Puerto Rican superstar Juan Manuel ”Juanma” Lopez will look for boxing redemption on Saturday when he attempts to regain the WBO featherweight title from Mexico’s very own ”Cinderella Man” – Orlando Salido at the Coliseo Roberto Clemente in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Journeyman Salido, who had lost eight times before his 21st birthday and seemed headed for the boxing scrapheap, stunned the sports world when he ripped the title from Lopez’ grasp in eight sensational rounds last April, demolishing the proposed big money matchup between the Puerto Rican and Yuriorkis Gamboa. Now Lopez will attempt to resurrect a career that once seemed destined to see him crowned the new Felix Trinidad.

28 year old Lopez (31-1, 28 KOs), a slick-boxing, power-punching southpaw was a genuine, bona fide boxing star on the verge of a place in the upper echelons of the pound-for-pound rankings when he first faced Salido.

An outstanding amateur who began boxing aged 10, Lopez had run up a record of 126-24 before turning pro in 2005. By the time Lopez faced fearsome Mexican puncher Daniel Ponce De Leon for the WBO junior featherweight title in 2008, he was 21-0 with 19 KOs, but was still a heavy underdog against Ponce De Leon. The Mexican had scored 30 KOs in his 34 wins, so something had to give, and it turned out to be Ponce De Leon, who was blasted out in just one round.

Boxing suddenly had a brand new star, and the aura of pure power surrounding Lopez was amplified when he blew away his first two title challengers – Cesar Figueroa and Sergio Medina – in a round apiece. Three more defenses followed, including a titanic struggle against Philadelphia based Tanzanian  Rogers Mtagwa that went the distance and saw Lopez hurt often late in the fight, before he outgrew the division.

In 2010 Lopez stopped American Steve Luevano in seven rounds to win the WBO featherweight title. In the first defence of his new belt, he had to climb off the canvas to knock out Bernabe Concepcion in round two. As in his fight with Mtagwa, Lopez’ defence looked shaky and his chin vulnerable.

He was back to his best in his next fight however, hammering two-weight world champion Rafael Marquez to defeat in eight rounds in what was a career defining performance.

Lopez was favored to defeat Mexican iron-man Orlando Salido in his next fight, but the bout proved close from the off, and Lopez could not stamp his authority on his tough, awkward opponent. Worryingly, Lopez seemed unable to avoid the Mexican’s right hand.

By the fourth round, Salido was tagging Lopez almost at will, and in the fifth put him down for a count. Lopez tried to rally in the sixth and seventh, but was still eating right hands. In the eight, after Salido had connected with yet another combination, referee Roberto Ramirez stopped the fight. As Lopez had been fighting back at the time of the stoppage, the referee’s decision was seen as highly controversial, but the harsh reality was that Lopez looked destined for a stoppage defeat anyway.

Lopez proved that he was still a devastating finisher last time out, knocking down American Mike Oliver three times en-route to a second round TKO. Clearly there is nothing wrong with his hitting power, but if he is to stand any chance of regaining his title, his defence will need an extensive overhaul.

31 year old Orlando Salido (37-11-2, 25 KOs) had the most inauspicious of starts as a pro – losing by a fourth round TKO to Ivan Cazarez in 1996 when he was just sixteen. The early years were a struggle in the ring for young Salido, and by the close of 2001 his record was 14-8-2, including no less than five stoppage losses. Since then he has gone 23-3, losing only in world title bouts.

In December 2001 Salido lost a majority decision to former WBC featherweight champion Alejandro Gonzalez. He then won nine straight fights and gatecrashed the world rankings. In September 2004 he challenged Mexican modern great Juan Manuel Marquez for the WBA and IBF featherweight titles, and gave a good account of himself, though ultimately losing on points.

By now Salido had developed into a rugged boxer-puncher with a tight defence and excellent counterpunching skills. Salido stopped Rogers Mtagwa in five in 2006, and then outpointed Robert Guerrero to win the IBF featherweight – only for the result to be changed to a no-contest when Salido failed a post fight drug test. Salido protested his innocence, and even though a follow up test at an independent but nationally recognized lab came up negative, the result still stood.

Salido kept fighting – and winning – and in 2008 fought Cristobal Cruz for the IBF featherweight, only to lose a controversial split decision. He had to wait almost two years to get Cruz back in the ring, but in 2010 he outpointed his fellow countryman and finally got his hands on the IBF featherweight belt at the third time of asking.

His reign was to be short –  he lost his title to the outstanding Cuban Yuriorkis Gamboa, despite putting him down for a count in round eight. Salido hit the canvas twice in the final round, and lost widely on points to Gamboa, regarded by many experts as one of the top-ten pound-for-pound fighters in the world.

Juan Manuel Lopez must have believed that Gamboa had softened up Salido, leaving him ready for the taking. An impressive, inside the distance victory for the Puerto Rican would have been the perfect warm up for a proposed Lopez v Gamboa 2012 dream fight.

However, last April Salido proved against Lopez that he is carved of the same stuff as another Juan Manuel, (Marquez), as he displayed no signs of wear-and-tear from his eleven previous losses, and looked in control throughout the fight. His ability to hit and hurt Lopez was obvious, and although the stoppage was somewhat premature, Lopez looked incapable of turning things around, and the KO would have happened eventually.

Salido was to fight twice more in 2011 – TKO’ing Kenichi Yamaguchi of Japan in eleven rounds in a WBO title defence, and then almost losing to the unknown but hard-hitting young Filipino Weng Haya in a non-title fight.
Despite taking a pasting for the first two rounds, 22 year old Haya floored Salido with big left hooks in the third and fourth rounds. The Mexican regrouped, and came back to stop the game but outclassed Haya in the eighth.

Saturday’s rematch is an extremely tough fight to call. Salido looked sloppy last time out, and almost paid the price, but he will  fully focused on the job at hand this weekend. As for Lopez, he knows that Salido can hurt him, but will take encouragement from those two left-hook induced knockdowns courtesy of Haya.

Will Lopez be gun-shy, and try and box Salido with a view to winning a points decision? Does Salido have Lopez’s number?

Salido dominated the first encounter between the two, and I cant see how Lopez can do much to break that domination. Just like some so-called ‘lesser’ fighters seem to have the ”Indian Sign” over ring superstars (Gene Tunney over Jack Dempsey, Fritzie Zivic over Henry Armstrong, Gene Fullmer over Sugar Ray Robinson, Ken Norton over Muhammad Ali and most recently Juan Manuel Marquez over Manny Pacquiao to name but a few), Salido seems to be able to neutralize the very things that make Lopez so effective, and capitalize on his vulnerabilities.

I see this as a virtual carbon-copy of the first fight, with Lopez boxing aggressively and looking to land with left hooks, and Salido content to counter. I don’t expect to see Lopez walk into so many Salido right hands early on. Nevertheless, it will be that right hand that will ultimately do for Lopez, with Salido once again applying the coup-de-grace, this time in round ten.