Gomez steps away from Team Verdejo

SAN JUAN -- Former three-time world champion Wilfredo Gomez will no longer be part of the team that supports top Puerto Rican prospect Felix Verdejo.

Gomez, one of the greatest Puerto Rican fighters in history (44-3-1, 42 KOs as a pro fighter), told ESPNDeportes.com that he is stepping away from Team Verdejo because of a neurological condition that has affected him since 1989, a year after he retired.

"My brain is damaged," Gomez said. "I've got a small brain tear as a consequence of all the punches that I took during my career. The doctors said that, as time passed by, I would lose some of my movements, but I'm doing OK. The only thing I've lost for a bit is my speaking ability. I feel strong, I feel good. But I can no longer keep up with the type of agenda that Verdejo has right now.

"I would love to stay, but I can't keep up with Verdejo's rhythm," Gomez said, grinning.

During his career, Gomez, now 56, won junior featherweight, featherweight and junior lightweight titles. As an amateur, he won the gold medal at the 1974 World Amateur Boxing Championships and, in 1972, at age 15, fought for Puerto Rico at the Munich Olympics.

Last month Gomez joined Verdejo (9-0, 6 KOs), trainer Ricky Marquez and the rest of the fighter's team in Macau, where Verdejo put on an impressive exhibition against Petchsamuthr Duanaaymudahan to claim a unanimous six-round decision.

Gomez was considered a key contributor in Verdejo's preparation for Duanaaymudahan, but he says he can no longer take his condition for granted. In addition to dealing with his neurological illness, Gomez was hospitalized for several weeks in March because of a respiratory infection.

"I was born to fight. It's in my blood," Gomez said. "But my doctor said that because of my brain condition, it is just insane. I can't keep risking my health. Verdejo is an outstanding prospect. He's got the tools to become world champion. Maybe I'll keep helping him, from a distance, giving a piece of advice here and there, but not in the same way like I did before."