Gomez steps up versus Soto
On Saturday night, Frankie Gomez opens up the HBO broadcast – featuring the Texas shootout between Saul Alvarez and James Kirkland – from Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas against veteran Humberto Soto in his first real step-up fight.
A couple of years ago, it seemed like “Pitbull” wouldn’t even make it this far. After tasting unexpected international success before his 18th birthday and signing a lucrative deal with Golden Boy Promotions, Gomez came in with big expectations. However, he discovered that fighting for trophies and medals doesn’t quite carry the same burden as being a professional prizefighter on whom a company has staked six-figures.
Early on, he was undisciplined and simply didn’t understand the responsibilities that came with being a pro. Boxing was now a job and, quite frankly, he was missing work much too often. There were missed training sessions, troubles in making weight and life-and-death affairs against the likes of Adrian Granados.
Golden Boy wasn’t seeing a return on their early investment and they basically staged an intervention (which by the way, ironically, he didn’t show up for).
In many ways, Gomez was the classic case of “too much, too soon.”
Fast forward to 2015, Gomez says of the early turbulence in his career, “I mean, I was young, two, three years back. Everyone goes through those stages but I’m here now where I’m at and I’m focused on the fight. I’m focused on training.”
Gomez is still just 23. When asked what righted the ship, he answered, “I just think I got a little bit older, mature. I have a good opportunity to do good things in boxing and that’s what turned me around.”
“He grew up,” said his older brother, Tony. “Everybody goes through that little stage when you’re young. But he’s more mature.”
After growing up in East LA in a working-class family, suddenly having a few hundred thousand dollars in your bank account can be jarring in many ways. “That was one of the issues,” admitted Tony, adding, “Then you have a lot of friends…”
But his problems weren’t just relegated to boxing; he also faced some legal difficulties.
Yeah, Golden Boy was looking at Francisco Bojado 2.0.
“Boxing-wise, he’s always had the talent. He had some stuff he had to take care of. We kept in communication with his manager and he assured us that everything was going to be OK,” said Eric Gomez, vice president and matchmaker for Golden Boy, who, at the time, had to deal with their duo of Ronnie Rivota, Gomez’s original trainer, and Hector Ibarra, who then managed and negotiated the deal for Gomez to turn pro.
They soon departed and, for a spell, Gomez was up in Big Bear with a pre-Gennady Golovkin Abel Sanchez. The decision was eventually made to call the bullpen in Hollywood.
“We spoke to Freddie [Roach] and I think Freddie, for [Gomez], is a perfect fit because he’s been able to really mentor him and he took him under his wing – and almost like a father figure – and Freddie does that. Freddie’s good with fighters like that,” said the Golden Boy executive, who added, “If you look at the history of fighters he’s worked with, he’s been able to work with [Mike] Tyson, James Toney, guys that might’ve had a little problem in the past, outside of the ring, and he was able to work through those things and I think he’s been able to mentor [Gomez] in a good way.”
Roach – who will not be working the corner this weekend as he will remain at the Wild Card Boxing Club to train middleweight champion Miguel Cotto – said of Gomez on Tuesday morning, “Frankie’s come along really well; we had a long layoff. So he had too much of a weight gain but we’re chipping away right now. But he’s doing really well and I was going to put him in with Miguel Cotto to spar today but he’s leaving, so I didn’t get to do that but I’m looking forward to that. But he’s at that level.”
The veteran trainer hasn’t been shy to call Gomez his best young prospect but as highly as he thinks of him, he is still frustrated by the fact that Gomez isn’t more of a presence at the gym. “The thing is, he likes to take too much time in between fights. He’s not a champion yet and fighters should be in the gym at all times, in my opinion, unless you’re a world champion and you have a couple of fights a year,” said Roach, who added, “Activity is really what he needs and that’s why after this fight, he’s right back in the gym and he will be one of Cotto’s sparring partners next week.”
As for getting Gomez to the gym, well, to make sure that happens, Tony actually drives him there every day.
“That’s my job now, try to get him to a world title,” said the brother, who once worked in construction but whose main task now is to look over young Frankie. In turn, Gomez admitted, “Every time after a fight, it was kinda hard going back right to the gym without my friends and stuff. But once I got back to the gym, I’d be focused for the fight.”
But that’s the difference between a hobby and a vocation – one you can do when you want, the other comes with certain obligations.
Gomez insists this sport is still very much a passion for him, “Boxing is my life; I’ve got a lot of love for boxing. I’ve been doing it since I was five years old. It’s like a part of me already.”
Now the decision-makers up top have decided he is ready to face some live pitching (coincidentally in a major league ballpark). Soto, a veteran of 75 pro outings (with a ledger reading 65-8-2 and 35 stoppages), is considered the best boxer he will have faced thus far in the paid ranks.
“Yeah, he’s a step up; he’s pretty good,” said Gomez, who’s not the most talkative guy but has come light years in that department. “He has a lot of experience; I have a lot of experience as well but not like him.”
Gomez’s last bout came in July of 2014 – so yes, ring rust could be factor – but it was at that point in which Gomez was deemed ready for a bout of this nature after defeating Vernon Paris.
“It was a risky fight, Robert [Diaz, a fellow GBP matchmaker] came up to me and said, ‘Hey, what do you think, Eric?’ And I said, ‘Well, it’s a tough fight but he’s ready.’ I mean, you don’t go to camps and spar with [Manny] Pacquiao and some of these other world champions that Freddie has and to be able to compete with them in the gym,” explained Eric Gomez. “So when he fought Paris, Paris was a very good prospect at one point – some still consider him a contender. We just felt that [Gomez] was ready.”
There was a period when Gomez looked like he was headed to “Bolivian.”
“At a time there was,” admitted the older brother, “but we worked hard to get back to the gym and everything. Everything’s changed now.”
As I’m sure you’ve heard by now, Golden Boy filed a lawsuit in the hundreds of millions versus Al Haymon alleging violations of the Muhammad Ali Act, including employing illegal business practices, trying to create a monopoly and other acts of mayhem and tomfoolery.
It alleged that Haymon uses “sham” promoters to circumvent the Ali Act, which brought about this classic, volcanic response from Lou “Mount Saint” DiBella.
It also made mention of the squatting of venues and other tactics by Haymon. Here’s the complaint for those interested.
3 KNOCKDOWN RULE
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OK, so did Pacquiao go through successful shoulder surgery? I’m sure he did because all surgeries involving athletes today are deemed thusly. Now this won’t be used to drum up a rematch, right?!…And when can everyone rejoice over the Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Pacquiao pay-per-view numbers?…Is this season of Spike TV’s “Bar Rescue” over? [Editor’s note: Apparently not yet, Steve. Word has it that one more episode is scheduled for June 21]…Yes, I will be in Houston this weekend (and yes, I was credentialed)…I can be reached at email@example.com and I tweet (a lot) at twitter.com/steveucnlive. I also share photos of stuff at instagram.com/steveucnlive and can also be found at tsu.co/steveucnlive.