Rebirth or Sacrifice for “JuanMa”?
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Rebirth or Sacrifice for “JuanMa”?
By Steve Kim, MaxBoxing (June 12, 2013) All Photos © Chris Farina / Top Rank

JuanMa Lopez
Photo © Chris Farina / Top Rank
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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.
Juanma Lopez
Juanma Lopez
It's Garcia who is the rising star.
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 that. We've gone through a lot of hard work the past few months and I think my body has been able to respond. I feel good about everything we've done. Without a doubt - and I know a lot of people think I'm finished - but believe me; I'm far from finished.”
He says of his younger foe, “I know he's a good boxer. He's going to be a world champion. He's very good; no question about it. But I also believe that they think it's an easy fight. They are not appreciating me for what I can do in the ring and I'm going to make them pay for that.”
Given Lopez has always been a come-forward, fan-friendly fighter and that Garcia thrives when the action is brought to him, at the very least, we should get an entertaining scrap. The question is, just how competitive will it actually be? “I think it's a very hard fight for both of us. I think it's a tough fight for me, a tough fight for him,” Lopez says. “I think in the first half of the fight, he might establish something with his rhythm with the way he fights, him staying away. But this is a second-half fight.
“I think the second half will be my fight. I'll do everything I can and believe me when I tell you; if there's going to be a knockout - he's getting knocked out. He's not knocking me out.”
And with that, a career will be reborn and rehabilitated. It's not like Lopez’s career hasn't been productive or memorable. He's won major world titles, been in several wars and made good coin but you get the sense that more was expected from him up to this point. But a victory on Saturday night can right a lot of wrongs.
“I think I've had a successful career,” he says. “Like any other career, it's had its ups and downs. I think I've had some good success but I still believe that I have a lot left and I still have more accomplishments in the future.”
So how did a fight between a Mexican-American from Southern California and a Puerto Rican end up in Dallas, Texas?
Arum explains, “Mark Cuban (owner of the Dallas Mavericks) wanted a boxing show. We figured we would try. We're doing very well with tickets. We're over $200,000 [in sales] right now and we'll probably be over $300,000. I mean, Texas is very fan-friendly.”
The arena is scaled for around 8,000 for this promotion.
Great news for boxing fans in Los Angeles, it looks like the Forum - recently purchased by Madison Square Garden - will be hosting boxing once again as it reopen its doors next year. And it looks like they'll be opening in conjunction with Top Rank.
“We have very good relations with the Madison Square Garden and we have had conversations with them about doing events at the Theater in the Garden and also at the Forum here in L.A. So yeah, I think so; I really believe, economically, it would work. The parking is great; it's a good venue; the sightlines are wonderful and it doesn't have [luxury] boxes, luxury suits. We don't need them for boxing.”

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