Juan La Porte vs. Wilfredo Gomez
1984-03-31 : Wilfredo Gomez 125 lbs beat Juan Laporte 125½ lbs by UD in round 12 of 12
- Location: Coliseo Roberto Clemente, San Juan, Puerto Rico
- Referee: Octavio Meyran
- Judge: Miguel Donate 118-110
- Judge: James Brimmell 119-113
- Judge: Robert Desgain 117-111
- WBC Featherweight Title (3rd defense by Laporte)
From Sports Illustrated:
The moon was in Pisces, Jupiter was in Capricorn, and Juan Laporte was in trouble. Laporte, the WBC featherweight champ and resident warlock, was on the ropes, his titles dangling by a thread. "I'm a Scorpio," his challenger, Wilfredo Gomez, had said before the bout. "I have poison in my punches." In the humid midnight air of San Juan's sold-out Roberto Clemente Coliseum, Gomez' words became a stinging reality. His unanimous 12-round decision was a triumph of spirit over spirits.
Gomez was a 2-to-1 favorite in Las Vegas and was odds-on in the zodiac, said astrologer Walter Mercado, a self-styled San Juan swami whose flamboyant costumes look as if they've been inspired by Wonder bread wrappers. His expression of concern is as heavy as his eyeliner.
Yes, said Mercado, the heavens were winking at Gomez, but Laporte's camp practiced sorcery. The Brooklyn-raised Laporte, who like Gomez was born in Puerto Rico, had been branded a brujo (warlock) by his native countrymen because his birthplace, Guayama, is the last outpost of African cults on the island.
"I'm going to defeat Gomez by messing with his psyche," said Laporte's co-trainer, Carlos Espada, who hails from Cayey, 10 miles north of Guayama. Espada has cultivated a reputation as being something of a witch doctor. Impaled in his left ear is a gold crucifix; a silver amulet, in the form of the head of a Taino Indian, glows on the middle finger of his left hand. He calls it his power ring. "If I were to put a spell on Gomez, he'd believe it," said Espada. "When he looks at Laporte, he'll see Sanchez."
Salvador Sanchez, that is, who 31 months ago handed Gomez his only defeat, with an eighth-round TKO. Before the Sanchez fight, Gomez had been a hero in Puerto Rico because of his 32 straight KOs and 13 successful junior bantamweight title defenses. But the locals never forgave him for losing the Sanchez fight, which was Gomez' first shot at the featherweight title. And Gomez never got a rematch: Sanchez, who beat Laporte on points in 1980, died in a car crash on Aug. 12, 1982.
Although Laporte's manager, Howie Albert, played down the occult ("Ridiculous! Besides, my wife checked out Juan's biorhythms for the day of the fight, and they couldn't be better"), Laporte himself did little to dispel talk of the Sanchez whammy. He'd made a pilgrimage to Sanchez' grave in Mexico, hired Sanchez' Mexican physician and even trained in gloves the late champ had given him. Since winning the crown 18 months ago, Laporte had made two indifferent title defenses. He'd also lost an over-the-weight fight to unranked Gerald Hayes when Albert had kicked Espada out of Laporte's corner. Albert had wanted to show Laporte he didn't need Espada. Laporte did. Out from under Espada's sway, he had fought in a zombielike daze and lost a 10-round decision.
Espada had the 24-year-old Laporte wear red Sasson trunks to the Gomez fight. Red, Mercado points out, is emblematic of Changó, the great African spirit of lightning, fire and water.
What does the opening bell signify?
"The bell," explained Mercado, "signifies the beginning of the fight."
From the outset, Gomez, 27, delivered clean, sure strokes, which was a little surprising, considering that he had gone only five rounds since knocking out Lupe Pintor 15 months ago in the final defense of his WBC super bantam title. He left the 122-pound division because he couldn't make the weight.
The layoff and his 125 pounds appeared to wear Gomez down around the third round, but Laporte still couldn't keep out of Gomez' way. He repeatedly pinned Laporte to the ropes with punishing body shots. Doubling up left jabs to Laporte's abdomen and head, Gomez would follow with roundhouse rights and then step back to avoid Laporte's wild counterpunches. Peering from behind his gloves for much of the bout, Laporte looked more like he was playing peek-a-boo.
Espada didn't sit idly by. His head swathed in a red bandana and his body zippered into a red jogging suit (Oo-la-la! Changó), he pounded the canvas with his palms during rounds, and in the intervals he screamed at Laporte as if reciting some half-crazed incantation. "Espada wouldn't shut his big mouth," lamented co-trainer Emile Griffith, Laporte's chief tactician.
Griffith, a welterweight and middleweight champion in the 1960s, had wanted Laporte to parry Gomez' rights with short jabs. But Laporte only had ears for Espada and chose to slug it out rather than box. Of the 38 punches that connected during one stretch of Round 7, Laporte landed just one. About all he could do was absorb the blows. He left the ring $525,750 richer, but with rills of blood streaming down his cheeks, two broken fingers and a badly swollen face.
Gomez came away with $175,250 and the SRO crowd of 12,000-plus in his pocket. The Curse of Sanchez had been lifted at last. Sometimes, winning works just like a charm.