By Cliff Rold
There will be those who criticize the stoppage of the fight but, considering the assault 30-year old Orlando Salido (35-11-2, 23 KO) was putting together, it merits little controversy. 27-year old Juan Manuel Lopez (30-1, 27 KO) has looked vulnerable before. In a sensational war fitting of the long Mexico-Puerto Rico rivalry, he went from vulnerable to defeated for the first time. Referee Roberto Ramirez Jr. saved him from more of what was an increasingly nasty beating in round eight, awarding Salido the biggest victory of his career and second major title at Featherweight on Saturday night at the Coliseo Ruben Rodriguez in Bayamon, Puerto Rico.
Salido, of Ciudad Obregon, Mexico, came into the contest at the Featherweight limit of 126 lbs. Lopez, of Caguas, Puerto Rico, was a pound under at 125.
Lopez jogged to mid-ring, possibly a display of excitement at the incredible reception he received from the locals. That burst of energy was followed by a measured tempo in the opening stanza, Lopez busier but appearing to lack snap in his shots. Salido pressed for chances to land his right hand and did, also managing a few sneaky left hooks in the last thirty seconds.
Snap was no problem for Lopez as he warmed to the task in round two, his precision shots beating Salido to the target most of the time. Salido would again do his best work in the last thirty seconds, the crowd treated to an energetic exchange that included a left to the body from Salido to get Lopez’s attention.
The pattern of the bout remained the same in the third. Lopez started off the round timing Salido’s charges with beautiful lead right hooks and, as has been the case in the two previous rounds, held the advantage in output and quality shots landed. Salido though would not give and, with thirty seconds to go, accelerated in a way that said he was there to test the stamina of Lopez all night.
And he was willing to pay the price to do so.
Salido had his best full three minutes in round four, lead left hooks and some big right hands rocking Lopez and forcing him to hold in spots. Lopez, as he always does when stunned, fought back but Salido wasn’t slowed significantly.
A Lopez southpaw lead right hook, and then a long left, forced backward steps from Salido in the first minute of round five. Salido immediately jumped right back into the fray. Staying in the chest of Lopez, Salido landed some subtle, short headshots as the minute mark neared, Lopez rocked just a bit. He would be more than rocked as the thirty-second mark arrived again. Salido caught Lopez with a blinding lead left hook followed by a gargantuan flush right hand, sending the young Puerto Rican hero to his back. Lopez rose, beating the count of referee Ramirez, and survived to the bell as Salido chose patience in pursuing his advantage with only seconds to go.
Lopez went to the corner with lifeless legs and looked to still be in trouble as the sixth got underway. Salido was all over him, Lopez eating power shots as he swayed about the ring, the ropes helping him to stay up as Salido stayed patient. The crowd roared at the midway mark of the round as Lopez battled back, his tremendous courage and fighting character on display, but the veteran Salido was unimpressed. A jarring left caught Lopez in the corner as the minute mark approached and Lopez moved his arms with nothing but will behind them, keeping himself off the floor and in the fight.
Lopez inspired another roar from the crowd early in the seventh, bouncing on his toes and shooting his jab. It was great theatre but Salido wasn’t interested in playing his part, blasting Lopez with a left and right at a minute into the round and insisting with leather on maintaining his momentum in the fight. Lopez objected with a furious flurry in the closing seconds, backing Salido up if not hurting him.
Relentless to begin the eighth, Salido couldn’t miss with the right hand. Hurting Lopez badly again, Salido pressed with power shots and Lopez wobbled to the ropes. Winging shots with his arms, Lopez was again playing for survival. Salido mostly missed but a couple of clean, jarring shots whipped the head of Lopez about. Ramirez could have let it gone on longer, but it would likely only have made the night worse for Lopez. He stepped in to halt the action at 1:39 of the eighth.
Lopez, and his fans, were irate but seemed to calm quickly as the verdict settled in. Salido celebrated wildly, as he should have. In a career of ups and downs, including a failed steroid test in 2006 that cost Salido his first Featherweight belt, changing an upset of Robert Guerrero to a “No Contest,” it was his ultimate high.
Just one fight prior, then holding the IBF belt, Salido scored a knockdown but still lost a lopsided decision in a September 2010 Featherweight unification contest with undefeated WBA titlist Yuriorkis Gamboa. Tonight was believed by many in the press to be merely a step along the way to the teased future confrontation of Gamboa and Lopez.
The future got farther away Saturday in regards to Gamboa-Lopez. Fans may now have an answer as to why it might really have been taking so long to put the more profitable Lopez in with a the hyper talented Gamboa in the first place. Salido was busy thinking about his own future, basking in the glow of victory.
“I came very prepared to fight the number one Featherweight Champion of the World.” Salido stated after the fight. Salido stated, through an interpreter, that he felt the fight was even early on and that his plan was to pressure. If the plan can work again would be determined in a rematch and Salido left that up to promoter Top Rank.
Lopez will want the return engagement.
Lopez objected to the stoppage and rejected the notion that personal problems, like a pending divorce, influenced the outcome of the fight. A rematch might give some clues as to how true that is, but whether Lopez is really going to stay at Featherweight remains to be seen. The plan, before the upset, was a Lopez rematch with veteran Rafael Marquez later this year before moving to Jr. Lightweight.
What the future holds remains to be seen. Based on the quality of action both men produced Saturday night, it is a future worth looking forward to.
The telecast opened with another undefeated Puerto Rican who managed to hang onto his “0” with room to spare, even as he was forced to go the distance for the first time since August 2009. 25-year old Jr. Lightweight Luis Cruz (18-0, 14 KO), 129 ¾, of Las Piedras, Puerto Rico, picked up a workmanlike win over the more experienced 31-year old Martin Honorio (29-6-1, 15 KO), 131, of Mexico City, Mexico. The final scores were all over the place at a shutout 100-90, 98-92, and 96-94.
The card was televised on Showtime as part of its “Championship Boxing” series, promoted by Top Rank in association with PR Best Boxing.
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]