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PUERTO RICO HERALD
"Bazooka: The Battles Of Wilfredo Gomez" Points Up Need For Sports Archive In P.R.
By Gabrielle Paese
December 5, 2003
Copyright © 2003 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.
When filmmaker Mario Diaz began work on "Bazooka: The battles of Wilfredo Gomez," he contacted TV stations and boxing organizations in Puerto Rico in search of TV clips for any of Gomez's 48 pro fights.
"The biggest hurdle was finding footage," said Diaz, a 1993 NYU film school graduate. "It was really hard, especially for Wilfredo's earliest fight. I put out feelers everywhere. And then two weeks ago I got a call from someone who told me, I have Wilfredo's championship fight.'
"A big fight like that and no one [TV stations, boxing entities] had footage and I'm illustrating it with stills. He had this old tape with mold," said Diaz. "I had to go back into the film and insert it. I showed it at Lincoln Center with the stills. [In Puerto Rico] I showed the new version for the first time."
Boxing fans in Puerto Rico raved about Diaz's documentary, which chronicles the ups and downs of Gomez's life. The film has been shown several times in Puerto Rico on sports Channel 13 and will be seen on HBO Latino in April of 2004. It debuted at Lincoln Center to a full house last month and drew standing room only crowds for its recent showings at Harvard University and in New York's El Barrio.
"Bazooka" is Diaz's fourth documentary about Puerto Rico. He made his first in 1998, entitled "Ser Puertorriqueno" and his second "Clase Artistica," followed Puerto Rican artists in both New York and on the island. "!Viva Cepeda!" was his other sports-related work. It details the life of baseball Hall-of-Famer Orlando Cepeda and was made in 2001, the year Cepeda was inducted into Cooperstown.
Diaz said he didn't have sports documentation in mind when he made "!Viva Cepeda!" or "Bazooka."
"For both documentaries I dug deep into who they were on the court, so to speak, but also behind the scenes," said Diaz, whose favorite sport is basketball. "They were people who were revered and idolized to a certain extent. But with somebody like that I want to admire them, but also want to get them as human beings, not just sports figures."
While he didn't have history in mind, Diaz's work will go down that way, mostly because "Bazooka" marks the first time anyone has put together a film compendium of the boxer, who is just 47. Footage searches notwithstanding, Diaz said Puerto Rico's total and complete disregard for keeping track of sports history "is almost a runing joke."
Elliott Castro, curator for last year's Roberto Clemente exhibit at the Puerto Rico Museum of Art, said a better effort needs to be made.
"For Roberto Clemente's entire career playing winter league baseball we hardly have any footage. We have all this tape from Pittsburgh," said Castro, who added that the collection featured just one photograph from Clemente's rookie year in the Puerto Rican winter league. "A government agency should set aside some kind of money. The P.R. Olympic Commitee could get it started. Right now there is stuff all over the place. There are people who have great collections but are waiting for someone to offer them some money for them because they've made a big investment."
For example, Castro said veteran sportscaster Ramiro Martinez actually has footage of every single one of Gomez's 44 victories but is looking only to sell the collection.
Castro cited three huge gaps in Puerto Rico's sports archive.
"The multisport games Puerto Rico hosted like the 1966 Central American-Caribbean Games and the 1979 Pan Am Games are not at all archived," said Castro, who added that he salvaged some TV footage from the garbage cans at Channel 6. "Most of the great Superior Basketball League games of the 1970s are not available because the TV stations didn't bother to archive. No one has it. The third weak spot is boxing. Puerto Rico played host to some of the best fights in the world in the 1970s and the footage is here and there, none of it organized. Some of it was never saved."
Despite the need for more documentaries like "Cepeda" and "Bazooka," Diaz said he didn't think he was the person to help put Puerto Rico's archive together. The Cupeyville School graduate, who was born and raised in Rio Piedras, said he wants to make feature films.
"I don't have a huge interest in documenting everything related to sports," Diaz said. "I did this because I found it compelling. It was more a human interest story. The people over at the museum [of Sports in Guaynabo] are committed to documenting it and have started to digitize old stills. They are trying to put together a video library. What Puerto Rico [sports] really needs is someone to take charge.
"Here's my beef. There's a huge need for it [sports documentaries]. But at the same time it's a small market," said Diaz. "This was a year and a half of hard work. It took all my energy to do this documentary and do it right. It plays like a film. It has original music. For every single one of the bouts we recorded all the punches in post production with a sound designer from a recording we made at Gleason's Gym. The film has layered audio. We laid a track for all the music. I had soprano singers do the vocals. We spent three weeks with Wilfredo following him around. This is not just interviews with him and three of his friends. Plus there is no narration. That's not easy to do but I feel like it's more pure."
Viewers said they liked the movie because it recapped Gomez's career, but also because it was like cinema.
"It brought back all those fights for me," said Juan Otero. "No boxer has yet done what Gomez did."
Gomez won the World amateur title in 1974 and as a pro racked up 44 wins, 42 of them by knockout. He held world titles in three weight classes and his 17 title defenses at junior featherweight consitute a record that still stands to this day.
Diaz said he learned a lot about boxing in the course of the taping.
"He [Gomez] got into boxing to get his family out of poverty. He was thrust into this subculture. It is a mafia. Wilfredo was smart, but he was self-educated. There is no way he was any match for these people. [Manager] Yamil Chade forced Wilfredo to give up his belt and gave him three hard mandatory fights. He got into drugs," said Diaz. "It's not all that it's made out to be. The money, the women. I don't necessarily think he's better for having been a boxer.
"There are no easy answers. You go in following up on this theme. You really get a perspective for what the world is all about. You see it represented for what it is."
Latin Fury: Triple Crown II this weekend in Bayamon
Top Rank's 140-pound prospect Miguel Cotto headlines the Latin Fury: Triple Crown II fight card this Saturday (Dec. 6) at Bayamon's Ruben Rodriguez Coliseum.
Cotto (17-0, 14 KO) fights Colombian Carlos Maussa (16-0, 15 KO) in a 12-rounder for the WBC's Intercontinental super lightweight title. Puerto Rican Eric Morel (33-0, 18 KO) will make his seventh WBA flyweight title defense versus Venezuela's Lorenzo Parra (19-0, 15 KO) while Puerto Rican Ivan Calderon (17-0, 3 KO) will defend his WBO title versus Alex "El Nene" Sanchez (29-3-1, 20 KO). The fight will be shown on pay-per-view.
Thanks to all the readers who wrote to correct my mistakes in last week's column about the level at which the Puerto Rico Islanders will play in the United Soccer League.
The following information is from Rob Wilson, Pittsburgh Riverhounds Match Reporter.
"The USL is an umbrella organization of various leagues, the Islanders will be playing in the A-league. The A' is considered Division II in the United States, Division I in Canada, by their respective countries and has produced various players for the national teams of several nations. It is the highest level in the USL organization.
"The USL primary emphasis has always been on player development. Many USL teams, no matter what division they play in, have established training academies with some of the premier clubs in the world. For example, Atlanta (A-league) has established and working ties with AC Milan. Pittsburgh (a division 3 club) has strong ties to Bayer Leverkusen. Ajax (Belgium) has started a whole program which will play in the lowest division next year with another club scheduled to begin play in 2005. They will then be sponsoring two teams, one in the A' and other strictly amateur team in addition to the various youth programs they will sponsor. This commitment to player development should only strengthen the efforts of Puerto Rico to produce a winning football program. I highly recommend the following links to learn more about the league and its programs. www.uslsoccer.com (official site) www.a-league.com (unofficial site) - perhaps one of the better fan sites on the web."
Gabrielle Paese is the Assistant Sports Editor at the San Juan Star. She is the 2000 recipient of the Overseas Press Club's Rafael Pont Flores Award for excellence in sports reporting. Comments or suggestions? Contact Gabrielle at email@example.com.
Her Column, Puerto Rico Sports Beat, appears weekly in the Puerto Rico Herald.