They seemed to have it all, but as Blake Chavez writes, their biggest enemy can be the man in the mirror
We’ve all heard of the amazingly talented fighting phenoms who never realized the levels of success that their gift afforded them the chance to achieve. Some made their names on the streets and never made it into the squared circle. Some hit the amateur circuit and graduated to the pros labeled as "can’t’ miss."
Oh, but plenty of them did miss. And the ones who made rotten life choices can only blame The Man in the Mirror because it was they themselves who proved toxic to themselves. I take no pleasure in their misery, but as a boxing fan, it pisses me off that we never got to see those gifts on full display.
I’ll jump around a bit on their respective timelines and eras, but as I type these passages, I’m struck by the sheer waste of it all, and saddened by the grief and loss of what could have been. I’m certain their families feel like robbery victims as well, as just a little measure of discipline demonstrated by those wayward fighting maestros could have provided lifetime security to both the fighters themselves and their immediate family. But no. They chose to be knuckleheads.
How about starting with Frankie "Pitbull’ Gomez. Glorified by Golden Boy as a sure-fire champion-in-waiting, it turns out what Frankie was actually most waiting for was the buffet line to open. His fighting weight was supposed to be 140 lbs, but after just a dozen pro fights, he showed up to camp at a robust 180lbs. His trainer, Freddie Roach repeatedly touted this guy to be a future pound-for-pound great.
Well, Freddie should have instead entered Gomez into a Nathan’s or Dodger-dog hot dog eating contest, as that was the only pound-for-pound list guy belongs on. He complained that he had a big family that eats all the time. Well, thanks to you Frankie, the family will be gorging themselves on low-cost fare for the duration. I bet they love you unconditionally for letting them down.
The media and "sources" also alluded to Frankie hanging out with a bad cast of characters and noted that he hailed from a bad neighborhood. Ok, so say it’s Whittier and that area. So what? Oscar De La Hoya rose from East LA to great wealth and glorious championship laurels. George Foreman rose after robbing folks on Lyons Avenue in Houston’s notorious 5th Ward. No champions that I know of were raised on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. Yet the list of success stories that overcame adversity are many.
The truth is that Frankie loved, and continues to love, the thug life. Undefeated at 14-0, fresh off a beating given to Mauricio Herrera when nobody was dishing out beatings to Herrera. Previous to that, which was his last fight, he arrived six pounds overweight for a coming-out event on HBO versus Humberto Soto. Six pounds?! Yup, "The Pitbull" proved to be a little chihuahua. What kind of idiot would blow an opportunity like that? Gomez, that’s who would. Golden Boy should have immediately used their influence to secure a title shot immediately after Hererra fight. Gomez, like Mando Ramos before him, needed to stay in the ring.
Diego De La Hoya. Second cuzz to Oscar "Kitchen" De La Hoya. Talk about a rosy path to stardom. Young, handsome, and with extraordinary name recognition value. What happened to this undefeated lion? He got exposed as a kitten. What could have changed his quitting in the 6th round against the capable but certainly no world-beater known as Ronnie Rios? Diego was 21-0, but the trouble was roiling beneath the surface a few fights before that. Diego fought six times in ’14, five times in ’15, three times in ’16, and four in ’17.
That’s a busy schedule, perfect for a rising talent, enough to keep him busy as his head swelled. But he started reading and believing his press clippings. His "peeps" kissed his undeserving azz and he loved it. He started becoming a prima donna about the work, wanting to call the training shots, yet he was only in his early twenties. He took almost a year off and then faced and beat one Jose Salgado whose previous three foes were 1-0-1 Erik Argaez, 13-loss Javier Gallo, and the 9-17 Alberto Cupido, respectively, but not respectably. Stinkers. Then he took almost another full year off, then faced Enrique Bernache who brought a dozen losses with him into the ring. In preparing for Rios, trainer Joel Diaz had concerns going into camp.
Diaz told the DAZN audience that he told Diego De La Hoya he was not going to put up with any more of his crap, and if Diego didn’t like that he could get another trainer. That tells us Diego had been The Boss in previous camps and was a pain in the azz.
There are a few real pricks that are champions, but the problem here was Diego was truly only a six to eight round high-caliber guy. Diaz had him in top shape--no excuses.
When the waters got deep for the very first time, he drowned, telling the ref he didn’t want no more. At the post-fight ring interview, he said,“he was hurt in the head". Yeah. I’ll say. Nope, keeping it 100, he was hurt in the huevos, as it was demonstrated that he lacked the family jewels.
Omar Figueroa. He was a stirring lightweight; young, talented, handsome... and, unfortunately, extremely thirsty. Omar fought six times in ’12. Cut that in half in ’13, then twice in both ’14 & ’15. A red flag the size of Oprah’s drawers was raised when he then took almost two years off. Wow, two years. He returned as a full-fledged welterweight in July of ‘17 to brutalize the burned-out good guy, Robert Guerrero, whom he KO’d in 3. Man, this guy is on his way to bigger and better things.
He was set to make his biggest payday in April of ’18 versus Adrien "The Problem" Broner. But then a funny thing happened on the way to the bank. Figueroa got busted at three in the morning for drunk driving. He was about nine weeks out from fight night and weighed 170 for a fight set for 140 lbs. Poor California trainer Joel Diaz. The trainer had agreed to train him, thereby getting Omar away from ’bad influences" in his home state of Texas, and this was the thanks he got.
Edwin Valero. 27-0. All knockouts! Drinking, drugs, thug-life. They all take their toll in da Game of Boxing. But there’s also a component of pure evil that cannot be overlooked. A depraved mind. Valero was a Tasmanian Devil inside the ring and Lucifer The Devil outside the ring. He was all of the above. But the boy could punch. Mikey Garcia has sparred and fought with the best of the past decade, including PacMan, Erik Morales, Maidana, and Spence.
Garcia swears Valero hit harder than anyone he’s been in with. Perhaps destined for the hall of fame, he disintegrated whilst holding the lightweight championship of the world. Let’s be clear, Valero was an uncouth monster and that’s all the ink I’ll waste on his cursed and twisted soul.
Aaron Pryor (OK, The Hawk had one loss, but that was way after he stopped swooping)
39-1, Pryor was a tempest in a teapot. A force-5 hurricane with no mercy. He schooled Tommy Herans as an amateur and just missed making the venerable ’76 USA Olympic team of Ray Leonard, Michael and Leon Spinks, and Howard Davis fame. He gave us the Fight of the Decade in ’82 versus The Explosive Thin Man, Alexis Arguello, in a brawl for the ages. He then followed that up in ’83 with an early stoppage of Arguello so as to remove any doubt as to who was the superior fighter But after those bouts The Hawk only flew once each in ’84 & ’85, You see The Hawk had started putting his beak in the cocaine piles of the ’80’s. In his ’85 appearance he managed a SD versus Gary Hinton.
He got off the pipe just long enough to come back two and-a-half years later to pick up another check for his dealer getting the crap beat out of him by one Bobby Joe Young, he of six nondescript losses. That was it for the Hawk. He was a mere sparrow in his last three token appearances, though he picked up wins against those three stooges.
The Hawk rose to fly again years later when he is said to have conquered his demons and found a spot in the church. He gave many inspirational speaking engagements and counseled at-risk youths. He seemed at peace with himself and the world before passing away in 2016. Fly Hawk... Fly!
I’ll regroup another time to tackle other cases in this winsome chapter in boxing’s book of what-might-have-been. Would have. Could have. Should have.
Blake Chavez answers all of his emails: