LAS VEGAS – Juan Manuel Lopez proved Saturday that he's the best featherweight in the world, though he's always just a step away from disaster. He can turn a runaway into a nail-biter at any moment, which makes it hard to take a bathroom break when he's fighting. You never know what you might miss.
Rafael Marquez proved once again Saturday that he's one of the elite fighters in the game, but it was also obvious that he's far better suited as a bantamweight or a super bantamweight than he is at 126 pounds.
Lopez survived a shaky fourth round in which Marquez nearly floored him to retain his World Boxing Organization featherweight title with an eighth-round stoppage Saturday before 4,813 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Marquez quit on his stool after the eighth round because he said he injured his right shoulder. He was taken to a local hospital for an MRI exam.
But though he complained in the corner about pain in the shoulder after the third round, it didn't appear to be hampering his performance. Lopez simply seemed too big and too strong for Marquez, who was hurt by nearly everything that Lopez landed.
"Everyone said Juanma doesn't have a chin, that he went down against this guy and down against that guy," Marquez co-promoter Gary Shaw said. "But he took some hellacious shots there tonight and he kept coming. He's a sensational fighter and I think he proved that tonight."
Lopez was quicker and stronger, which is a deadly combination, and only Marquez's guile and punching accuracy kept him in the fight. But other than the fourth round, in which he badly hurt Lopez and had him in danger of going down, he was regularly taking the worst of it.
The judges had it 78-73, 77-73 and 77-74 for Lopez at the end of the eighth when it was stopped. Yahoo! Sports also had it 78-73 for Lopez.
Lopez immediately called out World Boxing Association featherweight champion Yuriorkis Gamboa after the fight, though he's going to have to wait a while. Top Rank's Bob Arum, who promotes both men, said he's going to try to make a Lopez-Gamboa fight for June.
That is one of the best competitive fights in boxing that can be made, but neither man is widely known by the casual fan, and Arum wants to let the match percolate before he puts them in with each other.
Lopez, who is now 30-0 with 27 knockouts, is in many ways a carbon copy of Gamboa: Both men are extremely fast, extremely aggressive and hit extremely hard. Each also has just enough defensive deficiencies to make their supporters hold their breath.
Lopez beamed as he spoke of surviving the fourth round after Marquez hurt him.
"[I got hit], but so what?" Lopez said. "I showed everyone I can come back from it. This was an opportunity to show that not only can I punch, but I can take a punch. This was a great opportunity for me to show I can do a lot of things. Today, I joined the elite of the division. The best [126-pounder] in the world is me, not Gamboa."
Marquez co-promoter Fernando Beltran sarcastically thanked referee Tony Weeks for temporarily halting the fight and taking a point from Lopez in the fourth round for hitting behind the head just as Marquez had him in trouble.
"Rafael hurt him and Weeks took between 40 and 50 seconds taking that point off [Lopez]," an angry Beltran said. "That was great. Christmas came early."
The deduction did aid Lopez, who was clearly reeling, but had Weeks not taken the point, the Marquez camp would have then whined about the punches behind the head altering the fight.
The bottom line, as Shaw recognized, is that as great as Marquez is, he's no match for Lopez at featherweight at this stage of their careers.
"Raffy showed his heart, but he was beaten by a better fighter in the ring tonight," Shaw said. "There are no other excuses."
Lopez wasn't willing to hear them anyway. He was gracious at first about Marquez's injury and repeatedly referred to him as a great champion. "People told me he was done, but he didn't look done to me," Lopez said.
But when a Mexican reporter who had come to cover Marquez stood up and told Lopez he was not impressed with his performance, Lopez forgot about the political correctness and called Marquez a quitter.
It was hard to disagree with him, given that Marquez didn't seem to be hampered during the bout. Even those in his camp privately said they weren't sure what to believe, but Lopez clearly wasn't buying the injured shoulder excuse.
"Maybe I didn't knock him out, but I sure took his heart out," Lopez said to the reporter. "He didn't want to continue fighting. I told you he didn't have any heart."
That's highly debatable, but Marquez deserves the benefit of the doubt given his Hall of Fame resume. Lopez, though, clearly belongs among the big boys. He's a major player on the boxing scene now.
And he wants to fight someone like Gamboa to prove that.
"I'll fight anyone," he said. "Anyone. But I really want Gamboa."
It's inevitable now. And it will also be sensational. Because unlike the 35-year-old Marquez, Gamboa is strong, fast and in his prime. It's an even fight.
"I can't wait," Lopez said, beaming. "That's going to be a great one."