By Jake Donovan
For the second time in less than a year, Orlando Salido and Juan Manuel Lopez met in Puerto Rico to provide a leading candidate for Fight of the Year.
For the second time in less than a year, Salido proved to be superior to Lopez.
In terrific featherweight war that saw both fighters hit the deck as well as one of the best rounds in recent boxing history, Salido repeated last year’s success with a 10th round knockout Saturday evening at Coliseo Roberto Clemente in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
The fight began in exact opposite form of their first clash last April. Salido wasn’t forced to fight from behind, instead coming out as the aggressor and taking the fight to a surprisingly hesitant Lopez. Both fighters had moments of success in a razor thin open round, Lopez pumping his jab and Salido landing clean right hands.
Salido cleaned up in rounds two and three, charging forward to the point of bullying the Puerto Rican southpaw. The fear going in was that Lopez stood no chance of exorcizing past demons unless he dramatically improved his defense and proved to be his undoing through the first few rounds.
Lopez attempted to turn things around in the fourth, working behind his jab and also scoring with straight left hands. However, Salido was still landing the more telling blows, carrying over his success into the fifth round as well.
And then the tide turned.
On the verge of once again being in trouble, Lopez rode out a wicked storm to land a perfectly-timed counter right hook for the first knockdown of the fight. As was the case with Salido’s quick start, the sequence here was the complete opposite of what took place last year in Bayamon.
Salido was visibly shaken as he remained on a knee for the entire mandatory eight count before barely steadying himself and finishing the round. It appeared to be a moment lost for Lopez, who quickly fell behind again in the sixth and took some hellacious punishment in the seventh. Salido landed left hooks with alarming regularity, also scoring with right hands for good measure.
Momentum shifted ever so slightly in the eighth round. Lopez was moving forward and boxing surprisingly well, though Salido was brilliant in counterpunching off of the ropes. The scorecards at the end of the night suggested Lopez was viewed as the aggressor in the round, apparently effective enough for the judges despite being outworked.
No matter your style preference, who won the ninth round can forever be debated as long as the argument concludes with the agreement that there hasn’t been a better round in recent memory.
Salido fought as if he had wounded prey in front of him, but Lopez took a major risk that reaped major benefits in going for broke. The former two-division threw savagely to the body, forcing the Mexican to back off ever so slightly, just enough to allow for a two-way brawl to ensue. Both fighter threw every punch with the intention of knocking the other out, though neither fighter conceded.
The round ended in a well-deserved standing ovation but would prove to be the final competitive moment of the fight. Salido sought to end matters in the tenth, believing himself to still be the fresher fighter of the two.
“I worked with the uppercut and then right hand put him down,” Salido said of the final moments of the fight. “I knew he was a warrior and I still had three rounds in the bank, just in case.”
He wouldn’t need them, as a three-punch combo was enough to put Lopez down and out. Salido froze Lopez with a left hand, followed up by a flush right and left that left Lopez impersonating a bobblehead doll as he hit the canvas hard.
Referee Roberto Ramirez Sr. – whose son Roberto Jr. was accused of a premature stoppage in the first fight 11 months ago – gave Lopez every chance to recover while issuing his mandatory eight count. However, Lopez could never quite steady himself, forcing the third man to stop the contest.
The official time was 0:32 of round ten, in a fight that Salido insists went exactly as expectd.
“This is how we planned this fight,” stated Salido, who improves to 38-11-2 (26KO) with his fourth straight win. “We know he’d plan counter punches. This is what we planned for.”
What he also planned for was the possibility of being robbed if the fight somehow went the distance. The final scorecards supported that theory, as Lopez was somehow up on two cards by 86-84 and dead even on the third at 85-85.
“Of course, I knew that in Puerto Rico that in order to win a decision that I’d have to outpunch him two to one,” acknowledged Salido, who was the far busier – and more accurate – of the two throughout the evening.
It wasn’t quite how Lopez saw things, as the Puerto Rican took the term ‘sore loser’ to new heights.
“I was dominating the fight, it was tough but I was dominating,” Lopez deadpanned shortly after suffering the second loss in his past three fights in falling to 31-2 (28KO). ““I was conscious of what the referee was saying (after the knockdown). I could still continue to fight.”
The reasons for the stoppage wasn’t due to concern for his health, Lopez believes, but instead the doing of a corrupt official.
“The referee stopped the fight – his son stopped the first fight and now he stopped it,” Lopez stated and later repeated even after given a chance by SHOWTIME announcer Jim Grey to retract. “The family has gambling problems. I called the commission letting him know that. It’s the commission’s responsibility knowing that.”
All of that is a matter for Lopez to sort out with the Puerto Rican Boxing Commission. Barring the strangest outcome reversal in boxing history, the southpaw is forced to pick up the pieces of his dramatically falling career, while Salido enjoys a late surge after 16 years in service.
What next awaits him has not yet been discussed, though the 31-year old is wide open to anything.
One possibility is Miguel Angel ‘Mikey’ Garcia, who continues to cruise along in his rise to stardom. The youngest member of a boxing rich family, Garcia was true to form as he boxed patiently early on before building towards a spectacular 7th round stoppage of Bernabe Concepcion.
Whether it’s Garcia, a rematch with Yuriorkis Gamboa (to whom Salido lost in Sept. ’10) or even yet another dance with Lopez after two terrific battles, Salido is perfectly content to travel in whichever direction his latest journey takes him.
“This was a(nother) classic between Mexico and Puerto Rico and it was once again (Mexico’s) turn to win. I’m ready for a third fight if JuanMa wants. I’m ready.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected]