by Cliff Rold
It was one of those moments that confirmed to many what was already assumed. In the last bout of the evening before a main event pitting then-World Middleweight Champion Kelly Pavlik against hapless challenger Gary Lockett, a star was born.
A limited fighter was exposed.
A couple months shy of six years later, Juan Manuel Lopez and Daniel Ponce De Leon are scheduled to do it again. They will square off on the undercard of the World Jr. Welterweight Championship battle between kingpin Danny Garcia and serviceable but likely outclassed contender Mauricio Herrera.
A lot has happened since Lopez ran through De Leon in one round to capture the WBO belt at 122 lbs. Assumptions validated on June 7, 2008, turned out to be hasty generalizations. We didn’t know then what we thought we knew.
No one can be sure they know what happens this Saturday night either (Showtime, 9 PM EST/6 PM PST).
What we do know is this: Lopez never quite became the next big thing and De Leon’s first round loss was not the beginning of a string of similar losses. Both men now cling to the hope for at least one more important tomorrow. There is no title on the line.
Either career might be.
The road to the rematch has been a roller coaster for both.
Since losing to Lopez, De Leon (45-5, 35 KO) has gone 11-3 with five stops. All of those losses came to exceptional talent, one with some controversy against a rising Adrien Broner. De Leon didn’t suffer another stoppage loss until last May against Abner Mares, losing the WBC Featherweight belt in the process.
That he held the belt spoke to how far De Leon didn’t fall after the Lopez loss. Over the years, he refined some of his crude edges and became a more thoughtful boxer. He soundly outboxed Jhonny Gonzalez to win that WBC belt in 2012 in a fight between two warriors who never went to war. It wasn’t fun to watch most of the time, but it was a sign of how far he’d come.
In contrast, it was Lopez (33-3, 30 KO) who went the way many thought De Leon would. Lopez became a reliable half of several high contact wars, to his detriment. Like De Leon, he too is 11-3 since their last encounter. As a plus, ten of those wins have come inside the route.
All of the losses came by knockout in his last six starts.
There were occasions where he flirted with the floor in the wins too. The Lopez train to superstardom began to veer off the tracks in his final fight at 122 lbs. An unlikely threat emerged in the form of Rogers Mtagwa in 2009. It was one of the great fights of that year and maybe the decade, Lopez gutting through a final round where he appeared out on his feet for long stretches.
It was played off as the weight getting to him and at Featherweight things looked better. Lopez added a second title in his first fight at 126, stopping undefeated Steven Luevano for WBO sanctioning fees. In each of his next two outings, Lopez had rocky moments. He traded first round knockdowns with Bernabe Concepcion before a knockout in two. He was wobbled more than once against veteran Rafael Marquez in a heavy hitting affair.
The punishment suffered in contests like those set the stage for his downfall, an eighth round stoppage at the hands of Orlando Salido. Their rematch two fights later saw both men on the floor but Lopez dropped last before another stoppage defeat.
His last fight may have been the worst night of his career. Challenging for the belt he’d lost to Salido, and that Salido has lost to Mikey Garcia, Lopez entered already behind the eight ball. Garcia failed to make weight for the fight, leaving the title on the scales. The title was available to Lopez with a win.
Garcia made that an impossible task last June. On a night when Lopez looked slow and shopworn, he was out in four. He hasn’t fought since.
De Leon has fought only once since the loss to Mares, a sluggish decision over opponent Joksan Hernandez.
As they face off in the ring this weekend, they stand not at a crossroads but the completion of a circle. This is the place where hopes and assumptions of the past are confronted with the reality of two careers that played out like so many careers do. Fight followers are easily led to believe that single results tell a story.
Sometimes that is the case.
This is not one of them. De Leon was more than the first round loss he suffered in 2008. Lopez was not quite as much as that win seemed to foretell.
Entering Saturday, they’re just two of many former titlists who have won more than they’ve lost and need a win to matter again. It could make a hell of a fight.
So, anyone read TMZ lately? Wasn’t there a story bandying about years ago about people stealing jewelry from Floyd Mayweather? Whether the TMZ story ends up true or not, if he doesn’t have one it might be time for “Money” to spend some on a safe…ESPN going with a big show for Bermane Stiverne-Chris Arreola II could be great news for boxing if more follows. ESPN has the bankroll to make a difference in boxing if they want to…Under the radar this weekend is a clash of former titlists between Fernando Montiel and Cristobal Cruz. That could be perfectly fun boxing…So Bob Arum isn’t really interested in Mikey Garcia-Yuriorkis Gamboa? Okay, but does anyone really think Garcia-Takashi Uchiyama is realistic? Let’s hope so without getting hopes up.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]