Lee Groves

10: Greatest light heavyweight title fights

2. July 13, 1980 — Great Gorge Playboy Club, McAfee, N.J. — Matthew Saad Muhammad KO 14 Yaqui Lopez II

 

Setting the Scene: Twenty-one months earlier Saad Muhammad — then known as Matthew Franklin — stopped Lopez in 11 extraordinary rounds at the Spectrum in Philadelphia to retain his North American title. Since then the champion won the belt from Marvin Johnson, changed his name and notched three defenses against John Conteh (twice) and Louis Pergaud while Lopez went 6-1 (5 KOs), the only loss coming to James Scott via decision at Rahway State Prison. Based on that lone result some believed the 29-year-old Lopez was a fading force, but the fighter fervently believed he’d finally cash in on title shot number four.

What Happened: Lopez was determined to carry out a more disciplined fight plan. In the first fight Lopez emptied his gas tank on a furious eighth round assault only to fall victim to Franklin’s trademark resilience. Lopez started strongly by working the jab and countering Saad’s power shots well. The jabs opened a cut on the corner of Saad’s right eye late in the second and an emboldened Lopez moved inside and pounded the champ’s ribs in the third. Each time Saad tried to initiate a war Lopez got in his shots, then smartly moved away.

Lopez appeared well ahead entering the eighth when history suddenly repeated itself. Ring’s Round of the Year saw Saad effectively pressuring Lopez for the first time in the fight and slicing the bridge of the challenger’s nose. Lopez then fought his way off the ropes and hurt Saad with what would become a blistering 47-punch assault that had the champ on the edge of being dethroned. But just like the first fight Lopez became arm-weary with a full minute to go and Saad blasted the challenger with powerful overhand rights and uppercuts to conclude the round.

Saad continued his stirring comeback in the ninth through 12th, cutting deeply into Lopez’s early lead and worsening Lopez’s nose cut. Lopez summoned a final surge in the 13th but Saad snuffed it out with four resounding knockdowns in the 14th that broke Lopez’s nose as well as his championship dreams. It was no surprise that THE RING named Saad-Lopez II its Fight of the Year for 1980, which beat out Duran-Leonard I among other worthy candidates.

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