Monday, February 11, 2008

"Tampa Tommy" Gomez, 2/5/48

One of the best-known brawls to happen in Tampa – a city known for its rich boxing history – occurred 60 years ago this week at Fort Homer Hesterly Armory. It was a doozy of a rematch featuring “Tampa Tommy” Gomez and Joe Matisi.

Gomez, one of the greatest boxers ever to come out of Tampa, sought to avenge a 1946 three-round knockout loss to Matisi. Bruised and battered, Gomez had temporarily retired following their first bout on Matisi’s home turf in Buffalo, N.Y.

Gomez knew a thing or two about adversity, however, as a soldier in World War II. A veteran of the Battle of the Bulge, the Hillsborough High graduate earned a Purple Heart for his heroic efforts during the war. He spent six months in a French hospital recovering from severe shrapnel and machine-gun bullet wounds.

True to form, Gomez pulled himself up off the mat and resumed his career with nine consecutive knockout wins leading up to the rematch with Matisi.

The eighth-ranked heavyweight in the world, Gomez entered the match with momentum on his side, while Matisi came to Tampa on a three-match losing streak. Tampa fight fans were certainly excited in the days leading up to the bout, as an overflow crowd jammed the Palmetto Beach Boys Club gymnasium two days before the match, just to watch Gomez conduct his final training sessions.

Promoter Lou Viscusi said it was the “biggest crowd I’ve ever seen at a workout since I started promoted boxing in Tampa.”

Advance ticket sales guaranteed a capacity crowd for the fight on the evening of Feb. 5, 1948. A record crowd of 7,500 fans packed into the Armory for what turned out to be a brutal slugfest.

Although neither fighter scored a knockdown during the fight, there was plenty of action, and a few low blows, to make things interesting.

In the fifth round, Matisi threw a low left punch below the waist that sent Gomez to his knees. Referee Eddie Coachman allowed Gomez a five-minute rest period to recover from the shot.

Perhaps doubting the credulity of Gomez’s pain, Matisi’s trainer, Ray Arcel, scoffed after the fight at the severity of the injury, saying modern “protectors” made it impossible to inflict serious injury with a low punch.

Gomez and Matisi traded low blows in the sixth before Gomez took full control of the match. The sixth round proved to be Gomez’s most dominant of the bout, as he battered Matisi with a barrage of left hooks, setting the stage for a seventh-round finale.

Both fighters at this point were the very definition of walking wounded. Gomez had injured his hands earlier in the fight and threw his punches with visible pain. For his part, Matisi could barely keep his mouthpiece in place because of a severe jaw injury. After Matisi absorbed a few more overhand rights, Arcel decided his boxer could take no more – he felt he had no choice but to throw in the towel for Matisi, earning a TKO for the hometown hero Gomez.

By the end of the fight, it was be difficult to discern between the victor and the vanquished. In severe pain, Gomez could barely make it to his dressing room on his own power after the match.
Both fighters were taken to Tampa General Hospital following the fight. Gomez suffered a broken right hand and a sprained left. Matisi left Tampa with a broken nose and serious injuries to his stomach and jaw.

Two months elapsed before Gomez could return to ring action, but the repercussions for Matisi were much more significant. In his next match four months later, Matisi suffered a first-round knockout. He boxed professionally just two more times before retiring in 1949.

Gomez fought in eighteen more matches before calling it a career in 1950. Considered by many to be one of the greatest athletes in Tampa history, Gomez, who passed away in 2006, was ranked in 2003 by The Ring magazine as one of the top 100 punchers of all time. Nights like the one sixty years ago at the Armory will always remind fight fans why.


  1. I enjoyed reading this article. I have never seen this before. I am Tommy Gomez's youngest daughter and would love to find more pictures and memorabilia. - Melanie Gomez

    1. Try the Tampa Bay History Center. They may have a subject file on him. That is where I was working when I wrote this column. Thanks for reading and commenting.