On this date back in 1982, Wilfredo Gomez and Lupe Pintor helped write another thrilling chapter in the long saga of glorious violence that is the rivalry between Puerto Rico and Mexico. No list of the best fights between those two great pugilistic nations, nor of the most exciting clashes of the 1980s, is complete without this classic: Gomez vs Pintor, a barn-burner from the opening bell, testing both warriors to the utmost and leaving fight fans limp after almost fourteen full rounds of furious, non-stop, back-and-forth fireworks.
Gomez of Puerto Rico, one of the greatest super-bantamweights of all-time, was rebounding from a crushing upset loss the year before to Hall of Fame Mexican featherweight champ Salvador Sanchez. He had already recorded a busy 1982, scoring five wins including three successful defenses of his world title. He knew capping the year with a victory over Mexican bantamweight champ Pintor would go a long way to restoring his fearsome reputation after his thrashing at the hands of Sanchez.
Mexico’s Pintor, having enjoyed a series of title wins since his controversial victory over the great Carlos Zarate in 1979, was in search of bigger game. A victory over Gomez meant a huge step up in terms of reputation and earning power and Pintor was determined to win his second divisional title. A showdown between dominant champions, astonishingly this guaranteed thriller was not the main event on Don King’s “Carnival of Champions” card at the Louisiana Superdome; instead Thomas Hearns vs Wilfred Benitez would serve as the anti-climax after Gomez and Pintor had waged their unforgettable war. In retrospect how could anyone have expected Hearns vs Benitez to not be upstaged by this great Mexico vs Puerto Rico match-up?
Gomez got off to a fast start, jolting Pintor with an uppercut in the opening round and dominating the second. It appeared Wilfredo had seized the initiative and his higher punch output along with his advantages in size and power would carry the day. But the third round, one of the great action rounds of the year, saw Pintor reverse the momentum. After absorbing a shellacking on the ropes for a full minute, the challenger abruptly took the play from Gomez, landing with both hands. The two traded heavy shots, toe-to-toe, until the bell, with Pintor getting the better of it.
And once Pintor began connecting, the flesh around Gomez’s eyes immediately began to swell, reminiscent of “Bazooka’s” battle with Sanchez. Still, Gomez never stopped attacking, taking the fourth round on pure aggression, before the Mexican rebounded in the fifth, staying off the ropes in that round and using his left lead effectively. The next three rounds belonged to Gomez who continued to attack, expending more energy than the challenger as he sought to overwhelm the smaller man. By contrast, Pintor fought patiently, waiting for opportunities to come. And come they did.
Gomez vs Pintor was already a fast-paced, all-action war, but the real drama began in the later rounds. The ninth and tenth belonged to the surging Mexican, who clearly had more energy than the tiring Puerto Rican, both in his legs and in his punches. It was now clear that the longer the contest lasted, the worse it would be for Gomez as his cheekbones continued to puff up, his corner frantically applying ice between rounds. But time appeared to be in Pintor’s corner as the blistering, back-and-forth action only intensified.
Round eleven was another slugfest, both warriors having their moments, but with Gomez’s greater power edging it. Pintor’s resilience was emerging as the story of the fight as, astonishingly, he appeared unmarked and amazingly fresh after eleven rounds of a brutal battle. But he needed all of his toughness and courage to survive the next round as a desperate Gomez unloaded everything he had in a last-ditch bid to finish it. To the Puerto Rican’s dismay, the round-ending bell saw Pintor still on his feet, still firing back, and then stunning Gomez with a left hook, and it was Wilfredo who had to be helped back to his corner by his team.
Had it been scheduled for twelve rounds, Gomez vs Pintor would most likely have ended with the defending champ taking the decision, but there were nine minutes more to go and “Bazooka” appeared completely spent, no ammunition in reserve. Round thirteen was the slowest of the match, and with the Puerto Rican’s eyes now almost completely closed, Pintor had the momentum. Which made the finish all the more surprising.
In round fourteen, a frantic Gomez once again attacked with all he had, and this time his desperate fusillade inflicted some serious hurt on the tough Mexican. The champion, who could barely see, and later confessed to be fighting strictly on instinct, finally struck home with the most telling blow of the fight, a vicious left to the body, followed by a right to the head, the blows resulting in the first knockdown of the epic struggle. Amazingly, Pintor rose, but he was finished; that hard left to the liver had decided the contest. Gomez chased a hurt Pintor to the ropes where the Mexican went down again after taking another hard left hand, this one to the jaw, and the referee immediately halted what still stands as perhaps the greatest of all the great Mexico vs Puerto Rico battles in boxing history. — Robert Portis