BAYAMON, Puerto Rico – Juan Manuel Lopez is fighting for his future. Bob Arum of Top Rank, his former promoter, wishes he wasn’t fighting at all. That was Arum’s assessment when he was asked if he thought Lopez had enough left to take on Daniel Ponce de Leon in a 10-round junior lightweight bout on the undercard of the Danny Garcia-Mauricio Herrera main event on Saturday night.
“He’s the nicest kid in the world, lovely, lovely kid. Based on what I saw (against Mikey Garcia) I don’t think so,” Arum said. “I’m rooting for him. I’d love him to win. After the Garcia fight I told him to retire, which he wouldn’t do.”
Arum was speaking to a group of reporters at a press conference at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday afternoon to announce the middleweight championship fight between Sergio Martinez and Miguel Cotto.
Not too long ago Cotto, who is from Caguas, was considered past his “sell by date” but he bounced back with a resounding victory over Delvin Rodriguez, setting up the mega match with Martinez on June 7.
Obviously the 30-year-old Lopez, who hails from Rio Piedras, doesn’t agree with Arum’s assessment.
“Definitely I’m clear that I’m at the end of my career, but I’m looking to make good fights to see if I can continue in this business. If I make a great fight maybe I can find a couple more good fights,” he said.
Why does he think Arum doesn’t look at brightly at his future as he does?
“Maybe because he has other fighters in the same weight division that makes more sense for him right now. That’s the reason why,” Lopez said.
Lopez (33-3, 30 KOs), once a bright star in the featherweight division, needs to have a spectacular performance against Ponce de Leon at the Coliseo Ruben Rodriguez on Showtime on Saturday night. It’s the kind of high-profile victory that could indeed propel him back into the mix at 130 pounds.
Lopez, a member of Puerto Rico’s 2004 Olympic boxing team and a featherweight and junior featherweight world champion, has been around long enough to understand how the boxing business works. He knows visibility is the key and it’s all about product placement. If you have a great performance under a rock, no one knows about it. But if you do it on a big stage, it’s the talk of the industry.
“It’s definitely a very important event. It’s incredible. A great Golden Boy-Showtime event is very important to me,” he said.
There is history between Lopez and Ponce de Leon. And it’s good history for Lopez. He stunned Ponce de Leon with a first-round knockout when they met for the WBO junior featherweight championship in 2008.
“It was my eighth defense,” Ponce de Leon said of that first match against Lopez. “I was too overconfident heading into the fight and he caught me cold in the first round. I was different then. I never thought in the ring. Before, I used to always jump on top of my opponents. But now I have transformed into a different fighter. For this fight, I feel good and am 100 percent ready.”
The 33-year-old Ponce de Leon (45-5, 35 KOs) is in a similar situation as Lopez. He has lost three of his last seven fights, but against world-class opponents – Abner Mares, Yuriorkis Gamboa and Adrien Broner. He needs to have a good showing against Lopez or someone will be showing him the exit from the big stage, too.
It seems that Lopez’s slide from the top was as sudden and surprising as a bolt of lightning from a clear blue sky. He was riding high in the featherweight division until he ran into Orlando Salido in 2011. Fighting in the same arena where he will fight on Saturday night, Lopez got dropped by Salido in the fifth round and never recovered. Salido pounded him and stopped him on a TKO in the eighth.
They met in the same place for the rematch a year later and the result was the same, except this time it took a little longer. Salido got up from a fifth-round knockdown and battered Lopez to a 10th-round stoppage. After those two TKO losses, the ultra-aggressive, hard-punching Lopez looked like damaged goods. When he got stopped by Mikey Garcia on a fourth-ound TKO in his last fight this past June it was his third KO loss in six fights. Arum gave him the retirement talk.
Ponce de Leon saw the same thing that Arum saw. Now he wants to take advantage of it on Saturday night.
“I see Lopez the same way everyone else sees him. He hasn't been the same. He has gone down and is a different fighter,” Ponce de Leon said. “I asked for the rematch a long time ago, and this is the perfect time to be fighting him. Now I look forward to going into the fight in top shape, very well-prepared. I want to win this fight.”
Lopez, who will be fighting for the first time at 130 pounds, isn’t listening. He shot to the top of boxing by being a stalking headhunter as his 30 knockout victories will attest. But believes he can come out on top against Ponce de Leon if he can curtail his aggressive nature and use his ring IQ.
“I’m going to fight him very smart,” Lopez said.