CARSON – Skill and technique is the foundation of boxing, but power and heart is what brings in the crowds.
Marcos Maidana and Josesito Lopez don’t impress boxing purists with their ring savvy, but hardcore Southern California fans knew the puncher-versus-slugger matchup would deliver action and they packed the Home Depot Center’s outdoor tennis arena beyond capacity to witness their Showtime-televised welterweight shootout.
Maidana, one of boxing’s hardest punchers, and Lopez, one of the gutsiest sluggers in the sport, did not disappoint the record number of fans who showed up on Saturday. Maidana’s power prevailed over Lopez’s heart, but the local fighter didn’t make it easy for the Argentine veteran.
Maidana (34-3, 31 knockouts) scored a sixth-round technical stoppage, thrilling the 8,629 in attendance. Saturday’s sellout crowd topped the 8,226 that assembled to witness the classic rubbermatch between Israel Vazquez and Rafael Marquez.
That junior featherweight championship was THE RING’s Fight of the Year for 2008. Saturday’s welterweight scrap is probably a Fight of the Year candidate (along with Erislandy Lara’s dramatic 10th-round stoppage of Alfredo Angulo, which preceded it on the Golden Boy Promotions card), but it didn’t last long enough to be a frontrunner for that honor.
Still, it was damn good while it lasted. The first three rounds were hotly contested with Lopez scoring with stiff jabs and head-snapping right hands from a distance and Maidana landing overhand rights and short hooks whenever they grappled in close. Both fighters attacked the body with frightening power.
Lopez (30-6, 18 KOs), who was coming off a fifth-round stoppage to junior middleweight champ Saul Alvarez, had his breakthrough round in the fourth when he backed Maidana up with a series of right hands and even rocked the 29-year-old power hitter with left hooks.
However, Maidana, who has worked with noted trainer Robert Garcia for his last three fights, rebounded in the fifth round, backing Lopez up with a clubbing jab (something he’s worked on since signing on with the young Oxnard, Calif.-based guru) and working the Riverside, Calif. native over along the ropes.
Maidana’s vaunted power finally dented Lopez’s solid chin after a right to the solar plexus backed him to the ropes allowed him to crash an overhand right to the 28-year-old slugger’s cheekbone. The punch forced Lopez to knee with two minutes left in the round and he didn’t get up on steady legs. Lopez tried like hell to protect himself from Maidana’s furious follow-up attack but he wasn’t able to hold the Argentine bull as he was crowed into his own corner and he wasn’t able to land return punches.
Bottom line, he wasn’t able to defend himself, which prompted referee Dr. Lou Moret to step in and stop the fight at the 1:18 mark.
At the time of the stoppage, Lopez was ahead on 48-47 two cards, while Maidana was up 48-47 on the third card.
“My character and guts got me this victory,” Maidana said. “In the second round, he hit me in my hip and it was like I was paralyzed. The pain lasted for two rounds and that’s when he landed the shots. But my desire to win got me through it. He underestimated my power and I knew I could knock him out.”
Lopez, naturally, felt the stoppage came too soon.
“I felt like it was a premature stoppage,” Lopez said. “He hurt me a little, but we’re professionals and we fight in situations like that. He stunned me with a good right hand, but I was not out of the fight.”
True, Lopez wasn’t out on his feet but given the monster shots he took in rounds five and six – plus the tremendous punishment he absorbed in his previous fight – it was probably a wise decision by Moret.
And though action-hungry fans were disappointed – particularly those who made the drive from the Riverside area – they didn’t complain too much. It was good scrap while it lasted and even the drunkest, blood-thirsty fans realize that sometimes the warriors’ the sport need to be protected from themselves.
Even the Maidana fans like and respect Lopez. They want him to be healthy and they want to see him fight another day.
Maidana, who scored a thrilling knockout over gatekeeper Jesus Soto Karass last September, is now a player in the 147-pound division and in position to face the winner of the June 22 WBA welterweight title bout between Paul Malignaggi and Adrien Broner, especially if the brash and talented lightweight beltholder wins.
“That would be as exciting as it could get,” said Richard Schaefer, CEO of Golden Boy Promotions, which handles Maidana and Broner. “Maidana is just like (Lucas) Matthysse, exciting every single time. And Broner is from a skill-level point of view; speed kills and great power as well. That would be an amazing matchup.”
There are many attractive matchups for Maidana, including Robert Guerrero and the winner of the Keith Thurman-Diego Chaves, and a rematch with Amir Khan. There might even be a rematch with Lopez if the Southern Californian can bounce back with a couple of victories. Those matchups would likely fill the Home Depot Center once more.
And then there’s the hardcore fans’ dream match between Maidana and fellow KO artist, countryman and former amateur rival, Lucas Matthysse, who currently campaigns at 140 pounds.
That bout, when it happens, if it happens, would have to be held in a much bigger venue.