When a fighter is just coming into his own and is just laying the foundation of whatever legacy he may leave, it is easy to compare him to another boxer, especially one of his own nationality. Undefeated Puerto Rican super bantamweight Juan Manuel Lopez often finds himself being compared to another fighter from his country, Wilfredo Gomez.
“Everybody compares me with Gomez,” said Lopez via Edwin Algarin, a light welterweight who served as Lopez’s translator during our discussion. “Our styles are similar but we are just different fighters in different weight classes.”
Lopez (14-0) will face Cuauhtemoc Vargas (15-1-1) tonight at the Dodge Theatre in Phoenix, Arizona. The bout will be the main event in SHOWTIME’s ShoBox: The New Generation series.
The comparisons to Gomez, the former super bantamweight, featherweight, and super featherweight champion whose string of 33 consecutive knockouts is the most by any world champion, have their merit. Twelve of Lopez’s fights have ended in a knockout and the average length of his bouts is just a little more than three rounds. He has no intention of allowing his upcoming bout with Vargas go the distance either.
“I am doing what I always do for every fight and I have already seen his tapes,” said Lopez. “I am ready to take him out.”
Lopez has always enjoyed a good scuffle ever since he was a child growing up in Puerto Rico. Idolizing Felix Trinidad, another Puerto Rican legend, Lopez took to boxing naturally.
“As a kid I liked fighting in the streets,” he said. “I have also watched boxing since I was a little kid and that got me interested. So, I went in the gym and I started bombing everybody.”
Lopez had a very successful amateur career, putting together a 126-24 record. He also won the Puerto Rican national title for five consecutive years and took home a bronze medal at the 2002 Central American Games in El Salvador. Lopez then represented Puerto Rico in the 119-pound weight class at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece, but lost a 27-19 decision to Khavazhi Khatsigov in his first bout.
He turned professional in January of 2005, and feels that it is venue more suited for him and his power.
“I feel more comfortable as a professional,” said Lopez. “There’s less pressure in the professional ring than in the amateur.”
Lopez also feels that the professional ranks have garnered much more attention from Puerto Rican fans.
“When I was an amateur nobody talked about me, but as a professional, more people are paying attention to me,” said Lopez.
Also as a professional, Lopez is comfortable with the publicity team he has in place and feels that it earns him good media attention.
“My team takes care of me and gives me good publicity in the news,” said Lopez.
He now lives in Caguas, Puerto Rico, with his wife of six years and five children. Caguas is also the hometown of WBA welterweight champion Miguel Cotto. The two have never sparred together because of the obvious weight differences.
“We both train in different gyms, but in the same town,” said Lopez
Lopez trains at the Jose “Cheo Aponte” Torres Gym. There he likes to work with younger fighters and give something back to the community.
“My manager and I help out kids in the gym that are turning pro and we help them improve their skills,” said Lopez. “We also give out toys to children in hospitals and schools.”
Going into tonight’s fight with Vargas, Lopez is showing nothing but confidence.
“I feel 100 percent sure of myself and I feel comfortable with my corner and I am going to win,” said Vargas.
Every fighter has championship aspirations. However, it appears that Lopez is only focused on the present when asked about his plans following the bout.
“If I win, I am going to celebrate with my family and then head back to Puerto Rico,” he said.
If Lopez keeps winning, then sportswriters will one day compare up-and-coming fighters to him.