Attempting a come back after losing his undefeated record of 31-0 and WBO title to Orlando Salido in April 2011, many Lopez supporters and Puerto Rican fans were hopeful that Juanma had suffered the only loss of his career because of distractions from training camp and the personal strife of going through a divorce.
By Al Hernandez-Santana
The Mexican fans and connosieurs of boxing who predicted that Salido would beat him again, no matter how many times or where they fought, had it right. Orlando Salido exposed many or all of Lopez’ vulnerabilities, including his tendency to stand up straight and lift his chin when opponents get too close or when he gets hit. Commentators at ringside were correct in watching for how Lopez would avoid the overhand right from his nemesis, the punch that caught him flush in the fifth round of their last fight. Not only did Salido connect that punch with some frequency, he added new weapons to his arsenal, offering new looks to counter Lopez’ attack and using his left in looping uppercuts and a straight left. Lopez’ defense is poor, but had never been tested so consistently and thoroughly before; he can’t seem to be able to make minor tweaks like rolling his shoulders, using head movement and better footwork. That means years of bad habits in the ring. Which is the crux of his problem. In addition, Juan Manuel Lopez may have paid dearly for his team’s lack of strategy and insufficient creativity–something that has befallen so many good Puerto Rican fighters. Simply put, their trainers (often family members) seem content to do the same thing over and over again, instead of studying the opponent and making adjustments.
Leading up to their match in 2011, Lopez had had perhaps the best year of his career, stopping Steve Luevano by TKO in the seventh to start off the year, coming back from a flash knockdown to win an impressive second round knockout over Bernabe Concepcion of the Phillipines, and beating Mexican idol Rafael Marquez in 8 rounds. He seemed destined to the Boxing Hall of Fame and HBO was salivating at the propect of a matchup with Cuban sensation Yuruorkis Gamboa. In order to win this rematch, his trainers knew at least that he had to box more and not turn the fight into a slugfest again. Lopez started the first round with his left hand held up high and close, but began to drop it as the fight progressed. Lopez tried his best to become a boxer-puncher for this fight, but didn’t do enough. And given Salido’s consistent pressure–better paced than his first fight but just as terribly effective–Lopez did not use his footwork to circle around Salido. He simply would get out of the way or walk backwards around the ring.
When Lopez is in trouble, his boxing IQ is not great. He looked out of balance, and for many of the early rounds was pushing his punches, rather than connecting sharp punches with bad intentions, which is the signature Lopez style that boxing fans had come to love about him. Although not able to put his punches together more effectively, he had one moment. In the fifth round, he happened to catch Salido with a perfect short right hook, as he was coming in to corner Lopez against the ropes. Salido fell and looked hurt as he got up at the count of seven. But the end of the round was near and Salido survived. In the next round, Salido came out flinging and continued to dominate. Juanma seemed at times to use his physical strength and size to lean on Salido and push him around, in the hopes of tiring him or slowing him down. But at featherweight class, their difference in weight was not enough to turn the tide. In the ninth round, Lopez came out slugging out of desperation. They both went at each other for the full three minutes. As exciting as it seemed for the fans, this was no Barrera-Morales or Martinez-Williams I; there was a lot of pulling, grabbing by the neck or holding the head down, and generally taking whacks at the opponent without caring where it landed. Although both were tested in that round and Salido’s eyes were swollen and closing, Lopez seemed to me to come out of the exchange the most depleted. The opening of the next round confirmed it. Shortly after the first exchange, Salido caught Lopez again with a heavy right hook and followed with a three-punch combination that connected clean. Lopez trashed to the canvas and made a herculean effort to get up quickly, at the count of four or five, but his legs were extremely wobbly and he looked really hurt. The ref took two good looks at him and stopped the fight. It was a good stoppage, despite Juanma’s protestations. He was still out on his feet, and would have been seriously hurt if the fight had continued.
So there you have it, this fight adds another chapter to the continuing saga of the Mexican-Puerto Rican rivalry in boxing. I am still amazed to this day by the volume of punches, pure aggression and stamina that Mexican boxers are known for. Is it the altitude at which they train? Do all the best boxers train in the mountains? All good questions. From the Puerto Rican perspective, the one factor that nearly always stopped the Mexican onslaught is power, such as Felix Trinidad, or the slickness of Wilfredo Benitez and boxing prowess of a Wilfredo Gomez. At the top of the Showtime broadcast and during the pre-fight hype, boxing analyst Al Bernstein commented how Juan Manuel Lopez needed a trascendent moment in his career, or a testing rivalry with a world-class opponent that would stamp his name in the annals of boxing and rise him to a level that Trinidad enjoyed with adoring Puerto Rican fans. Who knew that an Orlando Salido with a blemished record would be the one to test his mettle? Juanma came up way short and is now left to contemplate his future in boxing.