SALT LAKE CITY — Every day for five years, Larry Gomez wrestled with regret.
More than a year ago, he began fighting for his dreams.
The 20-year-old West Valley fighter is one of six boxers representing Utah and the Rocky Mountain Region in the National Golden Gloves Tournament, which begins Monday at the Salt Palace.
Gomez said he didn’t realize what the sport meant to him until he faced every day without it.
“I was just confused,” Gomez said of his feeling that he’d outgrown boxing when he was 14. “I didn’t know what I wanted at the time. I loved the sport. I felt bad every day that I didn’t box.”
So he went to his uncle who’d trained him since he was 8 and asked if he could get back into the sport.
“I’d heard that so many times between my other kids and his brother, that I said, ‘Yeah, we’ll see,’ ” said coach G. Michael Gomez. “I kind of gave up on the fact that he’d be a boxer. I said, ‘I’ll always be there for you, I will always have the door open for you when you’re ready.’ He’s proved to me that he’s more than dedicated.”
In fact, of all of the young men his uncle coached, including Larry’s brother and his own boys, Larry was the last one he thought would ever be fighting for a national title and on the verge of making the sport his profession. “I’m really surprised,” he said after sparring with his nephew last week. “He was the first one of all the kids to stop boxing, and I didn’t think he’d be the one here right now, honestly, because, even when he was younger, he didn’t show the same interest. He’d act like he didn’t care if he won or lost. I thought maybe he didn’t want to box. I thought maybe this isn’t his thing.”
His uncle’s opinion changed when Larry decided to return to the sport 18 months ago.
“Since he’s been back, he’s showed more dedication than all of the kids,” he said.
“It’s taken so much hard work for him,” the elder Gomez said of the boxer who will compete in the 152-pound division. “As far as mentally, it was really hard for him.”
Coach Gomez sat down with the boxers he trains, including his two nephews and son, and told them that in order to seriously compete in the Golden Glove tournaments, they’d have to commit to a rigorous training regimen.
“We basically ate, drank and slept boxing,” the coach said in the West Valley gym he opened a few years ago. “We would train three times a day. We were at the gym almost 24-7.”
While the program proved to be too much for Larry’s brother and cousin, it was what he needed to prepare for the sport’s most prestigious tournaments after five years away from the ring.
“He went through the whole state and four region (tournaments) knocking everybody out,” coach Gomez said. “Nobody could last three rounds with him. So that says a lot right there.”
The elder Gomez, who won state and regional titles but never a national championship, said his nephew will succeed because he has a gift to go with his dedicated effort.
“He’s powerful,” he said. “His best thing is that he’s powerful, especially for his weight, and he’s fast. He’s more of a Mike Tyson type fighter. He comes forward; he doesn’t dance around the ring. He’ll come right at you, and he’ll throw some power punches.”
Larry and his older brother, Joe Gomez, began fighting when they were in elementary school because their father and uncle boxed. His father, also named Joe, had talent, but alcohol derailed his promising career.
“He was a good guy and a good boxer,” he said. “He could have been something but, but other things just took over him. He got really sick and knowing he couldn’t box anymore, he just started to drink himself to death.”
It was “other things” that nearly derailed Larry Gomez as well. He feels fortunate that he realized it before it was too late.
“I felt like I was going down his path, not drinking-wise, but I was going down the same path of not doing what I loved,” he said. “That’s what made me come back. Now I want to do this for him, in his memory.”
He is grateful for his uncle’s unconditional love and support, but more so for the way he’s pushed him the last few months. He said his success has even surprised him.
“I knew I was good, but I didn’t think I’d be coming back stopping these good fighters and doing as good as I’ve done,” he said.
To win a national title, he said he needs to keep doing what he’s done the last two tournaments.
“Aggression and being focused and knowing what I need to do,” he said of what will help him become the first Utah fighter to win a national Golden Gloves title since Sampson Puha won one nearly two decades ago. “I feel I could win it, and my style is good enough to win it. I hope I can do it. I am going to do it for Utah and for my family and for my dad.”
His uncle sits a few feet from him, and as Larry talks about his father, the coach reminds him of the sentiment he always offered his boys when they were small.
“He’d tell his kids to be pretty in the ring, box pretty,” coach Gomez said smiling. “Always be a pretty fighter.”
Larry Gomez smiles at the thought, and then says he feels his father with him on this journey.
“I just have his spirit with me,” he said. “I think he would be proud. I pray to him everyday, and I know he’s going to make me my best on those nights.”