Was Juanma Stopped Too Soon?

Juan Manuel LopezBy John G. Thompson: Two division champion “Juanma” Juan Manuel Lopez (30-1, 27 KO’s) just suffered the first loss of his professional career in front of his most emphatic fans at the Coliseo Ruben Rodriguez (named for one of Puerto Rico’s most celebrated national basketball players) Saturday night in Puerto Rico on Showtime Championship Boxing. No one will question that Orlando Salido (35-11-2, 23 KO’s) from the Sonora region of Mexico was taking it to Juanma, rocking him with shots, but did Referee Roberto Ramirez, Jr. step in too early to stop the bout, or did he save Lopez to fight another day?

Juanma started boxing at the age of ten, compiling an amateur record of 126-24, and representing Puerto Rico in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. He won the WBO Super Bantamweight Title in 2008, stopping Daniel Ponce de Leon in a highly entertaining first round. Juanma defended that title five times including wins over Cesar Figueroa (KO 1), Sergio Manuel Medina (TKO 1), Rogers Mtagwa (in a tough UD 12), and Garry Penalosa (RTD 10 – who had never been stopped in over sixty professional bouts). Juanma then moved up in weight and took the WBO Featherweight Title from Steven Luevano in January of 2010 (TKO 7). Lopez has since defended the title twice, including wins over Bernabe Concepcion (TKO 2) in a fight in which Lopez had to come off the canvas to win, and Rafael Marquez (who did not answer the bell to start the ninth round). Part of the appeal of Juanma has not only been his high knockout percentage, but also his vulnerability; and despite being hurt in a number of fights, he always came back to win.

Prophetically, ringside commentator Al Bernstein said before the fight with Lopez, “If there was ever a live underdog, it’s Orlando Salido.” Salido also has a win over Rogers Mtagwa, though Salido was able to stop Mtagwa in five. Salido was actually stripped of his greatest accomplishment by failing a drug test after taking the IBF Featherweight title in dominant fashion from the talented Robert Guerrero in 2006. And though Salido has suffered numerous losses, five by stoppage, he hasn’t been stopped in ten years. He’s faced some excellent competition going the distance with pound for pound elite Juan Manuel Marquez. He also split a loss and a draw with Cristobal Cruz. Salido had re-won the IBF Featherweight in the rematch with Cruz, but then lost it in his next and most recent bout, a twelve round unanimous decision to Olympic Gold Medalist Yuriorkis Gamboa on September 11, 2010. Coming in overweight, Salido had put Gamboa down once in round eight, though he himself went down twice in round twelve. In fact, the fight between Lopez and Salido was in the eyes of many a warm-up for a potential mega-showdown between Lopez and Gamboa.

Juanma started well, boxing and moving, throwing jabs and combinations, and generally controlling the action for the first three or four rounds. Salido started landing the right in the third, and the fourth was a close round in which each fighter had moments. The fifth was also close with both fighting on the inside, when with thirty seconds left in the round Salido missed with an uppercut, but landed a left to the chin and immediately followed it up with a hard right and Juanma went down. He got up a little wobbly and Salido tried to close the show with fifteen seconds remaining, though Lopez persevered, electing to fight back rather than hold.

Salido did some damage in the sixth as Juanma showed no head movement and Salido landed easily, especially as Lopez refused to hold. Juanma managed to box and move in the seventh, and actually opened fire on Salido in the last ten seconds of the round, seeming to have his faculties back. Then in the eighth, Salido looked to close the show, going on the attack and rocking Juanma’s head back with the right. Again, Lopez refused to hold, and tried to fight back, though he took more punishment as a consequence. Lopez almost fell into a corner and Salido swarmed him with shots. Lopez looked severely hurt, but kept trying to counterpunch. Referee Roberto Ramirez, Jr. then stepped in to stop the bout, at an extremely awkward moment – Salido had just landed a clean left hook, and Lopez looked as if he was about to throw back.

Al Bernstein said while watching a replay of the end of the fight, “Do you stop it at that moment? Honestly, my opinion is no, and the fans who hit me with a water bottle didn’t know I was on their side,” (the fans pelted the ring with ice and water bottles immediately after the fight was stopped). Personally, I’ve watched the ending a few times now, and while Referee Ramirez, Jr. stepped in at a terrible time with both men throwing punches, Juanma looked like he was on autopilot at the moment, and it is times like this a fighter can be permanently injured in the ring. The referee may have done a disservice to Lopez in not giving him the benefit of the doubt, but he also did his job and saved a hurt fighter from taking more punishment. Juanma said after the fight, “I was still conscious.” While this is a testament to his warrior spirit, and maybe he could have come back in the fight, a referee’s job is not to wait until a man is beaten unconscious, or there would be no referee in boxing.

If Juanma can make some adjustments in training camp, learn to move his head and avoid Salido’s rights, he may do better in a rematch. But if this bout was supposed to be a good indicator of how Juanma would fair against Yuriorkis Gamboa, it’s clear that the extremely fast and powerful Gamboa would have little trouble catching Lopez.

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Article posted on 18.04.2011

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