The son of an Olympic champion from Cuba, Yoelvis Gomez was always around boxing. He was into baseball and soccer first, but when his father, José, started taking him to training and fights, Yoelvis got into it as way to be close to his dad.
The elder boxer would show his son videos, and Yoelvis would react excitedly.
“I want to be just like my dad, I would say,” Gomez, now 24, said in Spanish.
Gomez (5-0) is thought by many boxing observers to be on his way to big things in the sport. But he’ll face a major test on Saturday night at Gila River Arena in the co-main event of the David Benavidez-David Lemieux fight card, when Gomez faces veteran Jorge Cota (30-5) of Mexico in a super welterweight bout.
The division has been loaded with quality fighters, including Jermell Charlo and Brian Castaño, who just fought each other last weekend.
“If you want to be the best in the world, you have to fight the best in the world,” Gomez said, adding he likes to watch all the of contenders, and his plan is to be retired well before he’s 40.
At one point, father told son he could be as good as him, maybe even better, and that gave Gomez the confidence boost to make it a career choice.
“I have a strong name in boxing in Cuba. It’s a name that gets respect, and as I kept fighting it helped me get a promoter, helped me turn professional and it helped me get the papers I needed to leave Cuba,” Gomez said .
Leaving the island for a better life in the US was the goal, as there was no pathway to that for Gomez. He spoke of the people of Cuba being oppressed by the government, the hardships of daily life there and how difficult it is to gain permission to leave.
Gomez had a lot of amateur fights in Cuba before making it to Guatemala for his pro debut in 2020. He’s won all of his fights via knockout or technical knockout.
“I want to get to a higher level. I fight with both hands so I have to be looking for the knockout,” Gomez said. “I have learned so much from my trainer. Boxing and in life. In boxing you have to enjoy it. You have to enjoy the support from the public. You have to approach things calmly and patiently. It’s been a good experience.”
Cota wants to know why a great many boxing pundits and fans think Gomez will win their matchup. With 27 knockouts, Cota, from Los Mochis in the state of Sinaloa, has never ducked a top quality opponent but has losses at super welterweight to Charlo, Sebastian Fundora, Erickson Lubin and Jeison Rosario.
“To be honest, I don’t see much from Gomez as a boxer. I don’t understand why his team chose me as his opponent with his lack of experience and the fact that he’s never fought anyone at my level,” Cota said in spanish. “He’s not prepared for my pressure and I’m convinced he made a mistake taking this fight.”
Cota, nicknamed “Demonio” (Demon), is proud of his long career that goes back almost 13 years and how he stands toe-to-toe with opponents.
“I know the fans like it,” Cota said. “Without that style, I wouldn’t have gotten the reaction I do from fans in the United States and with (Showtime) Premier Boxing Champions. I have a lot of big names on my record. I want to fight the best there is, and I can always say that I have fought the best.”
Cota, 34, has gone a year since his last fight, a TKO loss to rising star Fundora at 154 pounds. It’s not the first time he’s gone a long time between bouts, for personal matters or injury.
He looks forward to fighting in front of a crowd he feels will be on his side, with the large Mexican population in Arizona. Wherever he goes, he said someone who is either a boxing fan or hails from his hometown recognizes him.
“It’s a beautiful thing for sure, to go to other places and be recognized,” Cota said. “I really like interacting with fans, and I’ve never had a bad experience with any of them.”
Cota offered more thoughts on Gomez.
“Gomez really hasn’t shown much more than power punches to win,” Cota added. “My viewpoint is he is hitter, he has a standup style that is practical. He’s not a boxer who is going to dodge punches, and I think that’s an advantage for us.”
Get in touch with Jose Romero at Jose.Romero@gannett.com. Find him on Twitter at @RomeroJoseM.