Amir Khan will bring out the best in colourful opponent Michael Gomez when they meet at the NIA. Rob Tanner explains.
Be prepared to see some sombreros in Birmingham next month after Michael Gomez, 'the Irish Mexican', was unveiled as Amir Khan's opponent for the Commonwealth lightweight championship bout at the National Indoor Arena.
Gomez, whose real name is Michael Armstrong but was forced to choose another surname by the British Board of Boxing Control as there was already a fighter with his name registered at his weight, is one of the most colourful characters in British boxing. He adopted the name Gomez as tribute to Puerto Rican boxer Wilfredo Gomez and his fans have been known to wear sombreros as he enters the ring to the tunes of a Mexican Mariachi band.
But away from the colour, Gomez is a dangerous man, in and out of the ring. He was born into an Irish gypsy family in County Longford and his life has been so turbulent that a film detailing it is in production.
In 1996, a man he punched in a street brawl died after hitting his head on a pavement, but Gomez was cleared of manslaughter charges; after another street fight, he was stabbed and 'died' when his heart stopped beating for 48 seconds while on the operating table.
And after 43 fights, of which he has won 35, 24 by knockout, Gomez doesn't appear to be a man who is afraid of much, but he admitted yesterday that the fear of facing undefeated Commonwealth lightweight champion Khan at the NIA will bring out the best in him.
The 30-year-old, who now fights out of Manchester, will be Khan's 18th opponent as the 21-year-old from Bolton continues his relentless and impressive march towards a world title challenge, but Gomez vowed he won't arriving in Birmingham on June 21 just to pick up his pay packet, even though he has lost three of his last six fights.
The former WBU super featherweight champion had a glittering record in his early career but his best years are behind him and he shouldn't offer Khan too many problems fighting at a higher weight.
But Gomez was bristling with confidence yesterday and said that Khan's overwhelming punching power would make him more focused than ever.
"I am not coming to Birmingham to make up the numbers, I am here to win," he said.
"I am like a racehorse and I will take some stopping. The fight coincides with my 31st birthday and I want to be the champion. I am not going in the ring to be blown over, I am going in for a war.
"Look at my record. I prefer to be in with big fighters because I need someone who is going to be hitting me and hurting me, because that brings out the best in me."
Gomez, who is also a two-time British super-featherwight champion, has made several comebacks but he is nearing the end of his title-challenging career; however, his selection as Khan's latest opponent will certainly aid ticket sales and Khan insists Gomez will offer a stern test.
"This presents a step up for me," he said. "It is great to fight someone like Gomez, who has been around for a long time and will bring something different to the table.
"If I am going to be a world champion, then these are the fights I need. He is strong and it will be a good fight for me."
Khan has not fought professionally in Birmingham, but believes he has a strong fan base in the Second City and is expecting a positive reaction from the crowd. "I fought in Birmingham as an amateur eight years ago and I think it is nice to fight in different places," said Khan.
"I know I have a big fan base in Birmingham and I hope they come out in force to cheer me on."
Over 4,500 tickets have already been sold for the event and there is plenty of local interest on the undercard.
Coventry's Steve Bendall is challenging Paul Smith for the middleweight championship of England, while Birmingham's own Commonwealth Games champion, Don Broadhurst, will fight an as-yet unnamed opponent.
Also on the bill is former Birmingham City midfielder Curtis Woodhouse, who will be bidding to make it six straight victories in his boxing career when he faces Wayne Downing of West Bromwich in a light-middleweight contest.