by David P. Greisman
The boogeyman was an idea, a seed of doubt planted 11 months before, growing until it towered over him, casting darkness that he would either have to outrun or break through.
The nemesis was real, a man who had sown that seed and who now stood before him again, ready to return to digging to his body and drilling his chin.
Juan Manuel Lopez tried to dodge the darkness, tried to box Orlando Salido, tried to keep what Salido had done to him 11 months before from being done once more. But the boogeyman kept stalking. The nemesis, however, was not a mere idea but rather was real, a man who could be broken. And so Lopez confronted his demon and took his fate into his own hands.
And, in a flash, it was taken away from him. The darkness returned. The boogeyman was back.
Every fighter has his limits, a realization he never wants to reach. Every loss lingers, then, from the first moments of regret through months of self-reflection: What went wrong during the fight? What could I have done beforehand to make myself more ready, mentally and physically? What can I do better?
Lopez had 11 months to think about it and up to 12 rounds to put it into action.
He had patched together a friendship with his ex-wife, the mother of his children and his cook in camp. Gone was the personal turmoil that might have distracted before he first fought Salido. He would be mentally ready. Back was the personal chef who would help him be in the best possible shape. He would be physically ready.
He came in with a strategy. He would use movement to offset Salido’s pressure, just as another Puerto Rican hero, Miguel Cotto, had done in a rematch against another Mexican conqueror, Antonio Margarito.
Cotto was able to stick to his strategy for nine rounds, as long as that bout lasted. Lopez had never been a stick-and-move fighter, however.
Lopez started off the bout moving to his right, away from the looping right hand that Salido had caught him with again and again in their first fight. That would keep his right foot on the outside of Salido’s left, of utmost importance when a southpaw faces an orthodox fighter. And it would allow Lopez more opportunities to land lead right hooks.
Cotto had remained in high gear in his rematch with Margarito, jumping in and out with combinations before retreating from a fighter noticeably slower than him. Lopez did not have a distinct advantage in speed against Salido, who began to time his hardest shots for when Lopez stopped moving, moments that came when he was within range.
Lopez was not dictating the action, but rather was delaying it. He was not so much defending against Salido’s attacks as he was merely fending them off.
Lopez had thought he knew what it’d take to beat Salido, but it wouldn’t be this. Salido knew what it’d take to beat Lopez, and thought it wouldn’t be long before he could turn the rematch into a replay. A right hook from Salido in the first minute of the second round lifted Lopez’s left foot off the canvas. He kept closing the distance and caught him with an uppercut in the third.
Salido was landing more and more each round: 8 of 28 in the first, 19 of 49 in the second, 30 of 66 in the third. All but two of those landed shots were power punches. Lopez, meanwhile, was landing at a steady, lesser rate: 9 of 41 in the first, 11 of 67 in the second, 9 of 46 in the third. A majority of those, too, were power shots, but not at all enough of them.
Lopez wasn’t going to out-box this boogeyman, but he could try to take out his opponent. You cannot out-run an idea, but you can break a man. Salido was neither impervious nor impossible; he’d been knocked down and hurt badly in December against Weng Haya. He’d won that fight, but he was far from undefeated in his career.
Lopez opted to return to that which was comfortable, even if it meant walking a pugilistic tightrope. Rather than retreat, he opted to come forward with combinations, standing longer in front of Salido and leaving himself vulnerable to the shots he knew would come and knew would hurt.
That meant hitting Salido a total of 19 times, all but 2 of those power punches, in the fourth round — and getting hit by 27 hard shots in return. That meant getting hit with 21 hard shots in the fifth, too, but Lopez landed 14 of his own, including the one punch that would make all of this seem worth it.
Salido had just pegged Lopez with two hard left hooks, clean and flush, visibly and audibly effective. He followed Lopez around the ring and went forward again, walking directly into the path of a short counter right hook to the chin, a well-placed, well-timed shot that sent him to the canvas.
He rose and made it to the end of the round. But what seemed to be a turning point in favor of Lopez was also one in favor of Salido.
The knockdown emboldened Lopez, who went back to war with Salido as he had in their first fight, even though his headlong aggression meant going forward chin-first. Salido obliged, returning fire and catching Lopez pulling straight back. Salido’s looping right hands, not the most technically sound, lent themselves to effective placement, more likely to alight on Lopez’s shaky chin.
This was where Juan Manuel Lopez would have to make his stand. Boxing hadn’t worked. Brawling was all that was left. Their battle had heated up in rounds six and seven, fueling the firefight in the eighth and ninth, six minutes of torrid toe-to-toe trading. Lopez had a history of fading late in fights, but he could only lay everything he had out there, particularly with the pace Salido was setting.
Salido went 35 of 100 in the eighth, more than he’d thrown and landed in any of the previous seven rounds, then out-did himself in the ninth, going 37 of 114. He was outworking Lopez, who landed about half of what Salido did in those two rounds.
Despite this, it was Lopez whose chin was holding up, and Salido whose eyes were beginning to swell shut as the ninth round ended. Lopez was confronting his demon, taking his fate into his own hands.
And, in a flash, he was taking fire again, and the fight was taken away from him.
The end began just seconds into the 10th round with a right hook, followed by a left uppercut, then a right uppercut, and finally a jab that pushed back a teetering fighter. Lopez rose quickly, yet his legs and eyes showed his true condition. It was one last act of defiance, but at last he’d been rendered defenseless.
Every fighter has his limits, a realization he never wants to reach. Every loss lingers, from the first moments of regret through months of self-reflection: What went wrong during the fight? What could I have done beforehand to make myself more ready, mentally and physically? What can I do better?
Juan Manuel Lopez had done everything he could. He made his stand until he could stand no more.
The 10 Count
1. I tend to give leeway to boxers in their post-fight interviews after 10 or 12 rounds of grueling exercise and taking shots to the head — but even the greatest of disappointments does not excuse the greatest of delusions.
It was shockingly sad to the point of being uncomfortable when Glen Johnson insisted to Showtime’s Jim Gray that he thought he’d been robbed against Lucian Bute this past November in what was clearly a one-sided decision win for Bute.
And Juan Manuel Lopez went from turning in a laudable performance in defeat to putting forth a laughable excuse following his rematch loss this past Saturday against Orlando Salido.
The fight, Lopez said, had been stopped too early — something that could’ve been said for their first bout, which Salido had also won by technical knockout, but something that was not at all applicable in this second installment. And the referee, Lopez said, had stopped the fight early because he was corrupt, because the third man in the ring has “gambling problems.”
(Spanish-speaking friends of the column say Showtime’s translator was wrong, that Lopez didn’t say “gambling problems” but did say that the referee is a bettor/a gambler.)
But the referee had given Lopez multiple looks to see if he could continue — still counting as Lopez wobbled forward, not waving off the bout until he was standing right in front of Lopez and could tell that the fighter was essentially out on his feet.
If the referee was going to shaft him, why wait so long?
2. May 26, United Kingdom: Lucian Bute takes on Carl Froch.
May 26, United States: Antonio Tarver faces Lateef Kayode.
Guess which fight Showtime is paying to broadcast and which fight the network turned down?
3. A more minor head-scratcher came during Saturday’s broadcast, when Showtime aired a graphic of the “most significant fights” between Puerto Rican and Mexican boxers — listing Wilfredo Gomez vs. Carlos Zarate, Salvador Sanchez vs. Wilfredo Gomez, Wilfredo Gomez vs. Lupe Pintor, Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. vs. Hector Camacho, and Giovanni Segura vs. Ivan Calderon — yet completely left out the classic first bout between Antonio Margarito and Miguel Cotto.
Respected boxing historian Lee Groves penned a piece for RingTV.com last week on what he deemed the 10 best Mexico vs. Puerto Rico fights, which admittedly isn’t the same thing. There was some overlap, though: Gomez-Zarate, Gomez-Pintor, Sanchez-Gomez, and Segura-Calderon 1.
Also on Groves’ list, though, were Ivan Calderon vs. Hugo Cazares, Jorge Arce vs. Wilfredo Vazquez Jr., Felix Trinidad vs. Yory Boy Campas, Cotto-Margarito 1, Jose Luis Ramirez vs. Edwin Rosario 2, and Antonio Avelar vs. Wilfredo Vazquez Sr.
4. What are we supposed to root for when it comes to the May 5 fight between Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and Shane Mosley?
Much of the backlash against the bout comes because of Mosley’s performances in his last three fights — one-sided losses to Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao book-ending a dreadful draw against Sergio Mora.
If we think that Mosley is done, then, and are worried about his health, what’s the best outcome?
We don’t want Mosley to take a beating against Alvarez. But being as this fight will likely say more about who loses than it does about who wins, do we really want Mosley to do against Alvarez what he did to Antonio Margarito three years ago? Turning back time for one night would only bring Mosley back for more big fights, more of these possibilities for him to take more shots.
5. Wanna get Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao to finally agree to fight? Given last week’s news out of the Philippines, I think we finally have the answer — the loser pays off the winner’s tax debt.
6. Boxers Behaving Badly, part one: Peter Nightingale, a retired British boxer who once captured a regional title belt, has been accused of killing another man in a Tipton social club, according to the Birmingham Evening Mail.
Nightingale, 43, was arrested after the Feb. 26 incident. The victim, a 42-year-old father of eight, “suffered severe head injuries,” the newspaper reported.
Nightingale fought from 1996 to 2001, capturing the British Boxing Board of Control’s Midlands Area welterweight title in 1999, according to BoxRec.com. He was 6-11-2 at the time. After several more fights, including a points loss to future junior-middleweight contender Jamie Moore (in Moore’s second pro bout), Nightingale left the sport at 11-14-3 (1 knockout).
7. Boxers Behaving Badly, part two: Former 168-pound titleholder Mauro Galvano has been sentenced to six and a half years in prison for being part of a protection racket that extorted money from businesses in Italy, according to several translated reports out of that country (hat tip to BoxingScene’s European correspondent Per Ake Persson).
Galvano and others attacked those who did not pay and smashed up their shops, according to one article.
The 47-year-old fought from 1986 to 1997, winning the World Boxing Council’s belt in 1990 and losing it about two years later to Nigel Benn. He retired with a record of 30-8-2 (7 knockouts).
He never appeared on HBO, however — you have to stick to pretending to be an Italian mobster for that to happen.
8. Boxers Behaving Badly update: One-time cruiserweight title challenger Terry Ray will not spend any more time behind bars for French kissing a 14-year-old girl.
Ray was sentenced late last month to 18 months in jail, with all of that jail time suspended, according to the Terre-Haute (Ind.) Tribune-Star. He will instead be on probation.
The 48-year-old pleaded guilty in January to one count of sexual misconduct with a minor for a February 2010 incident in which he kissed the 14-year-old at a high school party at his house. Ray was not initially at the party but came home to it, the newspaper reported.
He’d also been facing one count each of child solicitation and sexual battery, charges that were dropped with his guilty plea.
Ray boxed from 1986 to 2001, compiling a record of 41 wins (25 by knockout), nine losses and one “No decision.” He challenged for a cruiserweight belt in 1998, losing via first-round technical knockout to Fabrice Tiozzo. Four months after that, he made a brief jaunt to heavyweight and lost to Brian Nielsen via fifth-round stoppage.
9. Sorry, folks, but I gotta stop The 10 Count too early — I’ve got gambling problems…
David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. His weekly column, “Fighting Words,” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com.
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