Michael Gomez–The Irish Mexican

micky gomez
Gomez had genuine talent but a wild personal life

Born on the side of a road in County Longford and raised in care homes around Manchester, Michael Gomez became a legendary figure on the Manchester boxing scene.

His life story was dramatic even before he took his first breath. On the way to hospital his mother went into labour and his father, who was partially sighted, took over the driving and promptly crashed.

They delivered Michael at the side of the road and this was the start of an action packed life which saw him charged with murder, battle alcoholism, retire from boxing in the middle of a round and also build a following that have high regard for him well over a decade after his retirement.

Born Michael Armstrong in 1977, he boxed as an amateur before turning professional at 18 to support his partner and child.

Even turning professional wasn’t straightforward for Michael, as there was another fighter named Michael Armstrong at same weight in the UK at the time.

Needing a different professional last name he decided to use Gomez, inspired by the three-time world champion from Puerta Rico Wilfredo Gomez, whose fights he watched as a child.

His named combined with his aggressive fighting style earned him the nickname The Irish Mexican.

Walking to the ring in long Mexican style fighting shorts in the colours of the Irish flag to the sound of a Mariachi band, it was an entrance like no other in boxing. Gomez fans also got in on the act wearing sombreros as they cheered their man on.

Despite losing three of his first seven professional fights, he stuck with the professional game. The period from September 1997 to December 2000 saw him go on a run of 19 wins.

Eleven of these wins came inside the distance and along the way he won the British super-featherweight title, a Lonsdale belt outright, and the WBO Intercontinental super-featherweight title.

He was also named young boxer of the year by the British boxing writers’ club in 1999.

However, his life outside the sport was already spiralling out of control and there are several stories about Gomez’s antics and heavy drinking which would ultimately result in his personal life overshadowing his boxing.

By his own admission, he was boozing, brawling and womanising. He was convicted of numerous drink driving offences, but more seriously, someone stabbed him outside a pub.

The incident, which left him clinically dead on an operating table before making a comeback, could be a movie script.

His wild lifestyle caught up with him and he suffered two losses in 2001 and 2002 to Laszlo Bognar and Kevin Lear. These losses stalled a career that had made serious progress over the previous three years.

A switch of gym and trainer in 2002 saw him team up with Billy Graham, Ricky Hatton’s trainer during the most successful part of his career.

He moved close to this new gym, away from temptation and old acquaintances, which gave him a more stable personal life.

Three knockout wins followed this move, and a fight was setup against Alex Arthur, a hot prospect from Edinburgh.

Arthur and his team regarded the Gomez fight as a steppingstone to bigger things. Arthurs’s trainer Freddie Roach didn’t attend the training camp or fight, instead directing things from across the Atlantic while he trained other fighters.

Despite there only being a one-year age gap between the fighters, Gomez at 26 was seen as a man on the way down, mainly because of his hard living.

The fight took place in Edinburgh in October 2003 and as Gomez walked to the ring, he was flanked by Ricky Hatton and Billy Graham- both wearing sombreros.

Booing from the Arthur fans drowned out the cheers of the handful of sombrero clad Gomez fans.

Sky Sports commentator Ian Darke said, on the night when the clocks go back an hour, Gomez hopes he can turn them back three years.

What followed over the next five rounds was an intense battle fought mostly on Gomez’ terms. Gomez closed down the spaces and smothered Arthur’s boxing ability, catching him with vicious left hooks right from the first bell.

Although Gomez shipped some punishment of his own, the fight was only going one way when the referee stopped it in the fifth after Arthur had been knocked down for the third time in the round.

What should have been the start of bigger and better things for Gomez with a possible world title challenge now within his reach, ended up being the climax of his career.

Years later, Gomez spoke to former world champion Bernard Dunne and said that the fight was the start of the end for him. A confused Dunne probed further with Gomez saying the months of training, not drinking and living the life needed to get into that shape took too much out of him and he could never do it again.

It seems a bizarre way of looking at it. Beating one of the hottest prospects in boxing by training well and getting into top shape should have showed him what was possible when he applied himself in a proper training camp.

Gomez has never been that straightforward a person, so he never approached a fight with the same diligence again.

He did win the WBU super-featherweight title in 2004 and defended it twice before losing it in 2005 to Javier Alvarez. The WBU title is seen as a minor world title and few people seriously regard it as a genuine world level belt.

Gomez’ decline continued and in 2006 he was involved in one of the most bizarre incidents ever witnessed in a boxing ring when he fought Peter McDonagh for the Irish lightweight title in Dublin.

After a close opening four rounds, Gomez suddenly stopped fighting in the fifth and was floored by several blows from McDonagh.

Gomez go up and walked back to his corner before leaving the ring as the referee stopped the fight. Afterwards Gomez said he had just decided to retire from boxing–right there in the middle of the fifth round.

Almost as bizarrely, McDonagh claimed the victory was because of his visits to Uri Geller before the fight, a man who claims to be able to bend spoons with his mind.

Although there were unusual betting patterns at some bookmakers before the fight, no one involved was ever charged with fight fixing.

Gomez fought nine more times, winning six and losing three. Two of those losses were to up-and-coming talents Amir Khan and Ricky Burns, with the Burns fight being his last. It took place in March 2009.

After retiring, Gomez no longer had boxing to focus on and his life spiralled further into drinking and drug taking, but boxing once again came to his rescue.

His son Michael Gomez Jr turned professional in 2014 and seems to have given Gomez something to be positive about. The younger Gomez fights at super-featherweight, campaigning at domestic level in the UK.

Gomez’ career in boxing can be seen as one of potential unrecognised, but it could also be argued that without boxing, Gomez would have been in jail or worse at this stage. His ability in the ring and demons outside it doing constant battle in one of the most colourful lives of any Irish fighter.