By Jake Donovan
Juan Manuel Lopez made his long awaited ring return Saturday evening at Coliseo Ruben Rodriguez in Bayamon, Puerto Rico. The former two-division champ returned in emphatic fashion, winning nearly every round before stopping Aldimar Silva Santos (18-3, 9KO) in the ninth round of their DirecTV PPV-televised main event.
The bout was the first ring appearance for Lopez (31-2, 28KO) since his repeat stoppage loss to Orlando Salido last March. Lopez landed in hot water with stinging post-fight comments accusing referee Roberto Ramirez Sr. of allowing his alleged gambling habits to influence his judgment in the ring.
The Puerto Rico Boxing Commission voted to suspend Lopez for the remainder of 2012, the longest inactive stretch of his career. The ring rust didn't appear to have much effect, other than Silva lasting longer than expected.
That said, going nine rounds after 11 months of inactivity isn't necessarily a bad thing for Lopez.
Three total knockdowns came of the night, as Lopez sent his opponent to the canvas in rounds six and eight, though Silva's best moments in the fight strangely came in the round in which he was stopped. Lopez won nearly every round prior to that point, but briefly ran into a little bit of trouble before rallying to hurt and eventually stop the visiting Brazilian journeyman.
The official time was 1:04 of round nine.
Lopez improves to 32-2 (29KO) with the win, his first in 16 months - his longest stretch between victories through eight years as a pro.
Silva falls to 18-4 (9KO), having now lost three of his last six contests.
The bout took place at a catchweight of 128 lb, though Lopez has already stated his intentions to move up to a third weight class and fight at 130 lb.
"I'll be [fighting at] 130 pounds. I already talked to [manager] Orlando Pinero and t we pass the fight [tonight], we will sit with my promoter in the coming days but it is a reality - I will stay at 130 pounds. I will not make 126,” Lopez stated prior to the fight.
The news functionally kills any hope of one day getting JuanMa in the ring with countryman Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. The two were once targeted for a January 19 showdown in New York City, but the fight fell apart when an agreement couldn’t be reached on weight.
It remains the only point of contention between two fighters who carry a tremendous amount of respect for each other.
“We were supposed to fight. We agreed on a certain weight, but JuanMa came back and said that he couldn’t come down to the catchweight,” acknowledged Vazquez Jr, who prepares for his own ring return on April 6, possibly on Top Rank’s big show in Macao, China. “Whenever he’s ready, as long as we can agree on the weight I would love to fight him.
“Until then, I wish him luck and have nothing but good things to say about him.”
There were plenty of good things to say about Lopez’ performance. There is also the cynic who will note that it took nine rounds for the former Olympian and two-time titlist to get rid of a soft-chinned opponent who has suffered a pair of second round knockouts within his last six contests.
Title aspirations are on his mind, though Lopez still has some rebuilding to do. Even once ready for a title fight in a third weight class, there is one belt that he will absolutely not pursue.
"I do not want to fight with Rocky Martinez. He's like my brother,” Lopez insisted to Rey Colon during Fight Week. “Rocky may rise to 135. And there are other big names at 130 pounds. [My team] has spoken to me about many different fights. If a world championship shot comes after this fight, we'll do it. With me there are no problems," he said.
Had Martinez’ most recent fight been scored according to the court of public opinion, then he would be an ex-champion and Juan Carlos Burgos would surface as the most logical option. The two fought to a disputed 12-round draw last month in New York City, though many believed Burgos did enough to win the fight and the alphabet title that was at stake.
Instead, they remained destined for a possible rematch. That leaves Lopez to set his sight on three more top fighters who hail from Mexico – titlists Juan Carlos Salgado (who rematches Argenis Mendez in March) and Gamaliel Diaz, as well as Salido, JuanMa’s lone conqueror who announced his intention to move up in weight following his technical unanimous decision loss to Mikey Garcia last month.
For now, the goal is to get three or four fights in on the year. If one of them happens to be a title shot, then so be it.
Whatever comes Lopez’ way, it’s nice to know that for the first time in a while, there exists plenty of future options in a career that for a while appeared stuck in the past.
Jose 'Chelo' Gonzalez preserved a future mandatory lightweight title shot after scoring a sixth round stoppage of Mexico's Alejandro Rodriguez.
The bout was perhaps the most competitive of the evening for as long as it lasted. Rodriguez (18-9, 10KO) came to fight, but Gonzalez was more than game for the cause. The Puerto Rican picked up the pace with each passing round, until Rodriguez was forced to wilt, remaining on his stool at the start of round six.
Gonzalez (22-0, 17KO) is the mandatory contender to Ricky Burns' alphabet title, which could mean a crack at two belts. Burns is slated to face Miguel Vazquez in a lightweight unification match next month in the UK. The winner would have Gonzalez as at least one lingering mandatory challenger.
Teenage prodigy Felix Verdejo (3-0, 2KO) fought in his native Puerto Rico for the first time in his young career. The 19-year old boxer was swift and powerful in dispatching Jose Santiago (2-4-2, 2KO) inside of three rounds. Verdejo represented Puerto Rico in the 2012 Summer Games in London, advancing to the quarterfinals before succumbing to eventual Gold medalist and amateur superstar Vasyl Lomachenko.
Twin prospects McWilliams and McJoe Arroyo both left with 4th round stoppage wins in their respective bouts against late replacements.
McWilliams Arroyo (14-1, 12KO) had an easy night's work with Miguel Tayamo (14-6-2, 12KO), scoring a pair of third round knockdowns before stopping him one round later. Tayamo replaced former lineal flyweight champ Sonny Boy Jaro, who pulled out last month over a disagreement in weight.
McJoe Arroyo (12-0, 7KO) only spent three rounds fighting, but was credited with a stoppage when Felipe Rivas was unable to come out for round four. Rivas (14-2-1, 8KO) - a Fight Week replacement for former Rodrigo Guerrero, who failed to secure a visa to leave Mexico - was outfought in every round and injured his hand, the reason cited for his failing to leave his stool at the start of the fourth round.
Flyweight prospect Jonathan Gonzalez (11-0-0-1NC, 10KO) preserved his unbeaten record, though not in the fashion for which the 21-year old hoped. His bout with Omar Salado lasted just 73 seconds, ending when Salado (23-5-2-1NC,1 4KO) could no longer continue after an accidental blow to the base of his skull.
The fight was waved off and goes in the books as a no-contest since the scheduled ten round flyweight affair did not last four full rounds.
John Karl Sosa (5-0-4 KO) easily beat Daniel "La Roca" Rodriguez(1-8-1-1 KO) by unanimous decision in a bout fought at a catchweight of 150 lb. Rodriguez suffered a knockdown in the first round. The official scorecards were 40-35 (x3) - result provided by Giancarlo "Mr. Boxing" Oquendo
In the first fight of "Noche de Campeones", featherweight prospect Jomar Ortiz (3-0-2 KO's) secured a four round unanimous decision victory against Eliezer Agosto (1-2-1 KO's). The official scorecards were 40-36 (x3) - result provided by Giancarlo "Mr. Boxing" Oquendo
Jake Donovan is the Boxingscene.com Managing Editor, Records Keeper for Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and a voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox