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New York Daily News

A Boxer's Saga, Blow By Blow


September 25, 2003
Copyright © 2003 Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved. 

When Mario Diaz was a boy growing up in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico, a Wilfredo Gomez fight was a major event that would have everyone glued to the TV, rooting for the champion from Las Monjas.

"He was a huge national hero," says Diaz. "Whenever he'd fight, and if it was televised, no one would be on the streets. Everyone was home watching."

Gomez, a three-time world champion and Boxing Hall of Famer, posted a 44-3-1 record - 42 of those wins by knockout.

Though barely 5-foot-5 and never weighing more than 130 pounds, he was a devastating puncher who defended his title a record 17 consecutive times by knockout.

More than 20 years after Gomez dominated the featherweight division, Diaz is still fascinated with the boxer - especially his life outside the ring.

A documentary maker whose best-known work is "Viva Cepeda!" a profile of baseball Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda, Diaz has a new film detailing Gomez's fall from grace as a young athlete seduced by money and fame.

In "Bazooka: The Battles of Wilfredo Gomez," Diaz chronicles Gomez's struggles with alcohol and cocaine addiction, his arrests for drug possession and the episodes of spousal abuse that ended his three marriages.

"Bazooka" is being screened today and tomorrow at the Walter Reade Theater as part of Lincoln Center's LatinBeat 2003 film festival, and on Oct. 4 at El Museo del Barrio.

"Through Wilfredo's life story, it gave me a really interesting opportunity to examine the ugly realities of professional boxing as a whole and what some of these guys go through," says Diaz, 32.

The film also shows how Gomez, now 46, deals with the effects of the punishment he took inside the ring.

He suffers from a neurological disorder that affects his speech and short-term memory, and a punch that broke his vocal cords years ago has left him unable to speak clearly.

It is, however, a cautionary tale with a happy ending. Gomez, who is sober now and has reconciled with one of his ex-wives, devotes himself to training young boxers in Puerto Rico.

"I want the film to be a lesson for Latino youth so that they don't go through what I went through," says Gomez.

"I want them to see how you can reach the highest highs but also fall to the lowest of lows, because no one is infallible."

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