Dan Rafael: Juan Carlos Gomez

England’s Anthony Joshua, the 2012 Olympic super heavyweight gold medalist, will face what should be his toughest professional test so far when he tangles with Denis Bakhtov on Saturday at the O2 Arena in London.

Not only will the 24-year-old Joshua (8-0, 8 KOs) box in his first scheduled 10-rounder (although he has never seen the fourth round yet), but he will also be facing his best opponent so far. Bakhtov (38-9, 25 KOs), 34, of Kazakhstan, has won two fights in a row and has been stopped only twice in his nine defeats. He is supposed to give Joshua rounds, which he desperately needs. But Bakhtov also has a lot of experience against opponents such as former world title challenger Manuel Charr, former cruiserweight titlist Juan Carlos Gomez and contender Czar Glazkov.

“I've spoken to people about Bakhtov and the hard-core boxing fans know he's a test,” Joshua said. “It's quite interesting and all it says is that I am fighting people who have operated at a good level. There's no rush. I need to get more fights and more rounds under my belt and I am happy to do that. I like sparring with the champs, I hope to be able to do more (sparring) with Wladimir Klitschko.”

Joshua was in Klitschko’s camp as he was preparing for a fight with Kubrat Pulev, although it had to be postponed until next month because Klitschko suffered a biceps injury.

Fighting an opponent such as Bakhtov seems like the perfect step up for Joshua, who is in no hurry. He’s in this for the long haul.

“I don't need rounds that are going to slow my career down, unnecessary rounds,” Joshua said. “A guy giving me all sorts of problems and hitting me hard, this is a physical sport and tough fights do take years off you. I don't need those sorts of fights and rounds, and I am getting the rounds in during sparring. It will happen in the ring and when I get that opponent that does go further then I will probably say that I am happy that I got the rounds in.

“They need to look a bit deeper than someone’s height and physique. Klitschko waited 17 fights to win this [regional] belt and look at what he has achieved. Even though it took him that long it is about how you start but how you finished. I’ve started off well but it’s about pacing yourself correctly and making sure I get it right.”

In Saturday’s main event, Wales' Lee Selby meets Australia’s Joel Brunker in a featherweight eliminator with a mandatory shot at titleholder Evgeny Gradovich at stake.

JC Gomez back to cruiserweight

October, 25, 2013
Juan Carlos Gomez was a dominant cruiserweight titleholder, winning a belt in 1998 and defending it 10 times, including nine by knockout, before vacating the title in 2001.

Like most top cruiserweights, Gomez, the former Cuban amateur star who defected to Germany, decided to move up to heavyweight and try his hand in a more lucrative division. And like most cruiserweights, Gomez (51-3, 38 KOs), a southpaw, did not have much success.

All of his losses are at heavyweight, where he fought mostly second-tier or worse opponents, other than Vitali Klitschko.

In 2004, Gomez got knocked out in the first round by obscure Yanqui Diaz. In 2009, he got a shot at Klitschko's title and was dominated in a ninth-round knockout loss. In 2011, Gomez lost a majority 10-round decision to journeyman Darnell “Ding-A-Ling Man” Wilson. Gomez also had a 2005 decision win against former titleholder Oliver McCall changed to a no-contest because Gomez failed a post-fight drug test.

Now 40, and with his career fading fast, Gomez, known as the “Black Panther,” is looking to recapture past glory by returning to the cruiserweight division he once dominated.

Gomez, who weighed as much as 255 pounds for a 2010 fight, is going back down to the 200-pound division for a Nov. 1 fight in Dachau, Germany. He is scheduled to fight Adnan Buharalija (29-18-2, 21 KOs), 33, of Bosnia, and hoping to eventually fight for a cruiserweight title again.

“I haven't felt this good in years,” Gomez said. “The ‘Black Panther’ is back and hungry.”

Gomez has won two in a row since the loss to Wilson, including a fourth-round knockout in their rematch, but he has not fought since May 2012.

“Over the last couple of years I lost my focus,” Gomez said. “I was only fighting for money and did not enjoy what I was doing. After the Klitschko fight I lost my motivation and love for the sport. But that changed dramatically. I'm back to my old self. And I want to become world champion again.”

Gomez said he was motivated by watching 41-year-old Guillermo Jones defeat Denis Lebedev in May to reclaim a cruiserweight title (which was later returned to Lebedev in the wake of Jones’ failed drug test).

“So I thought, I can do that, too. I can and will be world champion again,” said Gomez, adding that his aim to is to challenge cruiserweight titlist Krzysztof Wlodarczyk of Poland, who holds the belt Gomez once did.