By Michael Norby: WBC heavyweight world champion Vitali Klitschko
made an impressive opening defense of his title on Saturday night with a dominating ninth round stoppage victory over Cuban southpaw Juan Carlos Gomez
at the Hanns-Martin-Schleyer Halle in Stuttgart, Germany.
The big Ukrainian looked terrific in winning the belt against then champion Samuel Peter last October – his first fight after an injury induced four year hiatus – and he defended his title in superb fashion this evening. It was predicted that Klitschko 37-2 (36) would have some difficulty against Gomez 44-2 (35), a well oiled lefty veteran but, after a quiet first couple of rounds, the champion took over and punished the Cuban with a piercing jab and his trademark powerful straight right hand en route to a decisive victory.
The 37-year-old fought at a typically deliberate pace and tenderized his smaller opponent throughout the fight with thudding power and archer-like accuracy. He thoroughly dominated Gomez and sent the challenger down in the seventh with a beautifully thrown right hand to the jaw. The Cuban got up and, to his credit, fought on until the ninth, when he could no longer withstand Klitschko’s power – falling for the second time midway through the round before referee Daniel Van De Wiele stopped the punishment not long after.
Klitschko towered above the former cruiserweight world champion but, in the first round, Gomez jumped forward and scored with a quick flurry in the opening seconds. Both guys then proceeded to high five each other in the center of the ring with pawing jabs for most of the round – broken only by a scattering of left hands upstairs by Gomez as the champion struggled to settle.
Gomez scored well with both hands early in the second and his tenacity was proving to be quite the handful for the European star. As the round progressed, however, Klitschko began to find his opponent with sharp and accurate straight right hands but, for the most part, he allowed a calm and composed Gomez to frustrate his efforts at close quarters.
Gomez continued to jump inside in the third where he connected a series of lightly toasted punches to begin the round. Klitschko responded with forceful right hands and he managed to keep Gomez at range for lengthy periods throughout the second half of the frame. At distance, he found his man with ease and power and he hurt the Cuban in the final thirty seconds with a hard right hand to the head.
That round, his best of the fight, seemed to settle Klitschko and he emerged for the fourth with a renewed sense of purpose. He scored with authority early on and Gomez walked into severe punishment as he tried to forge his way inside. Indeed, the former cruiserweight star was unable to wrestle control of the round away from the champion, despite dogged and probing efforts to close the gap throughout the three minutes.