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Can understated Luevano derail Lopez?

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports

NEW YORK – Steven Luevano is an acquired taste. You're not going to walk past the television set, see him for 20 seconds and instantly adopt him as your favorite fighter.

He's calm, patient, rational and methodical in the ring, none of which helps make him an especially big name but all of which makes him one of boxing's more successful champions.

Luevano, whose record stands at 37-1-1 with 15 knockouts, received a diamond ring Thursday from World Boxing Organization president Francisco "Paco" Valcarcel as a gift for the five successful defenses he's made of his featherweight title.

Yet, in boxing parlance, he'll be the "B" side in his bid for a sixth defense when he meets Juan Manuel Lopez on Saturday in The Theater at Madison Square Garden on an HBO-televised card.

Lopez is everything Luevano is not: powerful, flashy, speedy and charismatic.

But Luevano's steady-as-you go style has proven invaluable. Since going on the road to knock out hometown favorite Nicky Cook in London in 2007, Luevano has defeated Antonio Davis, Terdsak Jandaeng, Billy Dib and Bernabe Concepcion and fought to a draw with Mario Santiago.

He's not a particularly hard puncher – Lopez has nine more knockouts in 12 fewer fights – and he's not the fastest man in the sport. His is a case in which the whole is far greater than the sum of its parts.

"My style of boxing wins fights, I guess," said Luevano, who is trained by the highly regarded father-son tandem of Eduardo and Roberto Garcia. "I just go in there and box. I don't go in and try to knock somebody's head off because that's how you get tired – by trying too hard. When you try too hard is when you get tired. I don't do that.

"I just take my time and let whatever happens, happen. That's the way I was taught; I was always taught to take my time and never to go in there and slug."

You appreciate Luevano by watching him over time. You see how he slyly slides out of danger, how he avoids power shots, how he pecks and pokes and lands his punches at precisely the right time, in precisely the right place in precisely the right combination.

He's as cool as James Bond, as steady as a guy walking a tightrope while trying to defuse a bomb.

"He's an extraordinarily intelligent boxer," said promoter Bob Arum. "He's been very well-trained. He understands the game, and he's like those guys who were around years ago when I first got into this sport. There were guys then who didn't look like much, but they hung around the gym all the time and they fought so damn often, they knew just about everything there was to know about how to box. Those kinds of guys were always tough fights, and that's the kind of a guy Steven has become."

Arum said he signed Luevano almost as an afterthought. Manager Cameron Dunkin was high on both Luevano and his cousin, Marshall Martinez, and pitched both of them to Top Rank.

Arum was interested in Martinez, who would have been on the 2000 U.S. Olympic team but was booted off for writing checks stolen from another athlete's mailbox. He said he signed Luevano because he was impressed by his character and figured he'd be a good influence on Martinez.

"It was pretty obvious this was a kid who was a good kid, who had a good work ethic and his head on his shoulders straight," Arum said. "Marshall was kind of a wild kid and we thought Steven would be able to help keep him out of trouble."

Luevano is now, as he was then, the kind of a guy who makes his bed, does his chores and never forgets to say "please" and "thank you." Martinez spent three years in prison on charges related to cocaine distribution and is now awaiting California sentencing in San Bernardino County after being convicted of two counts of attempted murder, two counts of assault with a firearm, and robbery.

Martinez, who is facing up to 63 years in prison, might have been the million-dollar prospect with the 10-cent head, but Luevano has proven to be the 10-cent prospect with the million-dollar head.

"Trash talk, that's not the way I am," Luevano said softly. "But come Saturday, when we're in the ring, it's a whole different story."

With five defenses already under his belt and a high-profile one on deck, Luevano is beginning to move into elite territory.

You won't hear him talk about it – that's not his style – but if you love boxing and you love guys who win with grace and class, Luevano's your man.

"He's fought on the undercard of a lot of big fights and he's learned from that, obviously," Arum said. "He's been on a couple of [Manny] Pacquiao cards and the [Kelly] Pavlik-Bernard Hopkins card, and he's seen it at that level. If he beats a guy like Lopez, that's a huge statement.

"He's the B side in this fight and he knows it. But that doesn't mean he'll be the B side forever. You win the right fights and you beat the right people, sooner or later you're going to be the A side. And if he beats a very talented, very good Juan Manuel Lopez, he's got a hell of an argument to make."

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