Fireworks expected in Gomez-Kamegai

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Two-time world-title challenger Alfonso Gomez has an interesting way of describing the past three years of his career.

Gomez, 34, best known from his run on Season 1 of "The Contender" reality series, ended a two-year stretch of inactivity last July when he outpointed Ed Parede, but has fought just once over the past 32 months.

"I was a caterpillar, and during those two years I was in my cocoon," Gomez told ESPN.com. "That's pretty much what happened. Even though it appears he's not doing anything, he's doing everything and changing everything about himself. I healed myself and mentally evolved."

With elbow injuries behind him and a refined focus on his future, Gomez (24-6-2, 12 KOs) returns on Friday to face Japan's Yoshihiro Kamegai (25-2-1, 22 KOs) at the Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio, California, (Fox Sports 1/Fox Deportes, 10 p.m. ET) in a 10-round junior middleweight bout.

The fight appears on paper to be brilliant matchmaking for those who love action, as neither boxer is the kind to take a step backward. But Gomez, a native of Guadalajara, Mexico, is quick to reference his newfound maturity, calling himself a smarter fighter who wants to stretch his career by making wiser decisions in and out of the ring.

"Five years ago, I had the mentality as a typical Mexican who wants to be the next [Julio Cesar] Chavez or wants to be the warrior and please the crowd and take unnecessary chances and punishment," Gomez said. "We let our emotions control us, unlike now, when I let my mind control my emotions.

"I don't need the injuries or those extra punches that I could have avoided. Now, it's about looking good in there, winning and going on to the next one."

Gomez credits his 2004 appearance on "The Contender" with helping him secure opportunities, including high-profile bouts against the likes of Arturo Gatti, Miguel Cotto and Canelo Alvarez.

"People still remember me from those days but it makes me kind of cry when I hear guys with beards or fighters that are going for championships say, 'Hey, Gomez! When I was a kid I used to watch you,'" Gomez said. "I would be like, 'When you were a kid? You look my age!'"

Gomez describes himself during his time on the reality series as "this little Mexican engine that could." But he quickly became a fan favorite due to the honest and exciting manner in which he fought.

"What I liked about that show -- and I think this is why people liked me -- is that I went in there without any masks or any preconceptions or anything," Gomez said. "I went in there purely naked with nothing but myself and the belief in myself.

"And I proved it. Even calling out Peter Manfredo in the first show -- everyone laughed at me and nobody believed in me. But it's not about them; it's about me believing in me."

Belief in himself is something Kamegai, 32, simply isn't lacking. No stranger to going to war inside the ring, the fearless fighter believes it's his heart and iron will -- which were on full display last June in his fight of the year candidate with Robert Guerrero -- that separates him from other fighters in the sport.

But what is it exactly that fuels Kamegai's fearless determination?

"It comes through the training," Kamegai told ESPN.com through a translator. "I felt [against Guerrero] that it was a fight that was going to change my lifestyle and basically my career, to improve the comfort of my living. It's only 36 minutes out of my life, so I'm not going to give up and I'm going to give the best that I have."

Kamegai understands what's at stake on Friday with the opportunity to showcase his relentless style to American fans in a main-event slot. He believes the key toward providing fans with the best possible fight -- while giving himself the best chance to win -- is to get Gomez to fight at his pace.

Gomez, meanwhile, has his eyes set not only on being victorious but looking good in doing so. He believes it will help him secure a quick turnaround, including a potential spot on the May 9 undercard of Canelo Alvarez-James Kirkland.

"I believe beating Kamegai more soundly than Guerrero did is really going to put into the minds of promoters and fans that I really am at that level," Gomez said. "So it's a very important opportunity where people are going to compare and are going to see that either Gomez is out or Gomez is in."

Gomez is also chasing a rematch with Alvarez, who defeated him in 2011 by sixth-round TKO thanks to a questionable stoppage, which Gomez chalks up to merely "boxing politics." Although Gomez is proud of what he has accomplished in his career, he admits there's a bit of unfinished business remaining.

"That's why I want to prolong my career, so I can continue to have that opportunity to ascent into higher opportunities and more security that comes with being at the elite level," Gomez said.

But what happens if Kamegai is able to force Gomez into altering his game plan to box and turn the fight into a toe-to-toe brawl?

"It's very important for me to execute my game plan properly," Gomez said. "But at the end of the day, if it comes down to being dirty and grimy and needing to be a warrior, I'm not shy. I have done it all of my life."