So much for the big showdown between Juan Manuel Lopez and Yuriorkis Gamboa.
THE RING’s Nos. 1- and 2-rated featherweights had been on a collision course for the past two years. Hardcore fans everywhere couldn’t wait to see what happened when Lopez, a popular Puerto Rican puncher with solid technique and heart, clashed with the Cuban amateur standout with dynamic speed and power.
However, Orlando Salido put all discussion of that anticipated match on hold by upsetting Lopez with an entertaining eighth-round stoppage Saturday in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, Lopez's hometown.
Salido, a hardnosed veteran and former beltholder from Mexico, dropped Lopez in the fifth round and repeatedly stunned the 10-to-1 favorite before referee Roberto Ramirez Jr. waved the fight off at 1:39 of the eighth round.
The stoppage was shocking given the status of the two fighters. Salido entered the bout with 11 losses, one of which was his last bout, a unanimous-decision loss to Gamboa last September. Lopez was undefeated in 30 bouts, 27 of which he won by knockout. The two-division titleholder was ranked No. 9 in the pound-for-pound rankings of both THE RING and Yahoo! Sports.
One can forgive Lopez’s promoter, Top Rank, for viewing Salido as a reasonably “safe” bout for the budding Puerto Rican star. One can almost forgive Top Rank President Bob Arum for telling fans and boxing media who wanted to see a Lopez-Gamboa match sooner rather than later to “go f___ themselves” a year ago.
Arum wanted to let the featherweight showdown marinate until it became a “super fight,” and it’s hard to fault him for that logic. The longer the hall-of-fame promoter held the featherweight beltholders apart, the more fans debated and demanded the fight, and the more money he and the combatants would make once the bout was made.
However, this is boxing, and as fans have witnessed in recent days, any damn thing can happen in that ring.
Salido (35-11-2, 23 knockouts) is not in Lopez’s class in terms of talent and technique, but sometimes a rock-solid chin can neutralize superior power. Sometimes an aggressive brawler with an awkward style can throw off a boxer-puncher with textbook form.
Sometimes personal troubles, such as Lopez’s recent divorce, can distract even the most-seasoned professional. And sometimes the underdog catches a break from the officials.
Salido’s TKO was not without controversy. Lopez, who was clearly hurt along the ropes but on his feet and throwing back when Ramirez waved the fight off, was infuriated by the stoppage, as were many fans.
“He was hitting me but they shouldn’t have stopped the fight,” Lopez said during his post-fight interview with Jim Gray of Showtime, which televised the fight in the U.S. “I was still conscious.”
Lopez controlled the first three rounds with his jab and lateral movement, and he was game until the bitter end, but the usually sharp southpaw was nailed by looping overhand rights from Salido throughout the fight.
Salido landed a number of right hands in the fourth round, sparking the warrior within Lopez, who stood his ground and traded with the grizzled 30-year-old veteran in that round and the fifth. Big mistake. Salido connected with a huge right that dropped Lopez hard with 16 seconds left in the fifth round. Lopez got up on very wobbly legs and barely survived the round.
Although he remained game in the following rounds, even rocking Salido toward the end of the sixth and seventh, he continually absorbed the harder punches during their many exchanges.
“The punch did hurt me in the fifth round, but I recouped,” Lopez said. “(Salido) is a very uncomfortable fighter. I realistically couldn’t block that punch (the right hand).”
That fact was evident in the eighth round as Salido backed Lopez into a corner with a series of flush rights and then teed off on the wobbly but defiant Puerto Rican favorite until the referee had seen enough.
The fight was even, 66-66, on all three official scorecards at the time of the stoppage.
“It was a great fight,” Lopez said. “I just want him to give me a rematch.”
That’s a fight that must happen, and one the dethroned titleholder must win, if fans ever hope to see Lopez-Gamboa.
Photo / Tom Casino-Showtime