By David A. Avila
If you follow Southern California prizefighting then you might know about the uncrowned champion Mauricio “El Maestro” Herrera and grassroots legend Frankie “Pitbull” Gomez.
One is a clever veteran that should be wearing a world title belt around his waist. The other is a talented young prizefighter with can’t-miss credentials. It’s a juicy matchup that will have parts of the Southland screaming at the television.
Riverside’s Herrera (22-5, 7 KOs) moves up a weight division and faces East L.A.’s Gomez (20-0, 13 KOs) in a welterweight fight on the undercard of Saul Canelo and Amir Khan’s middleweight title fight on May 7. It takes place at the new T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas and will be televised on HBO pay-per-view.
Herrera and Gomez like the matchup for a variety of reasons.
“I’m so excited and happy to open the T-Mobile Arena. I can’t lose this spot,” said Herrera, 35, whose last fight was a win over Hank Lundy in a technical decision win in Los Angeles last July.
Gomez has that youthful anxiety.
“I’m 24 and I’m ready for May 7,” he said.
Back in the smoky heyday of the Olympic Auditorium this would have been one of those Southern California wars held in the ancient boxing palace. This fight between Herrera and Gomez screams barrio warfare.
One guy fights out of Riverside, an area that has been mass producing standout prizefighters like a machine since the 1990s. The other guy comes from East L.A. where prizefighting has been a rite of passage since the birth of the automobile. It’s new school versus old school.
Before the 1990s it was common to see someone from East L.A. in a bloodbath against someone from San Pedro like when Ruben “The Maravilla Kid” Navarro fought Mando Ramos in a lightweight war that sold out the Olympic Auditorium in 1971. Or take the fights between San Fernando Valley’s Bobby “Schoolboy” Chacon and Alhambra’s Danny “Lil Red” Lopez. The match was so big they needed to put that one in the L.A. Sports Arena.
Herrera knows all about the Sports Arena in L.A.
“We shut down the LA Sports Arena and we’re opening a new one, the T-Mobile Arena. That makes it special,” said Herrera about being the last supposed fight at the old historic Sports Arena that also saw Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Robinson and Gene Fullmer perform before large crowds.
Gomez follows a long line of prizefighters from East L.A. including Golden Boy Promotion’s own Oscar De La Hoya who had several crosstown wars with Rafael Ruelas of San Fernando, the late Genaro “Chicanito” Hernandez of South Central L.A. and Sugar Shane Mosley of Pomona. Can Gomez follow De La Hoya’s gloried path?
One thing history has shown is these Southern California showdowns never disappoint.
“Top rated Mauricio Herrera will be squaring up against East LA’s Frankie Gomez,” said De La Hoya who loves these tough cross-regional matchups. “He’s (Gomez) going up against the fighter that is known as the people’s champion.”
De La Hoya is one of millions that thought Herrera was robbed of the WBC and WBA junior welterweight world titles when he fought Danny “Swift” Garcia and lost by a much disputed decision two years ago in Puerto Rico.
Herrera said the controversial losses to Garcia and then Jose Benavidez don’t discourage him because of the surge of fan support he’s gained from the outcry.
“Fans embrace me and I feel like a true champion, and should be,” Herrera said. “I put it in my head like I am the champion.”
Gomez feels the excitement of the looming regional clash.
“My mind set is going there to win and give everybody a great show” Gomez said.
“Let’s give the people a show,” says Herrera.