|Zack Padilla before being inducted into the California Boxing Hall of Fame in 2011; Photo: San Gabriel Valley Examiner|
Zack Padilla was already a local celebrity in his hometown of Azusa, Calif. By June 9, 1993. Having retired after a TKO loss to a journeyman named Dwayne Prim, Padilla was in the midst of a comeback that saw him headlining cards at the Irvine Marriott and fighting in co-featured bouts at the Great Western Forum and the Hollywood Palladium only a few fights in.
We often hear from and about men who honestly declare that they were "born to fight." It's one of those phrases we've come to expect essentially every fighter to utter at some point, whether it's true or not. But fate has a peculiar way of correcting the mistakes of the stubborn and motivated.
Padilla also rose up through the ranks with Johnny Chavez, another Azusa native who suffered severe retinal tears in both eyes while defeating Gabriel Castro the previous November. His injuries caused him temporary (and eventually a degree of permanent) blindness which racked up, to that point, over $60,000 of medical bills, alleviated only by a series of celebrity charity events. Even recent Zack Padilla victim Roger Mayweather attended a meet and greet to benefit Chavez the day before Padilla vs. Gonzalez.
Carlos Gonzalez had only fought once in the U.S. before he took two rounds to boost the vacant WBO junior welterweight belt in a win over Jimmy Paul, but he had been on Mexican television a number of times prior. At times it was impossible to determine what was more aggressive: Gonzalez's style, or his mullet. He had a ornery disposition between the ropes, picked his spots well and would generally overwhelm average opponents -- a genre Zack Padilla didn't figure into.
Following his upset win over Roger Mayweather, Padilla appeared to be headed toward some manner of belt, and when the opportunity to face Gonzalez for his strap in Las Vegas was presented to his trainer/manager Victor Valenzuela, they jumped on it. The Thomas & Mack Arena had staged its first boxing card just over one year prior to Padilla vs. Gonzalez, which was its fifth boxing card to date. Padilla, a 3-to-1 underdog, was to be paid $25,000.
Round 1 featured more leg from Padilla than he was used to demonstrating, and as a result he toothed his share of Gonzalez right hands while in retreat. But Padilla planted his roots more and more firmly as early rounds wore on, upping his punch output along the way, and proving that Gonzalez' punching power -- the same power that had likely weighed down the fight odds -- was slightly less beastly than many believed.
Almost every Zack Padilla sequence began and concluded with a jab. And missed by the TVKO commentary was the fact that most of Gonzalez's best shots were being rolled with or more intelligently absorbed by Padilla. Gonzalez's corner called for uppercuts as Padilla's movement became far more strategic, and his right hands regularly followed the jabs by rounds 4 and 5. Shortly thereafter, Padilla's left hook became a factor, though it wasn't as if Gonzalez were absent in there -- he was still out-throwing Padilla, and having bursts of success doing it. Rounds 7 and 8 in particular saw Gonzalez landing heavy combinations and doing well, but his shots had no obvious effect on Padilla.
As Padilla rolled up his sleeves in the last four stanzas of the fight, all sorts of tricks spilled out: a "catch and pitch" type of busy countering style; lead shots from strange angles; semi-regular mouthpiece extraction. A rally from Gonzalez in the 11th round was negated by what TVKO commentator Tim Ryan called "...a very mature final round" from Padilla, who boxed and jabbed his way out of danger.
When the dust had settled, Zack Padilla and Carlos Gonzalez combined to throw over 2,400 punches, and Padilla revealed in the post-fight interview that he'd fractured his left hand against Roger Mayweather six weeks prior, hadn't used it at all until fight night against Gonzalez, and likely re-fractured it during the bout.
L.A. Times writer Early Gustkey said of Padilla, "He's a fighter cut from the molds of such as Jake LaMotta, Henry Armstrong and Gene Fullmer--he never stops throwing punches and never shows any sign of fatigue."
Four defenses and a little over one year later, fate stabbed holes in Padilla's plans by ending his career over a blood clot near his brain. Zack Padilla began complaining about headaches after his final defense against Juan Laporte, and a brisk sparring session against a young Shane Mosley in which Padilla had to be sidelined with balance issues was the final straw. He retired with a record of 22-1-1 (14 KO).
Zack Padilla vs. Carlos Gonzalez (Full video)