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Forgotten Champions: Joey Gamache


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Joey Gamache was a two-time world champion, at 130 and 135, and the only boxer from Maine to capture a world boxing title as a pro. Gamache was a fast and skilled guy, but lacked that big punch, which became crucial in his loss of title at 135 to harder-punching Tony Lopez. His career came to a sudden halt after suffering a brutal knockout against Arturo Gatti, in a fight where the weight disparity against him was too big. He would later unsuccessfully sue Gatti. 

Joseph Gamache was born on May 20 1966 in Bath, Maine, and grew up in Lewiston in the same state. He was second youngest of six children in a family of Portuguese origin and his last name is pronounced "Gah-maash". The 5'6 (168 cm) Gamache had a small reach of only 64 inches or 163 cm, but made up for it with his aggressiveness, speed and good boxing skills. At the age of 10, he first played baseball as third baseman in the little league. As he tended to loop his throws, his father suggested he should try training boxing to develop stronger arms. He did and got hooked, instead becoming a boxer after that. As amateur, he reached the 1984 Golden Gloves final at 132 pounds and tried to qualify for the US Olympic team same year, but lost in the semi-final (lightweight) to Joey Belinc. He had his first pro fight on May 1 1987 in Lewiston and won it by RTD3 against Al Jackson. 

In his 18th pro fight, he won the IBF Inter-Continental super feather title by stopping Irving Mitchell by TKO4 at home in Lewiston. After defending it twice and vacating it, he fought for the vacant WBA title at 130, against Jerry Ngobeni of South Africa, on June 28 1991 in Lewiston. He was well ahead on all scorecards when he stopped Ngobeni by TKO10 and thus became the first world champion from Maine. He would not defend the title however, as he vacated it not long thereafter, probably because he had problems making the weight. He moved up to 135 and won 3 fights there, 2 by ko, before getting a fight for the vacant WBA title there as well, against the South Korean Chil Sung Jun. The fight happened June 13 1992 at the Cumberland County Civic Center in Portlant, Oregon and it was a hell of a fight, both entertaining and filled with fouls, where Gamache in the end prevailed by TKO9. He had won every round on every scorecard until then. 

He was now 29-0 and ready to defend his title for the first time against the Tiger from Sacramento, Tony Lopez, who was already a former two-time world champ at 130. They were of equal height, but Lopez had a much longer reach and hit harder. The fight was again held at the same place in Portland, October 24, and Gamache surprised by dominating the former champion with quick combinations and one-twos for most of the fight. Lopez was oddly anonymous and seemed headed towards a clear points loss-until the 10th, when he hurt Gamache with some hard shots late in the round. Gamache was clearly shaken and was then stopped with some more big blows early in the 11th, after 40 seconds. He was suddenly no longer undefeated or the champion. This fight marked a crossroads or a turning point in his career, where he would remain just a challenger and a contender, but no longer a winner or a champion in big fights. 

He managed to win the NABF super lightweight title by UD against Jeff Mayweather in January 1994, after dropping "Jazzy Jeff" twice. However, in his next world title fight against the new WBA-champion Orzubek "Gussie" Nazarov, he was quickly blown out in 2 rounds after being down twice in the second round, December 10 that same year. Nazarov was just too much for him and most other fighters in the division at the time. In March 1996, he won the minor WBU super light title by beating Rocky Martinez by UD. On October 12 same year, he took on Julio Cesar Chavez, who was coming off a loss to Oscar De La Hoya. Gamache was penalized for butting in the 5th and could not answer the bell for round 9, thus losing by RTD8. In May 1998, he even won the "WAA Jr Middleweight title", despite weighing in at 147. He knocked out Felix Dubray, 37-17 at the time, in round 4 to win it. Of his last 10 wins, interestingly, 9 of them were by ko. His last victory was over former Chavez and Hector Camacho-challenger Craig Houk-Gamache won by TKO6, November 5 1999.

And then came that very controversial Arturo Gatti fight; Gamache had to get down to the contracted 140-limit after fighting well above that weight for the last 3 years. He did that, but Gatti reportedly came in at 160! An NYSAC official actually allowed Gatti to step off the scale before it could be determined if he had made the weight, which was bizarre. Another big difference was that Gatti was still in his prime, still aged 27, while Gamache was not, at 33 years of age and having had 58 fights already. The fight still went on and took place at Madison Square Garden, February 26 2000. Of course, Gamache was no match for the much heavier and prime Gatti and was brutally knocked out in the second round, after only 41 seconds of it. Gamache's career was over and he was in hospital with a brain damage. He filed a lawsuit against both Gatti and NYSAC (New York State Athletic Commission), but got nothing out of it as the judge could not determine that his damage had come because of the weight disparity. It was obviously a case of Gatti being a protected fighter back then.

After this sudden and brutal exit from the ring, Gamache joined the Kronk gym as the student of Emmanuel Steward and later became a trainer. He is currently training the Swedish heavyweight Otto Wallin and has also trained Danish super middleweight Patrick Nielsen and Norwegian cruiserweight Kai Robin Havnaa. He was also a member of the Teofimo Lopez team, as an assistant trainer. Early in his boxing career, Joey was often compared to Vinny Pazienza because of his flashy personality and his aggressive fighting style. He allegedly posed on a bearskin with very little clothes on, in his heyday as a boxer. His success in the ring was short-lived, but he kept on fighting and would have probably had an even longer career than that near-13 year span, hadn't it been for that violent knockout. Still, he had already achieved everything he could, so maybe it was for the better. Hope you enjoyed this presentation about Joey Gamache, a FORGOTTEN CHAMPION!


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22 hours ago, robprosser said:

The Gatti fight was a disgrace. It's only by good fortune that there wasn't a more tragic end. The NY commission should have been hauled over the coals. 

Totally agree. It was all rigged up for Gatti to win, yet in an interview I read, Gamache said he liked Gatti, no ill feelings against him. What a class act.

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--- Generally boxing  commishes are barely competent if they don't outright stink.

You could fill a book with NY disgraces dating back to refusing to sanction Dempsey/Wills after Dempsey won the title and Harry Frazee had both big money and venues of Boston Stadium that he owned and Yankee Stadium where he and Rupert were business partners.

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