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Carnival of Champions

The Carnival Of Champions, as Don King nicknamed it, was an important boxing event held in New Orleans's Superdome on December 3, 1982.

The event had caught the international attention of boxing fans world-wide, but particularly in the United States, Puerto Rico and Mexico, because the 2 main events that night featured 2 Puerto Ricans, one Mexican and one American.

In the undercard's first of 2 co-main events, Wilfredo Gómez of Puerto Rico would defend his WBC world Jr Featherweight championship against WBC's world Bantamweight champion Lupe Pintor of Mexico. In the second, Wilfredo Benitez, also of Puerto Rico, would defend his WBC world Jr Middleweight championship against the former WBA Welterweight champion of the world Thomas Hearns, of Detroit, Michigan.

There was a lot of media hype surrounding the event, and HBO, the Pay Per View of the era, televised both. Gómez, Pintor, Hearns and HBO commentator Sugar Ray Leonard (who came in to substitute Benitez) were paraded around New Orleans a few days before the event, and many former and current world boxing champions and celebrities attended the fights.

In Puerto Rico in particular, the event had been eagerly awaited for, because it would be the first time the 2 Wilfredos would fight the same night and in the same ring, defending their world titles. Another Wilfredo who would later join Gómez and Benitez as 3 division world champions, Wilfredo Vazquez, had been announced as a participator in the undercard, but he had to pull out because of an injury days prior to the fight.

After an excellent undercard that included a win by Alberto Mercado, Pintor was the first of the 4 world champions to step into the ring that night, to challenge Gómez for Gómez's world title. In a brutal slugfest, Gómez struck first, hitting Pintor with an uppercut in round 1, and pinning Pintor against the ropes for a good portion of round 2, including a 19 punch combination that had Pintor almost falling. It wasn't to be easy, however, and by the 3rd round, Pintor began to introduce his jab to Gómez's face. Gómez's eye began to puff almost immediately. Gómez showed his championship heart by roaring back to take the 4th despite the bothering hematoma forming over his eye.

In the 5th, it was Pintor's turn to come back and take a round, but Gómez pounded Pintor to the head in rounds 6, 7 and 8, the latter in which Pintor lost a point for punching low. Pintor was finding out that Gómez was as hard to beat as his 37-1-1 (37 knockouts) record said he was. Pintor, however, had the heart of a lion too, and in the ninth he punched Gómez with poison in his hands and bad intentions, taking that round and round 10. Then came round 11, one of the fiercest rounds in the Jr Featherweight boxing's history. Gómez and Pintor traded punches toe to toe fiercely during that round , and both men had to be carried by their cornermen back to their corners. However, Gómez's eyes were both almost closed by now, and his fans started having flashbacks of his 1981 bout with world featherweight champion Salvador Sanchez. Gómez realized he needed a dramatic finish, and in the 12th he hit Pintor with everything he had, and with Pintor tiring and on the catching end of most of that round's punches, he figured out he had to try to outbox Gómez the rest of the way.

In round 13, Pintor attacked Gómez's eyes from a distance with his jab. One of the least action packed rounds was still a very good round, and Pintor took it by out manuevering Gómez for the first time in the bout.

Gómez, imagining he could have been behind on the scorecards, came for the 14th in a roar, and started throwing punches from all angles. Pintor was tired and Gómez looked stronger, but Gómez's eyes were almost completely closed by this time, and he could barely see Pintor. He was, as he described it later himself Fighting on instinct only. Then, suddenly he caught Pintor with a right to the temple and Pintor fell on his knees, for the first knockdown of the fight. He bravely beat the count of referee Arthur Mercante, but Gómez didn't waste his opportunuty and chased his wounded prey with uppercuts and crosses, until a right cross caught Pintor on his chin and he fell to the floor on his back. Mercante didn't bother to count this time: He stopped the fight immediately and Gómez had retained his world title in a dramatic fight.

According to KO Magazine, Gómez led on fight judge Harold Lederman's card by 125-121, and on Dick Cole's by 126-120, while Pintor led on Artie Aidala's card by 124-121 at the time of the stoppage. KO Magazine's staff writer had it for Gómez at 125-120.

20 minutes after the first of the 2 co main events was over, it was Hearns' turn to step into the ring and challenge Benitez. The two engaged in one of the most intense staredowns in history. After touching gloves, Hearns began to use his longer jab, but the brave champion started to dig in. Hearns boxed from a distance in rounds 1, 2 and 3 and Benitez kept applying pressure, and using his best method of fighiting: Laying against the ropes. Whenever pinned there, Hearns would try to unleash a combination and Benitez would slip the punches coming at him and countering. Benitez's championship heart was also a very huge one.

In the 5th, Hearns struck with a right to the head and Benitez's gloves touched the canvas. Referee Octavio Meyran of Mexico counted , but Benitez came back and almost won the round after that. Hearns also dominated the 6th and the 7th, but in the 8th, a Benitez right hand graced Hearns' chin and Hearns fell on all fours. Hearns also got up, and won the 9th round. Rounds 10 and 11 were all Wilfredo, with the champion trying to close the gap between him and Hearns with masterful counter punching and ring intelligence. Hearns, however, knew he needed the next few rounds to secure another world title, and he outboxed Benitez in round 12 using his jab. Benitez also imagined he was the one who needed a rally, and had in rounds 13 and 14 , two of his best rounds of the fight. In round 15, Hearns seemed to think he had the decision secured, and Benitez seemed to imagine he needed a knockout to win, so Hearns proceeded to use his jab for 3 more minutes and Benitez tried to avoid defeat by throwing quick combinations onto Hearns' face to see if he could find the punch that would finally lay down The Hitman for good. But it wasn't to be, and the bell rang, putting an end to the second of 2 intense and historic boxing battles.

When the decision was announced, it was split: 2 judges had voted for Hearns, (144-139 and 146-136, according to KO magazine) and one for a draw (142-142), making Hearns the WBC's new world Jr Middleweight champion. Sadly, the hours prior to the fight would turn out to be Benitez's last hours as a current world boxing champion.

The 2 Wilfredos of Puerto Rico had gone 1-1 that night, but their show of bravery and championship heart didn't leave many boxing fans disappointed.