Sergio Mora may have been the champion of the first season of The Contender, but for the time being, in the real contender sweepstakes, it is also-ran Alfonso Gomez who has taken the lead.
The tall and rangy Mora competes at middleweight, the same class he was in when participating on the show. Gomez, a fan-favorite who cast as the dogged runt of the litter, was at a serious disadvantage when forced to fight at that weight against much bigger men. Yet he still he did quite well.
Wisely, he has since gone down to welter; even at 147, he will never be mistaken for a Soloflex model. But body type doesn’t count for much beyond perception. Guts, skills, ability, confidence, and good contacts matters most. Gomez has all of these things working for him.
Last July, as a heavy underdog, Gomez went to Boardwalk Hall and officially put Arturo Gatti into a long overdue retirement. HBO broadcast the fight, and Gomez looked terrific, systematically breaking down the faded warrior. The Mexican-American from California was the subject of much boxing chatter around that time
Meanwhile, when Mora was mentioned, it usually had to do with the lunacy of his turning down a title shot against then-champion Jermain Taylor, where he would’ve been showcased on regular HBO. (Cory Spinks took the job in what turned out to be Stinker of the Century.)
One thing that seems to separate Gomez from his Contender brethren is his willingness to take on difficult assignments, and do what he must to become a legitimate contender and earn a title shot. With Mora, one gets the sense that he thinks he’s already arrived, based on the massive exposure he received on the reality show.
Well, last Tuesday at the Home Depot Center in Carson, CA Gomez fought the grizzled Ghanaian vet Ben “Wonder” Tackie on ESPN Classic. A straight-ahead pressure fighter whose prime was at jnr. welter, he has never been stopped and been in with seven world champions, including names like Tszyu and Hatton.
Gomez took a hard-earned 10-round UD, with scores of 98-92 twice and 97-93. Admittedly, many of the rounds were close and not that easy to score, but I had the fight much closer, as did ringside analyst Teddy Atlas.
With this win, Gomez—now 18-3-2 (8)—has supposedly set up a big money fight against Julio Cesar Chavez Jnr. This will be a major crossroads fight between two young, beloved Mexicans with an impressive following. If prizefighting is about making money, gaining exposure and entertaining the public, then Gomez is doing his job.
In the co-feature, Mora faced lightly regarded Elvin Ayala and fought to a 10-round draw. Scores were 99-91, 95-95, 94-96.
Mora was last in the ring in August 2006, and only fought one other time last year. He was supposed to fight Kassim Ouma last month but when a fighter in the main event was injured the entire card was scrapped. So some things have been out of his control, but not all.
Momentum is not on Mora’s side at the moment and the fickle fans are fast losing interest in what “The Latin Snake” is up to. He knows it, too. As the LA Raiders owner would advise him, “Just win, baby.”
Gomez-Tackie was a good scrap but nothing you didn’t expect. Tackie—29-8-1 (17)—is nothing if not predictable. It’s toughness and constant pressure that has made him who he is. He stood right in front of Gomez, looking slow and one-dimensional, allowing the bigger Mexican to showcase his underrated boxing skills.
Gomez worked the jab, gave some lateral movement—which Tackie has always adjusted poorly to—and dropped left hooks to the body and occasional lead rights.
Alfonso continued to out-box his opponent in the second, but was caught by a good right hand that came over his jab.
Tackie never stopped coming forward and Gomez never stopped working an effective jab. The jab used to be an underutilized tool for him, but starting with the Gatti fight it has become his bread and butter.
Through the middle to late rounds, Teddy Atlas suggested that Tackie was “tenderizing” Gomez with his pressure. Once the young fighter was softened up, he would be grilled, said the commentator.
But Gomez is a determined fighter and saved himself from being eaten up by consistently applying good fundamentals. Not a special talent, Gomez is making the most of what he has. He is a better conditioned athlete than when national audiences first met him. And whatever flaws he displayed in the past are now not so glaring.
Mora turned down $850,000 to fight Jermain Taylor and reportedly had a purse of $300,000 to fight Ayala. That’s a big drop off, but 300K is still a fantastic sum for a fighter who, in reality—if not reality TV—has much to prove. He’s now 19-0-1 but has a measly four KO’s to his credit.
And yet had he won impressively against Ayala, he was a serious candidate to face Kelly Pavlik in the new champion’s first defense. But Mora came out flat and allowed Ayala to build up a big lead, getting outworked for the first half of the fight.
(That judge David Mendoza—99-91 for Mora—didn’t see it this way is beyond me and the vocal ESPN commentators Atlas and Joe Tessitore.)
Mora rallied in the second half, but there was nothing about his performance that would have you clamoring for more had he not been blessed by the TV gods.
Ayala, now 18-2-1 (8), who had lost two fights in a row in 2006 and 2007 to Contender III participant David Banks, was happy with the verdict. To him, a draw was a win—meaning, he knew the only way he would beat Mora was by knockout.