This Saturday night at the
American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas (10:45 p.m., ET/PT), Juan Manuel
Lopez challenges WBO featherweight titlist Mikey Garcia. There was a time not too
long ago when “JuanMa” was expected to carry on the island’s lineage as the next
Puerto Rican superstar, following the likes of Felix Trinidad and Miguel Cotto.
But as we come into the weekend, he is the decided B-side in this equation.
It's Garcia who is the
And Lopez is expected to be
the big-name notch Garcia’s belt.
There is no doubting the
importance of this fight for him. At age 29, what you'd expect to be Lopez’s
prime earning years, to a certain degree, it feels like he's being sacrificed
by his promoter, Top Rank.
“It's very important. It's
not only getting the victory but looking good doing it,” Lopez told Maxboxing
through Top Rank publicist Ricardo Jimenez last week. “I think a lot of people
are looking at this fight as the guy who beat a guy in [Orlando] Salido, who I
lost to. The way I look at it, if I beat this guy, I'd avenge both losses.”
OK, perhaps that's not the
most logical reasoning but fighters have a way of rationalizing things in this
manner. But Salido is a bit of sore spot for Lopez, given he stopped the Puerto
Rican twice in a span of 11 months over 2011 and 2012. Despite a scare or two,
the Lopez bandwagon was full and he was 30-0 prior to their first hook-up.
In 2010, he was a bright
young star who was still ascending. By 2013, Lopez is a fighter thought to
already be on the back nine. He admits, “I've had some very difficult years,
not only in the ring but outside the ring. Some personal problems, the
suspension that came about for some things I shouldn't have said. So it's been
a very difficult two years, not only in the ring.”
Lopez went through a
well-publicized separation with his wife and in the immediate wake of his
second defeat to Salido, he accused the referee, Roberto Ramirez Sr. (of both
Salido outings, incidentally) of gambling on the fight. These comments led to a
lengthy suspension from the ring. Lopez returned to the ring in February with a
ninth-round stoppage of Aldimar Santos and then in April, he halted Eugenio
Lopez in two.
He says he now boxes with a
clear mind. What's past is past.
“They always say that with
bad things, there's a silver lining and I think the suspension, the time off,
has helped me and I think that's been the silver lining. My body was able to
recuperate; my mind is more in tune with what I need to do. I definitely feel
this is the right time for this kind of fight,” said Lopez, who has a career
mark of 33-2 with 30 stoppages to his credit.
Most pundits are giving
Lopez very little chance of beating the talented Garcia. There's really no such
thing in boxing as a “must-win situation” but for Lopez, it would be a good
idea to at least put up a good fight.
Bob Arum, who promotes both
sides, says, “There's two ways to look at it: one, obviously if he wins, it's
tremendous. Two, if he doesn't win but it's a great fight, it's also very good
for him because there's guys he can fight. The only way if it's not good for
him is he gets blown out. So you gotta understand; a loss is something he can
deal with and still be prominent if he loses in the right way.”
It wasn't too long ago when
Top Rank was grooming him to replace Miguel Cotto as the signature Puerto Rican
boxer. “We had more than another Cotto,” stated Arum. “We had more like a Felix
Trinidad, who is much more fan-friendly than Cotto.”
Puerto Rico has a long and
proud boxing heritage. Per capita, it's probably as good as any region in the
world but there is a vacuum that currently exists. At the moment, the island
only boasts one major world champion, Rocky Martinez, the WBO 130-pound beltholder.
With Cotto heading into the twilight of his storied career, “JuanMa”
understands this dynamic.
“Without a doubt,” he
states, “everyone wants to see this fight. They want to see what I can do. Get
that championship back to Puerto Rico and this is a great boxing country. So
yeah, I want to give them something to cheer about.”
Lopez has that fighter’s
belief in himself.
“I believe I'm far from
done; I think that I will prove tha