‘JuanMa’ rebuilds after devastating loss

Juan Manuel Lopez finally concedes he was wrong. He had a seemingly stay-busy title defense lined up against Orlando Salido on April 16 and didn’t think an impending divorce from his wife, Barbara DeJesus, would negatively impact him.

Divorces, say those who have gone through them, are generally nasty. They prey upon your mind, nag at you like a sore that will never heal. They impact so many aspects of your life.

In the days and weeks before he defended his World Boxing Organization featherweight belt against Salido, a heavy underdog who entered that match in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, with 11 losses, Lopez insisted the divorce would have no impact on his preparations for the bout or his performance in the ring.

“I don’t really want to talk about it much, because I know the type of person I am and I know I can deal with my personal life and still do my job the way I need to do it,” Lopez told Yahoo! Sports in April, a few days before the bout with Salido when he sported a 30-0 record with 27 knockouts and was regarded as one of the elite fighters in the world.

Lopez will return to the ring Saturday in Bayamon as a former champion, meeting veteran Mike Oliver in a pay-per-view bout available in the U.S. on DirecTV and Dish that is designed mainly to allow him to ease back into the game.

More than five months after the fateful night against Salido, when he was stopped in the eighth round of a fight he knows he should have won, Lopez comes clean.

“I just wasn’t there that night,” Lopez said. “I thought I could deal with it, but my personal problems caught up to me. It got the best of me. I was too heavy. I didn’t feel like me. I felt slow. I never felt like me. Everything that was going on in my personal life took over.”

Lopez said he weighed 144 ½ pounds when he climbed into the ring that night, adding 18 ½ pounds after the weigh-in. Normally, he goes up to 135. Putting on 14.7 percent more body weight in about 24 hours generally isn’t a good thing and it left him slow and lethargic.

Lopez managed to block with his head just about every punch Salido threw. And Lopez’s vaunted power wasn’t the same, as he lost the quickness and explosiveness he had when he was lighter.

“When I was doing mitts in the locker room before the fight, I felt strange,” Lopez said. “I knew I was going to have some trouble, but you have to have confidence and even though I didn’t feel like I had felt in my other fights, I figured I would be able to fight through it.”

The easy way out for Lopez would have been to say he had just looked past Salido. Lopez’s two poorest performances came against the men with the most losses he faced as a champion. He had to hang on to survive a WBO super bantamweight title defense against Rogers Mtgawa at The Theater at Madison Square Garden on Oct. 10, 2009. Mtgawa entered that bout with 12 defeats, but nearly stopped Lopez in the final round.

Then, after moving to featherweight and looking impressive in wins over Steven Luevano and Rafael Marquez, he was stopped by Salido, a solid professional but not a guy expected to beat a thoroughbred such as Lopez.

Lopez, though, said he took them seriously.

“Records really don’t matter,” he said. “I knew they were tough guys.”

It was the divorce proceedings that did him in against Salido. He said he’d leave it to his attorneys to handle, but he ruminated over it. He mulled what life would be like for him, for his children. He worried about the court proceedings. He fretted over very personal issues.

And in a sport like world-class boxing, where the smallest slip-ups can turn deadly in a moment’s notice, there is no place for a lack of concentration. Boxing is unforgiving that way.

Lopez paid the price for thinking he could serve two masters.

It took some of the luster off of his potential fight with Yuriorkis Gamboa, who is now moving up in weight and may meet World Boxing Association lightweight champion Brandon Rios sometime next year.

Lopez says he plans to move up in weight soon, as well, and is confident a Gamboa fight will occur.

He’s not haunted by the loss, because he believes so firmly he wasn’t beaten at his best. It was a shell of the old Juanma who was knocked down once by Salido and whacked repeatedly with clean blows to the head.

He is eager for a chance to avenge his defeat, but said he’s excited about the slugger versus boxer match he faces on Saturday against the slick Oliver.

The light-hitting Oliver is 25-2 with eight knockouts. Both of Oliver’s losses have been by third-round TKO, against Reynaldo Lopez and Antonio Escalante, neither of whom are in his class either as a fighter or as a puncher.

His mind, he insists, is clear, and he said he almost feels sorry for his 31-year-old opponent.

“It was a bad night [in April] and I’m ready to show everyone I’m the same Juanma I’ve always been,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to be fighting me coming off that [defeat]. I feel great and I think I’ll be better than ever.”

Kevin Iole covers boxing and mixed martial arts for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Kevin a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Thursday, Sep 29, 2011