By Jake Donovan
There is still a little over a month left before Miguel Angel ‘Mikey’ Garcia and Juan Manuel Lopez square off in Dallas, but the brass at HBO is already loving the forthcoming crossroads bout.
“Mikey’s knockout ratio is 84%. Juan Manuel’s is 86%. I would hazard to guess that this fight isn’t going the distance,” predicts Peter Nelson, Director of Programming for HBO Sports.
Whether it goes all 12 rounds or ends with the first punch thrown, the major crossroads bout figures to be fun for however long it lasts.
Garcia is just now entering his prime, as evidenced in his dominant technical decision points win over Orlando Salido this past January. The win netted the unbeaten featherweight his first major championship, winning the very belt that once belonged to his forthcoming opponent.
“It’s not an easy fight,” Garcia said of his future opponent. “But it’s the kind of fights you have to take as a champion.”
The road to getting towards the title was meant to be a lot easier than the title fight itself. However, Garcia (31-0, 26KO) made it look near effortless in wresting the title from Salido, who had won five straight heading into the contest. Each of Salido’s five wins over that stretch ended inside the distance, beginning with a title-winning knockout effort over Lopez in the first of their eventual two-man crew.
The setback was the first in the career of Lopez (33-2, 30KO), who wound up losing two fights within the span of three fights. Both losses came against Salido, though Lopez will have to settle for a consolation prize of potentially winning back his old title.
“It’s going to be a great fight. I’m fighting a great fighter in Mikey Garcia,” acknowledged Lopez, who has won two straight since returning from suspension over inflammatory comments made following last year’s rematch loss with Salido. “I have a lot of respect for him. I’ve known him a long time and know how good of a fighter he is. I thank him for giving me the opportunity.”
Giving Lopez a crack at his old title in the very first title defense was almost a no-brainer. The 25-year old has continuously upgraded his competition level and continues to tear through the field in the exact same manner – steady but not a particularly quick start, but always capped by a strong finish.
Needless to say, the defending titlist believes he’s ready for the best in and around the division.
“I’m expecting the very best JuanMa, I know he’s going to bring the best he has,” Garcia insists.
The very mentality is carried into the American Airlines Center on a regular basis whenever the Dallas Mavericks are at home. The 2011 NBA champs missed the mark this season, but can still look up at its championship banner to remind themselves what it takes to get back to that level.
This year’s squad sits on the sidelines, missing the NBA Playoffs. The June 15 event handlers believe the team will be given a firm reminder of what it takes to win once the opening bell rings for the evening’s main event.
“With all due respect to Mark (Cuban, Mavericks owner) and his team, there is nothing more exciting than a competitive boxing match,” insists Hall of Fame promoter Bob Arum.
Such entertainment value is the standard for Lopez whenever he steps into the ring.
Rarely if ever in a dull fight, there exists the temptation to change up and play it safe if it means winning next month and focusing on looking good for his next fight. While riding a modest two-fight win streak, Lopez is currently best remembered for two things – the losses to Salido, and his post-fight outburst following last year’s rematch.
Lopez didn’t exactly take the second knockout loss in stride. Inflammatory comments were made towards the evening’s ring official – Roberto Ramirez Sr. – as well as his son, Roberto Jr. who officiated the first fight between Lopez and Salido a year prior.
Claims of being on the take netted the Puerto Rican action star a lengthy suspension, though it fell short of the one-year ban initially imposed. Two wins have followed, coming against non-descript competition. Neither victory will mean very much if he comes home empty handed in June.
“This fight means everything to me,” Lopez admits. “I’m going to come out as champion. It’s a very important fight for my career, for my future. He may not be the strongest I’ve ever faced, but will be the smartest opponent I’ve faced. I will have to be just as smart.”
Garcia’s ring intelligence is a major part of why the youngest member of a boxing family rarely loses rounds, never mind fights. His ring success is an odd tale, considering he took the sport up at a late age (for amateur boxing) and was the most resistant of the fighting Garcia family to become a boxer.
Older brother and head trainer Robert Garcia was a championship-level fighter during his prime. The reigning Trainer of the Year enjoyed a tour as a 130 lb. titlist, before eventually conceding the crown to Diego Corrales in Oct. ’09.
He eventually retired from the sport still at a young age, realizing he had more to offer as a teacher than as a prizefighter. His younger brother is his best work yet as a cornerman, as evidenced by his major success as a pro and with the best years still to come.
“I don’t plan on losing my title in the very first defense,” Garcia insists. “I plan on being champion for a very long time.”
Regardless of the outcome of the fight, boxing fans figure to score the biggest victory of the night, as well as the brass at HBO, who – with the help of Top Rank and of course the fighters – managed to put together the fight in a relatively short amount of time.
“We couldn’t be more thrilled this fight is between two fighters who always light up the ring,” stated HBO’s Peter Nelson.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board, Yahoo Boxing Ratings Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox