By Chris Robinson
Trying to comeback from a devastating TKO loss to Juan Manuel Lopez last July, his return bout against Juan Carlos Martinez this past weekend was supposed to be a step back in the right direction, a fight to boost his confidence on his way to getting back into the mix at 126 pounds. Sure enough, on paper the fight figured to be heavily in Concepcion's favor given Martinez's 18-12-1 record and the fact that Bernabe had been in with some quality fighters during his seven-year run.
A few weeks before the fight I had caught up with Bernabe at the Wild Card Boxing Club, where he trained alongside Manny Pacquiao, whose MP Promotions Concepcion operates under along with a co-promotional pact with Top Rank. Having just finished up a day of training,I asked Bernabe just how much the Lopez loss took out of him and how eager he was to return.
"I'm still here," Bernabe insisted. "I'm only 23 years old. I'm just working, just working hard. Everyday I've been working a lot and my focus for my boxing career is right there."
It was refreshing to hear that Bernabe's spirits were so high and I was very curious about his return, which was set to take place inside of the South Ballroom in the Mandalay Bay on the eve of Pacquiao's fight with Shane Mosley. But what happened on this night left me with more concern than genuine optimism about the young fighter's future.
As the fight opened up Concepcion seemed to be going through the motions. Perhaps it was a layoff of nearly ten months and maybe he underestimated his journeyman foe but for whatever reasons Concepcion was letting the early rounds slip away from him. Martinz was the aggressor and seemed unfazed at anything Bernabe had to offer in return.
It only seemed to be the sixth round of the scheduled eight-round bout that Concepcion showed some sense of urgency but even then Martinez seemed to fight him tick for tack. People at ringside were left befuddled as to how ineffective Concepcion was looking as just a little over a year earlier in Las Vegas he had looked strong and busy as he outworked Puerto Rico's Mario Santiago for a crucial win that lead to his shot at Lopez.
But Concepcion seemed to be a different fighter, a man lacking fire in a fight that was important to his career. He would end up losing a split-decision to Martinez in front of a stunned crowd. With a ledger that now reads 28-5-1 with 15 knockouts and having lost three of his last four fights, Concepcion has some serious questions to answer about what direction his career goes from here.
While it's true that Martinez isn't your typical journeyman, with his losses to Juan Carlos Burgos, Guty Espadas, and Antonio DeMarco among others, this was a fight that Concepcion was supposed to win if he was serious about again chasing his championship dreams. His loss not only set him back but also made you wonder what is next in store for him, as there where whispers ringside that Top Rank might now consider using him as an opponent for their upcoming stars.
To know Bernabe Concepcion is to like him, as his modesty is a telling point of his personality. But emotions aside we need to evaluate the loss this past Friday for what it is worth. It's a definite blow and Concepcion's back is now against the wall more than ever.
Let's see how he responds this time out.