Juanma Lopez Takes Aim: Will He Blast His Way To Superstardom In 09?

Juan Manuel LopezBy Andrew Harrison: Puerto Rican shooting star Juan Manual Lopez fought for a grand total of 699 seconds in 2008. In that short space of time he managed to blow clean through four fighters; Jonathan Oquendo, Daniel Ponce de Leon, Cesar Figueroa and Sergio Manuel Medina whilst annexing the WBO super bantamweight title en route (versus Ponce de Leon). It’s likely he’ll have to put in a longer and more arduous shift in 2009 as he takes aim at three fierce rivals standing between him and dominance at 122lbs.

Unfortunately for ‘Juanma’ two of those rivals are current pound for pound incumbents in (WBC and Ring champion) Israel Vazquez and his great adversary Rafael Marquez. The third, Celestino Caballero is no easier a proposition. Tall, awkward and powerful, the unified WBA/IBF champion Caballero has proven against the aforementioned Ponce de Leon and now Steve Molitor that he’s fully adept at putting the first dent in an unbeaten fighter’s record..

The word on the grapevine suggests that Lopez will begin his campaign with a mandatory title defence in March. After that Lopez’s favoured next step would be to face 122 lb kingpin Vazquez at The Garden in June, which would tie in with the annual Puerto Rican Day parade. Whether this is the preferred option for the champion Vazquez is another matter entirely. The purse would need to offset the ample risk in tackling a young and dangerous opponent after such a spell in the garage coupled with the fact he’s coming off another debilitating war with his nemesis Marquez. If anyone is due a gimme then it’s Vazquez, however recent quotes attributed to the Mexican warrior give reason for optimism and intimate that he’s more than ready to jump straight back into the fire against the rising phenom this summer.

Israel’s dance partner Marquez has also been making noises hinting that he too would like a piece of Lopez this year, after he’s tackled the other member of this fabulous quartet, Caballero. Despite the inevitable wear and tear Rafael will have accumulated this side of the titanic trilogy with Israel, he’d likely start favourite in the event of any future showdown with the Panamanian.

In a perfect world the winner of Vazquez-Lopez would face off with the winner of Marquez- Caballero to crown an undisputed king of the super bantams. If the victor happened to be Lopez, after having unified one of the toughest divisions in the sport by going through Vazquez and then either Marquez or Caballero, he will almost certainly have gate crashed the pound for pound lists to boot. Recent history however should chasten us from being overly optimistic in thinking that this rather simplistic schedule will play out as easily as it does on paper.

The welterweight division in ’97 boasted a foursome of wonderfully gifted fighters who were expected to light up the sport in a series of high profile matches. This crop were so talented it appeared you couldn’t fail to create an intriguing super fight regardless of which way you cared to match them up. Titlists Felix Trinidad (IBF), Pernell Whitaker (WBC) and Ike ‘Bazooka’ Quartey (WBA) had a stranglehold on the division alongside rising superstar Oscar De la Hoya; quite amazingly all four men at his time appeared in KO Magazine’s pound for pound top ten.

Oscar quickly relieved Sweet Pea of his WBC trinket in April ’97 with a close points verdict; Quartey was stripped of his title due to inactivity and later dropped an arguable decision to the Golden Boy in ’99. Tito pounded out a clear points win over a faded Whitaker before eventually managing to unify two of the titles (IBF & WBC) with yet another debateable points verdict over Oscar in September ’99 (both of which he then relinquished in order to invade light middleweight).

So we wound up with a mere four fights in total, all rather tepid distance fights with only Trinidad the clear winner in any of them (over Whitaker). It was hardly the epic round robin of contests to define an era which had been anticipated.

In 1993 there were no less than four super middleweight title holders atop the newly invigorated division; Nigel Benn (WBC), Chris Eubank (WBO), James Toney (IBF) and Michael Nunn (WBA), a quality quartet to be sure, however Toney was the only one deemed worthy of pound for pound recognition. A promotional quagmire made the idea of a unification process appear extremely tricky but nevertheless a plan to consolidate the belts was hatched. Benn was to face Eubank in a rematch of their 1990 epic with the winner then pencilled in to then face off against Don King’s man Nunn and presumably unite three of the four titles. King was pretty confident his charge would have the edge over whichever Brit triumphed in their long anticipated showdown, bumping up his bargaining chips and giving him leverage to begin negotiations with Toney (in a rematch to one of 1991’s upsets of the year).

This prospective script proved to be a total bust; Benn and Eubank fought to a contentious stalemate, rendering King’s clause for the winner to face Nunn utterly redundant. Incredibly and despite much posturing between the four, this would be the only match-up realised at super middle. Nunn went on to throw away his title, outworked by the unheralded Steve Little. A similar fate befell Eubank, this time outworked by the rugged Steve Collins. Toney had his title wrenched from him in 1994 by aspiring superstar Roy Jones, whilst Benn was finally dethroned by former victim Thulani ‘Sugar Boy’ Malinga. The best laid plans of mice and men indeed……

It would appear unlikely that the political and financial stumbling blocks which blighted the quartets mentioned above will deprive fight fans of seeing Lopez, Vazquez, Marquez and Caballero cross swords this year (although we could more than excuse Marquez and Vazquez for choosing not to engage in a fourth war). Unfortunately these warriors of the lower weights remain criminally underpaid in comparison to bigger and often less talented men, it wouldn’t break the bank to match any of the pair together, however it would likely result in a memorable encounter.

If all goes to plan, Lopez may soon find himself involved in the mega fights he craves, fights which will reveal to us his true worth. Can he rise to the challenge? He would appear to stand a very good chance of success, ‘Juanma’ may well possess the sweetest and most potent right hand in boxing, looks smooth, slick, composed and just how much can Vazquez and Marquez have left anyway? Lopez has taken aim, hopefully the fates will align and we’ll witness a series of epic contests to light up super bantamweight and boxing in 2009.

Article posted on 06.01.2009

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