In The Year Of Our Lord 1298, the Battle of Falkirk took place, a major conflict in the First War Of Scottish Independence. On the outskirts of Edinburgh, the forces of King Edward I of England clashed with those of Sir William Wallace of Scotland. In a single day over four thousand men lost their lives, and when the dust finally cleared from the chaotic scene, King Edward had secured victory for England. The Scottish forces had fought gallantly but were simply outnumbered. Neither country would ever be the same and centuries of intermittent struggle would follow.
It may sound far-fetched, but the echoes of that historic clash were felt more than seven centuries later when two modern-day warriors did battle, this time with a Latino twist, under Marquess of Queensberry rules and with the super-featherweight Lonsdale belt on the line. Make no mistake, for more than a few that night, Arthur vs Gomez was Scotland vs England. And all the historic burdens of the past were on full display in a night many U.K. fight fans will never forget.
Scotland’s protagonist on this day was their native son, “Amazing” Alex Arthur, the media darling who, like Wallace, was a young yet savvy fighter, having honed his skills training with the assumptive best of the day. The 25-year-old baby-faced pugilist was a highly regarded prospect, his record 16-0 with fifteen knockouts.
The English antagonist of this hugely anticipated “Battle Of Britain” was the man they called “The Predator,” Michael (Armstrong) Gomez. Upon entering boxing, Armstrong, who was in fact born in Ireland, changed his last name to honour his favorite fighter growing up, the little giant from Puerto Rico, Wilfredo Gomez. He then later settled in Manchester and England adopted him as one of their own, hence one of his alternative monikers, “The Manchester Mexican.”
The 26-year-old former Lonsdale titlist, with a record of 28-5, looked to turn back the clock and use his tactical experience to overwhelm the still wet-behind-the-ears Arthur. Like King Edward, Gomez had played well the part of the antagonist, culminating in his Latino-themed invasion of Edinburgh. And like the Scots back on July 22nd, 1298, young Arthur had no idea what lay in store for him.
In the heart of Edinburgh lies Meadowbank Sports Stadium and it became a battlefield of modern times on that memorable night. The stands were filled to capacity with rabid Arthur supporters singing in unison old war songs as they awaited the melee. Sky Sports was in attendance, broadcasting live to the whole of the UK, and former world lightweight champion Ken Buchanan could not be missed ringside. Looking as dapper as ever, the man who stands second only to Benny Lynch in the pantheon of the greatest Scottish boxers could hardly be heard over the frenzied crowd in his pre-fight interview.
“Wish I was fifteen years younger,” he remarked wryly, the glory days of his battles with Ismael Laguna, Carlos Ortiz and Roberto Duran no doubt fresh in his mind. Having visited Scotland’s favorite in his dressing room minutes before, the former champion predicted an Arthur win inside of seven rounds, and Irishman and fellow former champion Barry McGuigan shared a similar prediction in his pre-fight commentary. “Gomez may put him on the seat of his pants,” said Barry, “[but] I expect Arthur to get up and take him apart to earn a late round stoppage.”
The jaunty strains of mariachi music signaled the entrance of Gomez, the journeyman, the outsider, making his way through the throng wearing his traditional sombrero and flanked by trainer Billy Graham and fellow Manchester native Ricky Hatton. To add fuel to the fire, Hatton had also donned a sombrero as the thousands in attendance booed and shouted profanities. And we note the historical parallel as King Edward had also entered the fray at Falkirk with two generals at his side, assuring the tactical advantage for England, while many of William Wallace’s most trusted advisors had stayed home.
If the crowd was already at fever pitch, it was sent into an absolute frenzy when its hero, Alex Arthur, made his way to the ring in shiny gold and white attire, the Scotsman dancing and smiling and soaking up the cheers of his compatriots. But an ominous moment came when Arthur and company climbed the steps to the ring and locked eyes with a waiting Gomez at the top of the stairs, the moment reminiscent of the blistering words uttered by King Edward in Falkirk: “As God lives…. they need not pursue me, for I will meet them on this day.”
And once the bell rang, Gomez fulfilled the spirit of that ominous pledge as he came forward in a semi-crouch and barely twenty seconds into the fight landed a heavy left hook followed by what looked like a harmless right hand but it must have touched the spot, because Arthur’s legs buckled as his boisterous fans were shocked into silence. “The Predator” was now full of confidence. Slipping and dodging Arthur’s forays with ease while using angles and shifts to cut off the more elusive fighter’s escapes, Michael Gomez was in control. The Scotsman looked to his corner for help as the first round ended with the man from Manchester landing left hooks at will.
But the second round saw a restored Arthur, smiling and composed, seemingly unconcerned with the battle-hardened warrior who just gave him hell. It was that confidence, mixed with brilliant boxing, that won Arthur the Lonsdale belt and it was with such moxy and talent that he gained the upper hand in round two. Now Edinburgh rallied behind their star in the making, the crowd roaring and chanting at a deafening pitch. Displaying a keen sense of ring presence, Arthur was boxing beautifully off the back foot and avoiding the relentless pressure of the elder Gomez.
By the middle of round three Gomez was cut and seemed to have lost every bit of momentum he’d won in the opening round, until Arthur made an abrupt decision that baffled everyone and decided the outcome. For reasons unknown, the Scotsman, like a hunted lion who wearies of the chase and decides to turn and fight, suddenly came forward and went toe-to-toe with the British invader. The crowd shrieked as both men landed heavy blows, but it was Gomez sneaking thudding left hooks behind Arthur’s guard and staggering his opponent repeatedly. Blood was now seeping from the Scotman’s face, the din in the stadium so loud that Gomez failed to hear the round-ending bell and landed a heavy right hand after it rang.
No one would have argued a stoppage at this point, such was the punishment young Arthur had absorbed, but his corner, coursing with warrior blood, both literally and figuratively, decided to push on. And in round four Arthur, to everyone’s surprise, found the strength to fire back with his own heavy blows, before Gomez retaliated, landing more flush left hooks and buckling the Scotman’s legs again and again. Surely the fight had to be stopped, but it was not and it was toe-to-toe mayhem as somehow Arthur survived to hear the bell.
Round five was his last stand. Like an injured William Wallace on that bloody day in Falkirk, he dug in and refused to surrender. He might not have been the better man in this struggle, but the star in the making knew he would live to fight another day. His fellow Scots urged him on as his white trunks became a vivid mash of red, and then, out of nowhere, Arthur bent his adversary over with a crippling body shot. For a moment it appeared Arthur might pull off a miracle, as Gomez, his strength waning, retreated, before the momentum turned once again and a series of hard blows from the Englishman culminated with a left hook that put Arthur on the floor.
Down and on his haunches, the Scotsman looked about and, amazingly, flashed a smile of glee at the TV camera before quickly pulling himself upright and bouncing from foot to foot, convincing the referee he could continue. Moments later the brave young warrior was down a second time, but again he sprang to his feet, the referee once more giving him the benefit of the doubt, before a final salvo of heavy blows to Arthur’s visage convinced the third man in the ring that enough was enough. He waved his arms, signaling the end, as once more Arthur crashed to the canvas.
Looking back at the violent slugfest that was Arthur vs Gomez, one can’t help but wonder how close we came to a tragic outcome, and considering the bloody history of conflict between Scotland and England, how horrible a day it might have been had Alex Arthur been seriously injured. It was testament to his amazing courage and fighting spirit that he just kept getting up and battling back, despite all the punishment he had absorbed.
But in the end it was Michael Gomez, “The Manchester Mexican,” who once again could hold aloft the Lonsdale belt after nearly succumbing to the younger warrior’s last stand in the form of a thunderous body blow. Instead Gomez kept his composure and saw through the determined ambush of the Scotsman, just as King Edward did that tragic and bloody day in Falkirk many years ago.
“This was the greatest contest on these shores since Nigel Benn beat Gerald McClellan in 1995,” declared promoter Frank Warren, and no one could argue the point. It only lasted five rounds, but the crowd, the atmosphere, the history, and the twists and turns of the thrilling slugfest that ensued, mark Arthur vs Gomez as one of the great battles in the history of UK boxing. — Joseph Gallagher