Undefeated world champions JUAN MANUEL “JuanMa” LOPEZ and YURIORKIS GAMBOA will be serving hard shots of tropical punch when they defend their titles, in separate fights, headlining “Island Warriors: Latin Fury 12,” Saturday, October 10, broadcast Live on Pay-Per-View from the WaMu Theater in the “Mecca of Boxing,” Madison Square Garden. Lopez will be defending his World Boxing Organization (WBO) junior featherweight title against top contender and Tanzania native ROGERS MTAGWA. Gamboa will be defending his World Boxing Association (WBA) featherweight belt against Panamanian strongman WHYBER GARCIA. The televised portion of this boxing extravaganza will begin at 9 p.m. ET / 6 p.m. PT with two exciting 10-round bouts – undefeated Top-10 heavyweight contender ODLANIER SOLIS of Cuba against two-time world title challenger FRES OQUENDO of Puerto Rico, and super welterweight contenders PAWEL WOLAK of Poland against CARLOS NASCIMENTO of Brazil. These eight sluggers boast a combined record of 182-25-2 (132 KOs), a winning percentage of 87% and a victory by knockout ratio of 73%.
Top-10 middleweight contender and New York fan favorite IRELAND’S JOHN DUDDY will also be featured, on the non-televised undercard in a 10-round middleweight bout.
JuanMa gave his thoughts on the upcoming bout, and what might come next, on a conference call last week.
TODD DUBOEF (President, Top Rank): We are real excited about this event. As you know, we have a real forte of developing fighters and having young prospects. Even though we are in the middle of football and in the middle of the baseball playoffs, we think this is the right place to be. I am going to use October like we are at the beginning of the year for guys like JuanMa and Gamboa and Solis, Wolak and Omar Chavez, guys that are all going to be on this great show. We think this is a significant show for everyone to see their progress.
PETER RIVERA (PR Best Boxing, JuanMa co-promoter): We are very excited. We all know that Top Rank has done a great job building fighters such as Miguel Cotto and it has worked. We are expecting a lot of Puerto Ricans at the fights.
JUAN MANUEL LOPEZ: I just want to let everyone know that I am very grateful for this opportunity to be on this great show. I have worked very hard preparing myself for anything and everything that can happen in the ring. I know Rogers Mtagwa is a tough guy but I am ready for him and I am more than ready to do battle.
Is there an incentive fighting on the same night as Israel Vazquez knowing that may be a future fight?
JUAN MANUEL LOPEZ: Without a doubt I am going to be rooting for him to win. I am going to win on the same night and I do look forward to fighting him in the future. I know there are a lot of good fights out there and my company is going to be making those great fights for me. Yes, that is one guy I would look forward to fighting if there is an opportunity to do so.
Caballero has been saying a lot of things about you…
JUAN MANUEL LOPEZ: Right now I am just concentrating on my fight with Mtagwa. I know he is out there and I’m looking forward to shutting his mouth up once and for all. I am just looking forward to October 10 and there are some big names out there that I can fight and whoever is next, is next.
Fighting in New York?
JUAN MANUEL LOPEZ: The opportunity to fight in New York is obviously a pinpoint market for a Puerto Rican. It is a great opportunity for me and I didn’t expect it to happen this soon. I am just very happy that it is going to be coming up and I am going to fight in such an important arena.
Gamboa in the future?
JUAN MANUEL LOPEZ: As you may know I am doing this and maybe one more fight at 122 and I am looking forward to going up to 126 and it is a fight that has been mentioned and a fight that is out there and if it can be done, great. It is a great challenge for me and I think it is a great fight for both of us.
Will he watch Gamboa fight in the dressing room or watch later?
JUAN MANUEL LOPEZ: I will be focused on my fight in the dressing room but I may take a couple of glances at the TV. If the fight comes and it happens…I do know him very well. I have had the opportunity to see him fight a few times and I know how he fights and I know what he likes to do. There is no doubt in my mind that when we do fight I can beat him but it will be a tough fight.
TODD DUBOEF: I just want to mention that this will be the first time that there will be a TV blackout into the locker room so he doesn’t get distracted. Yes, I was joking, but obviously he has to perform and I wouldn’t throw away not considering it because he’s got a big road a head of him. He may just have one more fight at 122 and October 10 is a big performance for him.
Is JuanMa excited that he is the centerpiece and all fighters want to fight him and no one else?
JUAN MANUEL LOPEZ: It is a big compliment when people talk to me like that, about me being the centerpiece. It is not only me, my company has worked and my team has worked to put me at this point in my career and now it is up to me to do what they expect me to do.
TODD DUBOEF: It is true that he has to do what he has to do but through our relationship with Peter Rivera or PR Best Boxing. We develop these business models around these young men that they become the epicenter of where the storm is. There are people out there that know where the money is and the fighters are the biggest attraction.
JUAN MANUEL LOPEZ: We take this one step at a time and we make sure everything is right and everything is correct as we move ahead. The opportunities are out there but we have to take them one step at a time. We can’t run to them, I know I am not a rookie any more but I am not at the elite level yet and I need a big fight that will put me at the elite level. I am working towards that we are all working towards that. Just take my time and make it right and make it perfect.
Strengths and weaknesses of Mtagwa?
JUAN MANUEL LOPEZ: He is a guy that comes at you and throws a lot of punches. He is kind of awkward and throws punches from a lot of directions and he plans to overwhelm you with punches. But he also leaves himself open so you can counter-punch him and you can get some real good punches at him – he’s not a good defender. I think if I put my punches together I think he is a guy that I can knockout.
How is this going to be different for you to fight in the Mecca of Boxing?
JUAN MANUEL LOPEZ: It is very important for me to look great and to show everyone in New York, not only the Puerto Ricans but everyone that is there who comes to see our fights that I am a good fighter and I can do something special. I am looking forward to doing something very impressive because I do want to go back to the big building. I do want to fight in the big building and hopefully soon. Not only that, but I want to show all the people watching these great fights on TV.
JUAN MANUEL LOPEZ: I like to show them a little bit of everything. I know I’m a great defensive fighter. I know I’m a great offensive fighter. Everyone knows my power. I like to show them a little bit of everything that I can do.
Fighting in the Garden atmosphere…
JUAN MANUEL LOPEZ: We all want to be like Cotto fighting in the big arena at Madison Square Garden, that’s what we all look forward to. That’s what I look forward to and I have to work hard to get there, but don’t doubt me, I will get there. I will have one of those great fights there.
They always talk about the great Puerto Rican fighters that fight at the Garden, how do you feel being compared to that?
JUAN MANUEL LOPEZ: It is a great honor to be compared to Trinidad and Cotto and Gomez. People that compare me to them – it is a great honor. I know they have heart to get to where they did. I know how hard I work to get to where I am. I know if I work harder I will be at the same level as those guys.
TODD DUBOEF: There are two kinds of clock with these young fighters in this business. One is their marketability clock and one is their boxing ability clock. When we have a guy that is in the epicenter of these big fights being done with the different types of opponents that he has in front of him, we have to take both of those things into consideration. Mtagwa is going to be a fight that you are on pins and needles with. He had a run of three or four first round knockouts and that was great for his marketability, but the truth is what did it do for his boxing ability? We don’t know. So these types of matches are the types that will test him, make him a better fighter and an attraction at the same time.
Have you done anything different to prepare for Mtagwa?
JUAN MANUEL LOPEZ: I think of a couple of guys that were bigger and stronger that have moved down to fight me, I’m thinking of (Gilberto) Bolanos (2006) and (Hugo) Dianzo (2007). They were tough fights and difficult fights but I think I am very prepared for those types of fighters now.
I have not had the opportunity nor the opponent that has made me use all of my skills that I have. I think that I have all the skills that I need in the ring, I just haven’t had a fighter pressure me to make me use all of my boxing skills yet. There will be a time in my career and if I go up to 126 I’m sure there will be some guys there that my take my power away but I will be the same action fighter that I am now.
Do you worry about taking too many punches with his high-action style?
JUAN MANUEL LOPEZ: It is a style that has done well for me and I don’t think I’ve been in trouble in any of my fights. I don’t think I’ve been in any unnecessary wars yet. I like to give the fans a good show and I do the best that I can, but if there comes a time that I have to do something else to win, I will.
What is the difference preparing to fight in the Garden compare to Puerto Rico, if any?
JUAN MANUEL LOPEZ: The fight preparation is the same. Obviously the night of the fight because all of my family can be there and all my kids can be there. We do feel that we are away. I do love fighting in Puerto Rico and having the great backing of my family and everyone involved. But I do know that it is important to go outside and get people to know me.