|Photo: Amanda Kwok/Showtime|
We powered through one of those cyclical lulls over the past month or so, where the best we could do is make sense of mismatches and canceled fights. Heading into this Orlando Salido vs. Juan Manuel Lopez rematch, we really were due for something tasty, weren't we?
Whether we were or not, some fulfilling action is what we got, even if most of the entertainment was supplied by the main event scrappers despite digesting a few dozen round of fighting in a few hours.
Based on their first meeting, most fans and pundits expected another memorable clash between Orlando "Siri" Salido and Juan Manuel Lopez that would show the best of both men once again, and weren't disappointed.
Even the brain-numbingly annoying soccer horns that cut through the crowd noise at the Roberto Clemente Coliseum in San Juan, Puerto Rico like a piercing scream couldn't put a damper on what we'd just seen.
JuanMa Lopez, now 31-2 (18 KO), displayed a style few thought him capable of, generally staying out of trouble and avoiding a brawl in the early going. Though Salido opened up with a few surprising left hook connects, it wasn't until a few stiff shots in round 2 that Lopez appeared a bit stunned and was forced to fire back and close the round strong.
Lopez made intention clear by dancing away from Salido in the 3rd, but ultimately showed little improvement defensively and simply threw up a high guard and failed to move his head, snacking on a few right hands for it. The 4th saw Salido's left eye begin to noticeably swell as he fended off a few nice salvos from JuanMa, who attempted to employ a cheap version of Floyd Mayweather, Jr.'s "shoulder roll" defense to no avail.
Off-balance and following for much of the 5th, Salido was finally able to land a big right hand shot as pressure seemed to pay off for him. But with Lopez in retreat and looking wobbled, Salido was caught with a short, accurate fight hand to the point of his chin that deposited him onto the canvas and hard. Up at eight, Salido survived the round.
Salido's pressure slowed a tad the beginning of the 6th, but he began slamming hooks at Lopez' noggin that evened matters. The champion reached (and missed) with many of his wide shots throughout the round, but Lopez remained cautious of Salido's offense. With his left eye a little rough for wear in round 7, Salido stepped with Lopez and caught him with a few smacking shots. The pattern of Lopez uncharacteristically going back-first to the ropes and getting strafed continued though, but not without some return from JuanMa.
Round 8 was a continuation of early on, but halfway through the round Lopez backed Salido up and landed a nice series of combinations with the champ on the ropes. But an assault from Salido reminded Lopez of recent past, and Salido finished the round counter-punching effectively, landing the slightly cleaner shots. A great fight was attempting to surface though.
Right hands smashed through for Salido in round 9, and though Lopez looked to want to come forward and relive old glories as a "seek and destroy" guy, even with some success, Salido returned with his own stuff. The fight became great in the middle of the round, both guys landing absolute bombs and throwing caution to the wind. It was difficult to see who had the advantage, with both men fighting through heavy shots and warring it out. A cracking right at the end of the round may have punctuated it for Salido.
The start of round 10 highlighted the swelling under Salido's eyes, but a left hook badly hurt Lopez and took all the fight out of him, and finally a left and right uppercut put him down hard. A badly hurt Lopez fought his way upward, but in the middle of a count, referee Roberto Ramirez, Sr. saw fit to save JuanMa from himself at 0:32 of the 10th round.
Lopez even protested the stoppage while staggering about the ring. That's the true definition of a warrior, regardless of how lightly that term is interpreted in this sport. Despite curious charges from Lopez in the post-fight interview that the referee stopped the fight because of gambling problems, and despite his incorrect assertion that he had dominated the fight, Lopez accounted himself well and actually did well as a boxer-puncher at times.
The fight as a whole taught us little, it appears. While it may have been true that Lopez struggled with away-from-ring issues before their first clash, it did little to explain the stylistic (and defense) issues that drew Salido's right hand to his face like a puffy magnet. Try as he did to retreat and show Salido a new look, the defense issue caught up with him still, though he did seem to conserve some of his energy with the newer gameplan.
"Fight of the Year" status is probably too strong a concept for the entertaining tilt considering Salido should have been a few points ahead at the time of the stoppage, no matter what two judges thought they saw. But round 9 was the type of boxing that fans happily wait months for. As of now, it should be considered "Round of the Year."
From here, who knows? There exist a few sane options for both men in and around the featherweight division. But the bout marked Salido's second defense of the WBO featherweight title he lifted from Lopez in the first fight, and in hindsight it appears as though Salido simply may have Lopez' number, as they say. Both men have fairly clear limits, and from here on out, neither has a great shot at gracing the upper end of pound for pound lists. But, damn it, we'll watch.
Often limitation makes a fighter the spectacle he is.
In the Showtime Championship Boxing co-feature, Miguel Angel Garcia and Bernabe Concepcion engaged in a lopsided undressing that surprised in how one-sided it was.
Concepcion generally just moved his head fruitlessly, bobbing and weaving while still getting hit and offering return fire only every so often. That exact pattern emerged early as Garcia pumped a jab and the Filipino Concepcion looked to be attempting to feint Garcia out of position.
In round 3 Concepcion finally broke through with a few sneaky overhand rights, but Garcia took them well and went right back to controlling pace with a nice jab that popped his opponent's head around.
Potentially spurred on by a restless crowd, Garcia's confidence seemed to grow in the 4th with the help of a check hook and more forceful hooks upstairs and down late in the round. And in the 5th, it was more of the same. Concepcion looked to be all but neutralized completely at this point. In the final minute Garcia came forward in earnest, and Concepcion's aggression was spotty as Garcia nailed him with thudding shots from the outside.
His confidence clearly growing by the second, Garcia's attack began to clearly snowball into something Concepcion couldn't deal with in round 6. Gone was Bernabe's forward momentum, and Garcia happily drove him backwards with snappy punches that were harder with each throw.
Concepcion came out for the 7th appearing to understand the need for more offense on his end, but Garcia walked through his right hands and again Concepcion went back to retreating. Two nice 1-2 combinations put Concepcion down with a little over a minute remaining, and though Bernabe hopped up steadily and tried to return fire, some well-placed shots with Concepcion on the ropes urged referee Luis Pabon to step in and halt the mismatch at 2:33 of the round.
Garcia, who climbs to 28-0 (24 KO). is clearly talented, and perhaps the most impressive part of his arsenal is his ability to gauge distance and place his jab as if it were a type of accurate measuring stick. Throughout the fight, it looked like Concepcion just stuck to one basic strategy, and paid for it with stinging shots to the puss as Garcia gauged his attack well.
Missing though, as Showtime analyst and former light heavyweight champion Antonio Tarver pointed out, was a dedicated body assault and a sense of urgency to end an easy fight, but at no time did Garcia appear tentative in terms of letting his hands go at the correct time. In the absence of power shots, Garcia snapped an effective jab that kept Conception headbanging.
Garcia may have been able to secure the deal earlier, but essentially aimed for winning dominantly, and hit the mark. The patience was Wlad Klitschko-esque, and in the same way, Garcia removed all hope from Concepcion's plate by giving him nothing to work with. But unlike Klitschko, Garcia recognized that an end was in sight, and didn't wait until his opponent was ground to a nub to end matters.
Time for a bigger challenge.
As for Concepcion, who falls to 29-6-1 (15 KO), where does he go from here? As number umpteen on the list of fighters supposedly destined to succeed Manny Pacquiao as the next great Filipino fighter, Bernabe has fallen short by quite a bit, albeit usually against some very good fighters. Unfortunately, he may have to scrape his way back from the Friday Night Fights level at this point, as it's unlikely a big network will offer him another television spot in the near future.
Already there's talk of matching Salido with Garcia, which would be a match-up worthy of a big network indeed.
Showtime moved through with plans to televise the undercard on Showtime Extreme, which simply mean more boxing for fans -- rarely a bad thing in and of itself. On that card was two so-so fights that were largely forgettable in terms of excitement, and especially in the wake of Salido vs. Lopez II's thrills. Regardles...
McWilliams Arroyo (11-0 9 KO) out-classed and out-sped the well-traveled Luis Maldonado (38-7-1 29 KO), who fought gamely and had a decent 9th round, but otherwise lost just about every other round of their 10 frame fight. Judges scored it 99-91 twice, and 98-92. Maldonado
A 10 round snoozer between Jose "Chelo" Gonzalez, 19-0 (14 KO), and Hevinson Herrera, 15-9-1 (10 KO), became slightly more interesting after a dreadful first few rounds when Gonzalez finally landed a long right hand in the 5th that seemed to stagger Herrera, who never appeared to recover. After looking tentative behind a pawing jab early, Gonzalez turned southpaw and became more aggressive, decking Herrera once in the 6th (albeit with more of a cuff than a punch), and finally swarming him for the stoppage in the 8th. Honorable mention to referee Jose Rivera, who looked clueless at times and insisted on speaking a mix of English and Spanish to a Colombian and a Puerto Rican.
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