AT THE ripe old age of 34 Alfonso Gomez still hopes to shed his tag as boxing's best known 'Contender' by capturing a world title.
On Friday night at the Fantasy Springs Casino, Indio, the Los Angeles based Guadalajara native returns refreshed and recharged from an eight month hiatus, straight into a crossroads clash with Japanese bomber Yoshihiro Kamegai. BoxNation broadcast live in the UK. Reigning British 11st champ Liam Smith will no doubt be glued to the screen.
The pair collide over 10 rounds in a match made at 150lbs with the victor expected to advance to world title contention and the vanquished likely to drop through boxing's trap door.
Son of a former fighter, Gomez's 'feel good' tale began in Jalisco, Mexico in October 1980 and he embraced boxing shortly after landing in northern California without a word of English, at the age of 10. In the singlet and head guard, he amassed an 80-10 amateur slate and made the quarter-finals at Mexico's 2000 Olympic qualifying tournament.
However, thus far, despite a brace of failed world title challenges, 24-6-2 Gomez's 14 year pro career has been longer on profile than accomplishment.
Known as 'The Executioner of the Undefeated', he first surfaced a decade ago, finding global fame in the Sly Stallone, Sugar Ray Leonard hosted US reality TV show, 'The Contender'. As an undersized underdog Gomez finished third from an initial audition cast of thousands and won the hearts of millions worldwide.
Competing against middleweights, Gomez portrayed himself as an amiable, affable family guy with a huge heart and even bigger balls. Entered as a last minute alternate, he made an immediate impact by calling out the significantly bigger pre-tourney favourite Peter Manfredo Jnr (below, righ)... then bagging an upset points win in a wild bang up.
Though later edged out by the Rhode Islander in a return, Gomez emerged as the darling of the series; as suave outside the ropes as he was feisty between. The show opened doors and suddenly he began to feature on the left hand side of fight cards.
Post 'Contender', a seven fight unbeaten streak - which included the scalps of Carson Jones, Martin Concepcion (in the UK), his hero Arturo Gatti, and Ghana iron man Ben Tackie - brought the dubious reward of a WBA welter tilt at a prime Miguel Cotto in 2008.
Alas, his preparation was severely compromised by a hand injury and he copped a belting. After the brilliant Puerto Rican had bounced him off the canvas three times, the ringside doctor benevolently pulled the plug between rounds five and six.
Many suspected that might be the last we saw of the Gary Gittelsohn managed fighter but his fortitude exceeded his talent and five successive victories - most notably six round wins over Jesus Soto Karass and the faded shell of Jose Luis Castillo - vaulted Gomez into a WBC light-middle crack against Canelo Alvarez (below, right) at the Staples Center in his adopted home city.
Though Gomez was dumped in the opener, referee Wayne Hedgepeth's sixth round intervention was commonly perceived as premature. Nevertheless, a 10 round loss to future IBF welter boss Shawn Porter in a gory Fight of the Year candidate ten months after, suggested the 'Contender' would forever fall short of the world champion status he craved.
Gomez has been restricted to just one gig over the last 32 months - a credible, up off the canvas 10 round decision over 35-3-1 Ed Paredes in Las Vegas last July - but given his prior penchant for warmongering the dormancy may be no bad thing for the 'no guts, no glory' gladiator.
If Gomez isn't the most blessed boxer out there, he has always been among the most watchable. His porous defence, high energy output and iron jaw generally combine to deliver action packed fare. His preferred defence appears to be blocking with his nose!
Nevertheless, when free of injury and accorded time to whip himself into pristine fighting nick, the 5ft 9in Golden Boy Promotions star is clearly a formidable force. Blessed with a heart the size of a dustbin lid, he is a master of the feted Mexican liver shots and, despite his angelic features, he is no stranger to the sport's darker arts, as was evident in his foul fests with Soto Karass and Porter.
Whilst the Azteca warrior is unquestionably most content when brawling, he has decent offensive skills, and revealed himself an able counter puncher when forced to adjust mid fight after damaging his hand against the redoubtable Tackie.
And he routinely operates against, and is competitive with, elite opposition. As he says: 'I don't lose to bums. I've only lost to the best and those losses were close.'
Time is running short if he is to replicate fellow 'Contender' candidates Sergio Mora and Ishe Smith on the world championship dais and, once again, he enters as a 7-4 underdog to overcome the frighteningly heavy handed Kamegai on Friday.
But Gomez insists he's ready to rumble and it certainly wouldn't be the first time he'd left the bookies nursing eggy faces.