and been stabbed (he was clinically dead for 48 seconds on the operating table), while inside it he has suffered shock defeats and then followed them up with incredible victories.
In October, 2003, he travelled up to Edinburgh to take on the then British super-featherweight champion Alex Arthur, who, at the time, was being tipped as a future world champion [a belief ultimately proved correct]. Gomez destroyed the Scot in five pulsating rounds.
The parallels between that win and the upcoming meeting with Khan are obvious and, unsurprisingly, Gomez is using the Arthur bout as a source of confidence, inspiration and, most importantly, motivation.
Ill be honest, if you put me in with Alex Arthur now Id smash him up, but if you put me in with Peter McDonagh Id get out of the ring after two or three rounds, he confesses.
It all comes down to motivation. Everybody thinks Im looking at this as a payday but Im not going there to make up the numbers. Im going down there for the simple fact that come June 22 every household in Britain will now the name Michael Gomez. What more drive could I want? What more could I want motivating?
Its coming at the right time for me. The day of the fight is my 31st birthday and obviously we all know that I remember my 21st birthday for all the wrong reasons because I was in court waiting for the jury to come back and give their ruling on my murder charge. But Im going to remember my 31st birthday for all the right reasons, for smashing up Amir Khan.
Motivation, Gomez reveals, is also being drawn from the fact that Khans promoter is Frank Warren, a man he believes could have served him better when he was younger.
I was number one British super-featherweight for five years and Frank Warren didnt give me any chances but now hes given me a chance against Khan and Im going to prove to him that he should have given me a chance all those years ago by capturing the Commonwealth title, he vows.
The belt itself is not really important, but beating Khan would mean so much and set me up for big things. But, in saying that, Im not really looking beyond Amir Khan.
People keep asking me what Im going to do after the fight but all Im concentrating on is Amir Khan. Im living, breathing and training Amir Khan. Hes already pencilled in Gavin Rees for his next fight so hes already writing me off but all Im doing is thinking about this fight.
Indeed, trying to get Gomez to talk about anything other than Khan is almost an exercise in futility. He does not what to think about anything else.
However, something he will be drawn on is the possibility of a return to Ireland. He feels obliged to make amends for the McDonagh affair.
Im so proud of my Irish roots. Ive walked around England with a shamrock shaved in the back of my head for year and I get in the ring with a tricolour on my shorts thats how proud I am of where Im from, he says passionately.
Obviously, things didnt go too well the last time I went back to Ireland and Ive got to get this fight out of the way first but then well start to think about the next move. Ive got to overturn that McDonagh fight before I retire, not just for myself but for Irish boxing fans.
But first things first, lets just concentrate on beating Amir Khan and getting one of the Irish boys back on top.
Never at any stage during the interview does Gomez let his guard drop and it is impossible not to be taken aback by his passion and intensity. He truly believes he can win this fight.
Let me tell you something, this is all new to Khan. He hasnt fought someone whos going to be in his face. He hasnt fought someone who can hit like me, he argues.
He hasnt fought someone with the passion and desire I have, not just to win but to prove everyone wrong. Hes never been taken into the trenches. Hes got all the tools to beat me but he hasnt got the heart.
Ive been written off time after time after time. Ive seen it all before. If I get knocked down in the first round, Ill just say hey, so what, Ive been here before. If I get cut, Ill just say, hey, Ive been here before.
Let me tell you, when Michael Gomez is on form hes as vicious and hard-hitting as Mike Tyson. I can tell you that now.
People are saying Khans got great hand speed and he does have great hand speed. People are saying that Im a super-featherweight jumping up to lightweight but I was supposed to move up to lightweight for years. But Im going to move up to lightweight and show people how hard I am.
He has been doing that throughout his whole career, it is one of the reasons why his nickname The Irish Mexican has always been so fitting, why he has often been compared with Johnny Tapia.
It is tempting to ask him how he thinks he will be remembered, now that he is approaching the end of a remarkable and turbulent career but he is not interested in discussing it. Typically, he declares he will go on his own terms – and vows to go out with a bang.
Ill decide when to retire. Ill know when its time to walk away. Ive got three lovely kids and a beautiful wife and Ill start looking after them.
When that time comes round, Ill hang up my gloves but I wont be doing that after this fight because I am not going to lose this fight. Mark my words: I am not going to lose to Amir Khan. Theres no way.
Anyone else dare believe him?