Skills: Both featherweights are well-rounded pros with solid foundations and a penchant for slugging it out. Lopez is a versatile boxer-puncher who can stick-and-move or stalk-and-punish. He’s an accurate puncher – especially with his vaunted right hook – but he’s also busy. Salido is an aggressive and energetic fighter who relies on a relentless two-fisted attack and a lot of ring savvy. The Mexican punisher has a well-timed overhand right and often utilizes a debilitating body attack. Lopez has tighter technique and better footwork.
Power: Salido has very heavy hands, the kind that often wear down his opposition, but he’s not known as a puncher. The 31-year-old veteran has scored 25 knockouts in his 51 pro bouts, which includes 37 victories, for a respectable 49 percent KO rate. However, Lopez’s 28 knockouts in 32 pro bouts gives the Puerto Rican star an impressive KO ratio of 87.5 percent. Lopez, who can crack with both hands, has stopped quality fighters, such as then-beltholders Daniel Ponce de Leon (TKO 1) and Steven Luevano (TKO 7), who had never been knocked out as pros.
Speed and athletic ability: Both featherweights are good overall athletes with considerable physical strength, balance and reflexes. Salido’s movements are more fluid than Lopez’s, but the southpaw is the faster, harder puncher. Lopez also has superior footwork and coordination.
Defense: Lopez’s defense has always been his offense. He seldom absorbed punishment early in his careerbecause he usually knocked out his opponents with the first flush power shot landed. When he fought an especially durable fighter, his sharp jab and/or lateral movement limited his opponent’s offense. However, when faced with a relentless brawler (such as Rogers Mtagwa) or a crafty vet who’s able to cut the ring off and counter punch around his jab (such as Salido or Rafael Marquez), Lopez was exposed as rather easy to hit. Salido’s bread and butter is aggressive pressure, so his last line of defense is his rock-solid chin, but he possesses underrated head- and upper-body movement. He’s also adept at picking off incoming punches with his gloves. When Salido is in his rhythm while coming forward, he is not an easy target.
Experience: This category is not hard to figure. Salido has been a pro for 16 years. He has logged well over twice as many pro rounds as Lopez (330 to 137). He fought for his first world title (against Juan Manuel Marquez in September of 2004) before Lopez turned pro (in January of 2005). And although Lopez has been in with quality opposition, including R. Marquez, de Leon, Luevano, and Gerry Penalosa; Salido also has a slight edge in that department having gone the distance with J.M. Marquez, Yuriorkis Gamboa, Robert Guerrero, Cristobal Cruz and former featherweight champ Alejandro “Cobrita” Gonzalez.
Chin: Salido, who hasn’t experienced a stoppage loss since being knocked out by Ivan Valle 12 years ago, has one of the sturdiest “beards” in the 126-pound division. He went the 12-round distance with strong, accurate punchers such as Marquez and Guerrero without being so much as stunned by their hardest shots. He took the best of Gamboa, a dynamic puncher, and did not fall until the final round. And, of course, he walked through Lopez’s offensive fire in their first bout. However, unheralded Filipino prospect Weng Haya dropped Salido with a perfectly timed left hook in the third round of beltholder’s last bout. Haya put Salido down early in the fourth round, too, before the veteran wore him down to an eighth-round TKO. Still, Lopez, who was badly hurt and practically out on his feet during his final round against Mtagwa, has had more wobbly moments than Salido. He was dropped at the end of the first round against Bernabe Concepcion, visibly rocked in the fourth round against Marquez, and floored (in the fifth round) and later stopped by Salido.
Conditioning: Both fighters pride themselves on their preparation; however, Salido is clearly the proven championship distance fighter of the two featherweights. The two-time titleholder has gone 10 rounds or more on 13 occasions, including six bouts against current or former titleholders. Lopez has fought past 10 rounds only once, his 12-round unanimous decision over Mtagwa, a bout that he faded badly in and barely finished.
Wear and tear: A lot of punishment has come with the 300-plus rounds Salido has fought. His 10-round bouts with Gonzalez and Carlos Gerena were hard-fought affairs. And while Guerrero wasn’t able to hurt Salido with head shots during their 12-round no contest, the towering southpaw heaped considerable damage to the smaller man’s body during the mauling fight. The two 12-round title bouts with Cruz were also tough fights. Were the two knockdowns Salido suffered against Haya in his last bout an indication that the wear and tear of a 16-year pro career is finally slowing him down? Lopez has only had two bouts that can be considered “grueling” – his 12 rounder with Mtagwa and the loss to Salido.
Corner: Salido was trained by former two-division champ Daniel Zaragoza prior to challenging Gamboa and he says he just didn’t gel with the hall of famer’s coaching methods. He returned to trainers Victor Barron and Santos Moreno for the Lopez fight and it obviously made a world of difference. Barron and Moreno haven’t worked with many standouts but both have guided their share of solid pros and tough journeymen in Mexico, and they seem to get the best out of their fighters. Lopez’s trainer (and manager) Orlando Pinero has a very strong reputation in Puerto Rico and especially in Lopez’s hometown of Caguas, where the 40-year veteran runs the Jose “Cheo” Aponte Torres Gym. Pinero, who has guided dozens of amateur standouts, has worked with Miguel Cotto and currently coaches prospects McWilliams Arroyo and Jonathan Gonzalez.
Outcome: A better-conditioned and more focused version of Lopez than faced Salido last April will show up and meet the defending beltholder in the center of the ring at the sound of the opening bell. Lopez will not try to overpower the grizzled veteran, but he will quickly establish his jab and get off with crisp combinations from angles when in close. Lopez will take the first three rounds by getting off first and then moving out of range before Salido can answer back with more than one or two punches. However, the proud Mexican will apply relentless but smart pressure and he’ll eventually connect with his vaunted overhand right in the middle rounds. One of Salido’s well-timed bombs will rock Lopez, who will defiantly pound his chest to let his adversary and his fellow Puerto Ricans in the arena know that he’s ready to rumble. And rumble they will. Salido will back Lopez to the ropes and attack the challenger’s body, but the prideful Puerto Rican will counter with quick right hooks and left uppercuts even while being pressed. Sensing that Lopez is being pulled into Salido’s kind of scrap, the southpaw’s corner will instruct him to resume his stick-and-move strategy going into the late rounds. Lopez will obey, and as his fans cheer him on, he will connect with one-two combinations that would drop and probably knockout ordinary fighters. Salido will get buzzed a few times, but he’ll keep his footing and his pressure, gradually wearing Lopez down with his body attack as they enter the championship rounds. A tired and battered Lopez will move more than he punches as he evades the hard-charging Salido, while literally “running” out the final six minutes.
Prediction: Lopez wins a close, perhaps controversial, decision.
Photos / Fightwireimages.com, SHOWTIME, and Chris Farina-Top Rank
Email Doug Fsicher at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @dougiefischer