COMMENTARY | Recently it was revealed that former two-division world champ, Juan Manuel Lopez (31-2, 28 KOs), had paid to fly Hector Camacho's family into Puerto Rico after learning of the legendary fighter's shooting.
The under-the-radar gesture of kindness highlights a Lopez who is back on the boxing main stage and ready to resume a stellar career after two crushing defeats.
Not too long ago, Juan Manuel Lopez was on the fast track to stardom and a place among a long list of other Puerto Rican greats. The kid had it all-- power, charisma, and an amateur pedigree. And when he hit the pro ranks, he tore up the competition. It was just a matter of time before the heavy-handed southpaw would win a world title and, when he crushed Daniel Ponce de Leon in one round to win the WBO junior featherweight title in 2008, it was almost matter of fact-- what was supposed to be had come to be.
Five successful defenses later, "Juanma" would move up to featherweight to beat Steve Luevano for the WBO featherweight title.
Along the way, chinks in the Lopez armor began to show themselves and rumors of training camp distractions and a party boy lifestyle started to emerge. But Lopez was so good and so charismatic and so well-promoted that nobody was too alarmed. In any case, Lopez kept winning and kept giving the fans entertaining scraps. So, even as conditioning issues started to emerge and a vulnerable chin became more of a factor, Lopez's star kept rising. In most eyes, he was still one of boxing's "next big things," flaws and all.
Then, Lopez ran into battle-tested Mexican road warrior, Orlando Salido.
"Siri" Salido was not expected to be too much of a test for a Lopez slowly being pushed toward a big money showdown with Cuba's Yuriorkis Gamboa. Salido had eleven losses on his record and was just seven months removed from a fairly one-sided unanimous decision loss to Gamboa.
It was clear that the Salido bout was an attempt from Team Lopez to one-up Gamboa by destroying the fighter who took the Cuban twelve tough rounds. Unfortunately for Lopez, though, Salido was the exact wrong type of fighter for a distracted, less-than-superbly-trained, relatively flat-footed defending champ.
Lopez fought bravely and fought hard, but Salido took everything dished out to him and broke the defending champ down, right in front of a partisan pro-Lopez crowd in Bayamon, Puerto Rico. The TKO 8 loss brought Lopez down to Earth and, according to his press releases, helped turn his life around.
After a two-round tune-up destruction of Mike Oliver, Lopez got a return bout with Salido for a chance at redemption and an opportunity to win back the WBO featherweight belt.
Once again fighting in Puerto Rico, Salido again proved himself to be too tough and too well-schooled for Lopez, this time stopping the former champ in ten rounds.
Immediately after the bout, Lopez, still half-dazed from the beating he took, accused referees Roberto Ramirez Sr. and Roberto Ramirez Jr. (who officiated his first bout with Salido) of being well-known gamblers and suggested that they were less than honorable men.
The post-fight comments led to a suspension for Lopez which would've kept him out of action until March of 2013 had it not been recently lifted by the Secretary of the Department of Sports in Puerto Rico, Henry Neumann.
Now, Lopez is eager to return to the ring and work his way back to the top. This time, the former junior featherweight and featherweight champ will set his sights on the relatively shallow talent pool of the 130 lb. super featherweight ranks.
Juanma is looking to make his return in January as part of an HBO triple header which features Orlando Salido vs. Miguel Angel "Mikey" Garcia and Gennady Golovkin against a fighter to be named, but efforts to find an opponent have not been very successful so far.
Team Lopez wanted to lure fellow Puerto Rican, Wilfredo Vazuqez Jr. up two weight classes from the junior featherweight division, but Vazquez balked at fighting at super featherweight. Filipino contender, Rey Bautista has been rumored, but nothing has been confirmed. Most recently, Lopez's people rejected an offer from undefeated 130 lb. prospect, Diego Magdaleno.
Lopez's decision will be made soon and it will likely be an opponent good enough to appease the HBO brass, but vulnerable enough to eventually fall to his heavy hands.
From there, it's all about Lopez. Can he stay focused? Can he keep himself in the gym when temptations pull him in a hundred different directions? Can he put the two Salido losses behind him?
All of these questions will be answered soon enough. Two hard losses won't destroy a career-- unless the accompanying life lessons weren't properly learned.
Paul Magno was a licensed official in the state of Michoacan, Mexico and a close follower of the sport for more than thirty years. His work can also be found on Fox Sports and The Boxing Tribune. In the past, Paul has done work for Inside Fights, The Queensberry Rules and Eastside Boxing.
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