Many fans are calling 2011 a “year of controversy” because of the many poor referee calls and disputed official decisions that took place in major fights, but it could just as easily be called the “year of upsets” as evidenced by the results of RingTV.com’s readers’ choice year-end poll of that category.
Orlando Salido’s eighth-round stoppage of Juan Manuel Lopez received 29.6 percent of the votes to win the Upset of the Year, but it only narrowly beat out Lamont Peterson’s split-decision victory over Amir Khan and Nobuhiro Ishida’s shocking first-round TKO of James Kirkland.
Khan-Peterson earned 25.6 percent of the vote. Ishida-Kirkland received 22.6 percent. Other 2011 upsets that were voted on include Brian Viloria’s eighth-round TKO of Givoani Segura (14.2), Victor Ortiz’s unanimous decision over Andre Berto (5.9), which took place on the same night as Salido-Lopez, and Jorge Arce’s 12th-round stoppage of Wilfrdeo Vazquez Jr (2.1).
Add the many upsets that occurred on basic cable series, such as ESPN2’s Friday Night Fights and Showtime’s ShoBox: The New Generation, to the aforementioned bouts and it seemed as though a heavily favored fighter was getting beat on national TV at least once a month in 2011.
However, few upsets carried the impact that Salido’s thrilling TKO of Lopez, which was televised on Showtime, delivered to fans and the boxing industry.
Lopez wasn’t just an undefeated two-division titleholder who had begun to crack the pound-for-pound lists of boxing writers and hardcore fans, the 28-year-old Puerto Rican southpaw was a burgeoning star.
Lopez, who routinely attracts around 10,000 fans to his fights in Puerto Rico, was being groomed by Top Rank to one day replace Miguel Cotto as the promotional company’s Puerto Rican attraction on the East Coast. Lopez’s numbers in New York City and Atlantic City, N.J., were nowhere near as strong as Cotto’s but given his charisma (something Cotto always struggled with) and his exciting style nobody scoffed when Bob Arum boasted that the featherweight boxer-puncher would one day sellout Madison Sqaure Garden and the Boardwalk Hall.
However, there were bumbs on Lopez’s road to stardom that some would say forshadowed his loss to Salido.
He had a scare in the final round of a junior featherweight title defense against rugged Rogers Mtagwa in October of 2009. His late fade was blamed on the weight-drain of making 122 pounds, and his inagural fight four pounds north at featherweight – an impressive seventh-round TKO of classy WBO beltholder Steven Luevano last January – seemed to support that theory even though he was dropped in his first 126-pound title defense and rocked a few times in his second defense.
But those slugfests – a second-round TKO of Bernabe Concepcion and an eighth-round stoppage for former champ Rafael Marquez – only increased Lopez’s popularity and fueled his growing rivalry with fellow featherweight standout Yuriorkis Gamboa.
Arum had promised hardcore fans a dream fight between Lopez and Gamboa, who is co-promoted by Top Rank, but only when he thought the time was right. Top Rank’s CEO wanted to use 2011 to build more interest in the bout. He matched Gamboa with Mtagwa in the co-featured bout to Luevano-Lopez and the talented Cuban did his part to promote the potential showdown by scoring a brutal second-round TKO.
When Lopez was matched with Salido in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, on April 16, it was his turn to one up Gamboa, who had scored hard-fought unanimous decision over the 30-year-old Mexican veteran in Saldio’s previous fight.
However, Salido, a hardnosed former titleholder with almost 50 pro bouts, refused to follow the script. He was the underdog because of the 11 losses on his ledger. He was overlooked because he lacked the speed and athleticism that makes boxing writers gush over Gamboa. He didn’t have the power and personality that helps Lopez fill arenas in Puerto Rico.
But the cagey veteran can fight, and from the opening bell against Lopez it was evident that Salido’s durability and underrated boxing ability forged from more than 300 rounds against tough oppositition was going to give the odds favorite hell.
Lopez controlled the first three rounds with his jab and footwork but the Caguas native, who had scored 27 stoppages among his 30 consecutive victories, wanted to do more than outpoint Salido. He wanted a knockout and his penchant for combat played right into the heavy, well-timed hands of Salido, who gave as good as he got during the heated exchanges of the second, third and fourth rounds.
Late in the fifth, Lopez paid the price for his warrior’s zeal. Salido caught him with a hook that was quickly followed by an overhand right, which blasted Lopez to the canvans with 16 seconds left in the round. He barely survived the round and was clearly on wobbly legs at the start of the sixth.
For the next two rounds, Lopez showed why he is a favorite among hardcore fans. He continued to eat left hooks and overhand rights from the ever advancing Salido, but despite the cobwebs that were collecting in his head, he gamely fired back throughout the sixth and even backed the Mexican challenger up at the end of the seventh.
Lopez remained defiant even as he was repeatedly rocked and backed to the ropes midway through the eighth round. He was hurt but punching back when referee Roberto Ramirez Jr. stopped the bout at 1:30 of the round. All three official judges had scored the bout even, 66-66, after seven rounds.
Just like that, Salido scored the biggest victory of his 15-year career and the anticipated Lopez-Gamboa fight evaporated. Lopez, who was upset with the stoppage, vowed to get revenge.
The popular Puerto Rican will get his chance on March 31. Given their styles and mentalities, the rematch will likely be another thriller. But if Salido wins again, nobody will consider it an upset.
Today’s RingTV.com readers’ choice year-end awards poll category is “Upset of the Year.” Go to the poll section on the right side of the homepage to cast your vote now.
Photos/ Tom Casino-Showtime