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Despite losses, hard-hitting Juan Manuel Lopez remains a boxing attraction

There are a number of boxers who, despite the best efforts of their promoters and those who stand to make money off their success and popularity, fail to fulfill their lofty expectations.

They are, though, fun, entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable boxers to watch, even if they never reach the ascendant heights predicted for them.

Amir Khan, the British welterweight contender and 2004 Olympic silver medalist, is one such fighter. Eight years into his professional career, no sane person would rank Khan alongside the elite British fighters in history, but he remains a fun guy to watch and regularly engages in compelling bouts.

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Mikey Garcia, left, is favored, but Juan Manuel Lopez remains a dangerous opponent. (AP Photo)

Juan Manuel Lopez is another boxer who fits that category. Lopez, who will meet Mikey Garcia on Saturday for the WBC featherweight title in an HBO broadcast from American Airlines Center in Dallas, hasn't quite lived up to the expectations that were set for him as he began his career in 2005.

Oh, Lopez is 33-2 with 30 knockouts and has won world titles at super bantamweight and featherweight. By any measure, those are the numbers of a successful athlete.

But early in Lopez's career, he was deemed an heir to the throne previously held by legendary Puerto Rican fighters such as Felix Trinidad, Miguel Cotto, Wilfredo Gomez, Wilfred Benitez and Carlos Ortiz, among many others.

He was to be the island's next great star, the conquering hero who gathered international acclaim for his feats in the biggest matches of his era.

It never quite worked out that way, though Puerto Ricans seem to share a much deeper personal connection with the effervescent and outgoing Lopez than they ever did for the far more accomplished but far more dour Cotto.

Defensive deficiencies and a questionable chin, though, have conspired to limit Lopez's greatness and probably will deny him a spot in the International Boxing Hall of Fame when he's done. Those two weaknesses are likely going to prevent him from racking up the kinds of quality wins that build a Hall of Fame resume.

It's easy, though, to write off a guy once it becomes obvious that he's not going to be the next Mayweather or the next Robinson or the next Ali or Leonard.

But even if Lopez fails to match the storied accomplishments of his legendary countryman, it doesn't take away from the fact that he's one of the game's most entertaining fighters.

Lopez lost twice to Orlando Salido, and Garcia manhandled Salido, so logic would suggest Garcia would manhandle Lopez, as well. And he might.

Lopez, though, brushes off such talk and attributes the results to style differences.

"Salido and I love to go at it, have a war," Lopez said. "Mikey is more of a counter puncher. Either way, it was a great fight and I congratulate him for that win. Different fighters and different styles, anything can happen and anyone can win. There is no way to tell from one fight to the next who will win. I feel good about it. I think Salido was pretty beat up when he faced Garcia, and I think Salido was fresher when I got him."

Lopez ultimately didn't have the strength, power and resolve that Salido did, and that led to two losses by stoppage. However, Lopez did impart plenty of damage on Salido and he's correct when he says that Garcia faced a lesser version of Salido than he did.

Garcia, though, is a far smarter and more versatile fighter than Salido ever dreamed of being. In Salido's ideal plan, the opponent meets him in the center of the ring and trades punches until one or the other can't take it any longer.

There is plenty of nuance to Garcia's game, and he's not so easy to hit. But no less an authority than Brandon Rios, a super lightweight who is moving to welterweight later this year to fight Manny Pacquiao, said Garcia (31-0, 26 KOs) has hit him harder than anyone he's ever faced.

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Juan Manuel Lopez, left, and Orlando Salido engaged in two brawls that altered both fighters' careers. (AP Pho …

That's a big issue for Lopez, because he's shown a tendency to become drained during fights and, as a result, becomes more vulnerable to power as a bout drags on.

Lopez, though, is optimistic. He enters the bout as refreshed as he's been in a major match since he blasted out Daniel Ponce de Leon in the first round in 2008 to win the WBO super bantamweight title.

He was suspended for a year by the Puerto Rican commission foralleging after his second loss to Salido that referee Roberto Ramirez Sr. was gambling on fights.

Since he returned in February, he's had two soft-touch opponents who provided little more than a gloried sparring match.

On Saturday, that time off will come in handy, he insists.

"Without a doubt, ever since I started boxing professionally, I have had one fight after another, with a lot of tough fights mixed in there, and I never took any time off," Lopez said. "So it was good, even though I didn't want it that way, but there is a silver lining in everything. It was good for my body. Now I have come back and I feel good."

He's a decided underdog, and is no longer the darling of Top Rank's stable. He's probably never going to move alongside Trinidad as one of Puerto Rico's greatest legends.

That's OK, though. The Juan Manuel Lopez who has fought 35 times previously is plenty good enough to watch.

Just because he'll likely never become a superstar isn't reason to forget about him and move on to the next big thing.

Lopez has too many great fights in him to make that mistake.

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