Boxing: 'Wild child' Gomez set to test Arthur's mettle

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The Independent Online

There hasn't been a decent scrap in Edinburgh since William Wallace did his fling, and the one due to be enacted at Meadowbank Arena on Saturday night might have been better scripted as a piece of genuine theatre at the annual festival. It features an undefeated, fierce-punching, tough-talking champion who is one of boxing's Braveheart breed, and a challenger who seems to have stepped from the wings of West Side Story, though in his case it is more like Moss Side Story.

They are saying that when Alex Arthur makes a home-town defence of his British super-featherweight title against Manchester's Michael Gomez, the self-confessed wild child of the ring who was once on a murder rap, it could be the fight of the year. It is certainly one that has been talked about for some time and now that promoter Frank Warren has finally managed to get it on, he believes Edinburgh and Sky viewers will witness "another Benn-Eubank between two out and out warriors."

It has been sold out for weeks, hardly surprising as the venue holds only 3,600. Three times as many clamoured for tickets, not only in support of a Scot who surely will follow Ken Buchanan (who never fought in Edinburgh) to world championship status but intrigued by an opponent who is coming back from the dead - almost literally so.

Many things have happened in the 26 years of Gomez's troubled existence, not least when his heart stopped beating on the operating table a few years back after he had been stabbed in a brawl. For 48 seconds he was technically dead, but he recovered to make a decision to change a wayward lifestyle that had seen him behaving in civvies more like a footballer than a fighter - clubbing and carousing. Indeed, much worse.

Born Michael Armstrong on the back seat of a car which had crashed when taking his heavily pregnant mother to hospital in Ireland - he took his ring name from his favourite fighter, Wilfredo Gomez - he was brought up in a children's home when his itinerant parents split after moving to Manchester.

A life of petty crime followed, and shortly after starting his boxing career, in which he lost three of his first five fights, Gomez, then a father at 17, was involved in an incident in a Manchester nightclub where a man lost his life. Gomez was charged with murder, eventually tried for manslaughter, and acquitted.

He resumed boxing and, cheered on by hordes of sombrero-wearing Mancunians, was hailed as one of the world's brightest young prospects, being compared even to Barry McGuigan.

But after winning the British super-featherweight title now held by Arthur, in his own words Gomez "went off the rails big-time." It was mainly drink-driven and culminated in that near-loss of his life.

He says: "I lost my way, and it was all down to my own stupidity. I decided it was time to grow up and start using my common sense. That's why I really mean it when I say I don't want to blow this chance. It's my last throw of the dice. The wild child is still there inside me, but now I'm determined it will come out only in the ring."

Arthur, 25, is on a roll of inside-the-distance victories (14 out of 16 bouts), largely brought about by the sort of rib-crunching body punching rarely seen from modern practitioners. He says of Gomez: "He is the sort of fighter I like to watch. His is an exciting, come-forward style and I can't wait to get in the ring with him. There have been a few verbals between us but we've obviously got respect for each other because we're striving for the same thing. He wants what I've got and I want to keep it. That's where the passion comes in."

Arthur will have to do without his new trainer, Freddie Roach, with whom he has been working in the US, as the American, Mike Tyson's chief cornerman, has a contractual commitment with another fighter. But he reckons he is super-confident "because that's my nature".

Equally he is aware of what happened to Scott Harrison, another Tartan titan, who was as much a favourite going into his recent fight with Manuel Medina as Arthur himself is against Gomez. "I think Scott underestimated Medina. I'm not making the same mistake."

Observers say that the re-born Gomez has never looked fitter. If his mind is as right as his body, it could be a torrid night, especially as Arthur's too-frequently exposed chin has yet to be tested. Gomez threatens to do just that.

"This fight is not so much about regaining my old title but my self-respect. If I lose I will retire, because there's nowhere for me to go."