British Beef #4 - Alex Arthur v Michael Gomez
They are only just retired, but will be remembered for years to come because when Michael Gomez took Alex Arthur's British title off him, it triggered a very public grudge that made headlines long after the pair had traded blows...
Last Updated: 18/11/13 2:29pm
Just as a handful of fighters will appear on anyone's all-time list, one British boxer will always crop up when the word 'grudge' is mentioned... Michael Gomez.
The Mancunian Mexican was the master of whipping up a storm before a fight, a man who through the peaks and troughs of his incredible career seemed to thrive on bitterness and bad blood. Ask Amir Khan. Ask Ricky Burns. Ask any of the 46 opponents on his 48-fight career (only Baz Carey and Lazlo Bognar were brave enough to take him on twice). And above all, ask Alex Arthur.
Scotland's hottest prospect for years is the one man more than the rest who knows what it is like to tangle with Gomez. Before the fight, during the fight and for months, after the fight.
Theirs was a rivalry built around the barnstorming British super-featherweight clash of 2003, which scooped Fight of the Year, but did not bring an end to the feud as is often the case. This time, pummelling each other for five brutal rounds merely whetted the appetite for more. And few have the stomach for it like Michael Gomez.
There could not have been a greater contrast between the two characters. Arthur was a good-looking, articulate and skilful operator on the rise, Gomez the grizzled warrior, on yet another comeback trail. Arthur had the British super-featherweight title and had already secured a Lonsdale belt. Gomez had done the same three years earlier but had lost big fights to Kevin Lear and Laszlo Bognar and needed a title to show the world he was, typically, far from finished.
Gomez was born in Ireland and usually came to the ring in Mexican get-up, so there was no Anglo-Scottish rivalry to throw into the mix, but it didn't matter. Arthur was the strong favourite and cut a confident figure in the build-up, even kicking off the usual verbal battle. He made a point of mocking Gomez's career, accused him of struggling against journeymen and insisted there were 20 ways he could win the fight. Even he can't have expected it to trigger a feud that would rumble on for years afterwards.
Never afraid of controversy, Gomez did not need a second invitation to come firing back. He had already, in Arthur's words "tried to put the head" on him at their first face-to-face meeting. There was nothing different about this though, until he bet Arthur £25,000. Whether it was ever officially made or paid, were irrelevant. Gomez had taken exception to Arthur's comments and could also see his own star fading as the Scot swept all before him.
A capacity crowd of 3,000 at the Meadowbank Arena was at fever pitch come fight night on October 25. Gomez's entrance, complete with Sombreros and ponchos, and with Ricky Hatton and Billy Graham doing the same, was all it needed to light the touchpaper.
A resounding chorus of "who the f***ing hell are you?" only died down when Arthur came to the ring. Relaxed, chatting and the personification of calm in his gold clobber, he kept Gomez waiting long enough, knowing he was never the most patient of pugilists.
They did manage to touch gloves, but that was the only nicety either managed throughout the whole affair. They did though, produce five rounds of gripping action fitting of an atmosphere that crackled all night, but stayed just on the right side of bad taste.
As expected, Gomez was the aggressor early on, burrowing forward hooks hammering home, while Arthur was content to box on the back foot, using the counter-punching skills that had set him apart as a future world champion.
But a cut over his right eye in the third took the spring out of his step and by the fourth, Gomez was on top, Arthur unable to get a hold. He was on the floor early in the fifth, dumped on the seat of his pants again, but smiling as he got up.
It could not cloak the trouble he was in and soon enough another cracking left sent Arthur sprawling unceremoniously again, and John Coyle called the fight off. The Scot was propped up in a corner receiving medical attention while Gomez, unable to contain himself, told the crowd and anyone in the ring that he was back.
If anyone thought that was that, they didn't know Gomez though. Incensed that the bet had not been paid, he was back in Scotland five months later, sitting at ringside as Arthur took on Michael Kizza. He was not sat down long though and not just because Arthur dismissed the woeful Kizza inside the first round. Before Arthur could take the plaudits, Gomez was on his feet, hurling insults, frantically pointing at the Scot - and making sure it was captured by the Sky Sports cameras in the process.
Their first meeting was so good that a rematch made sense, but it is rarely the victor leading the calls for a return. Michael Gomez though, was never one for convention. "I hate Arthur - he still owes me 25 grand," he told the world afterwards. Arthur, understandably, accepted there and then in the ring but did not return the compliment a few weeks later when Gomez fought next and beat Ben Odamattey.
His was though, still at the forefront of Gomez's mind. His post-fight interview called out the Scot again and put the ball back in Arthur's court, claiming his promoter, Frank Warren, was also ready to make the rematch. Arthur responded immediately and at that moment it looked like British boxing was witnessing another rivalry for the ages.
The rematch though was put on the backburner as both fighters continued their careers in parallel. Given the nature of the needle and the quality of the action first time round, it was almost inevitable they would meet again and neither could give an interview without mentioning the other.
Arthur even told the world the second meeting would happen in September and rubbed further salt in the wound by claiming Gomez needed him for a payday, which might well have been true. Yet he fought Eric Odumasse the following October, a year on from the first meeting, and Nazareno Gaston Ruiz two months later. Gomez, did not fight again for over a year.
He blew away Justin Juuko and then in April 2004 scored an impressive win over Leva Kirakosyan, while Arthur also kept winning. He regained the British super-featherweight title and then turned his attention to the European version and Boris Sinitsin.
It was now almost two years since that first fight and for the first time it suddenly seemed as if Arthur and Gomez would never get it back on. The fact that the latter lost to Javier Osvaldo Alvarez did not help his cause but then came a bombshell.
"I've moved on from Gomez and, not being the type who holds grudges, I've no interest in a rematch," declared Arthur. He would beat Sinitsin to become European champion. Seeing his arch rival move on and out of reach was too much for Gomez to take and he promptly announced his first 'retirement' from the sport. Even for a man who had been through so much in and out of the ring, not being able to get Arthur back in a ring, finally tipped him over the edge and he called it a day, claiming the rematch was all he had been living for.
He would box on of course for four more years, losing to Amir Khan and Ricky Burns among others, while Arthur would add the Commonwealth and European titles to his collection before losing the WBO belt he was awarded out of the ring to Nicky Cook.
Boxing for a world title perhaps finally got the Gomez monkey off his back, but even to this day - and they are not long-retired - their names will be intrinsically linked.