Throughout the modern era of professional boxing the physical strength versus punching power debate has been ongoing. The media and fans are mesmerized by fighters who have life-taking power and no fighter looks more invincible or unstoppable than an undefeated big puncher on the way up.
What's so often overlooked and flat out missed is, all fighters can punch. No, they're not all destroyers, but they all can hit. However, punching power must be delivered and then what if when delivered the other fighter isn't forced to do what he doesn't want to? Some fighters are too strong to box and to beat them you have to fight them. Maybe not go toe-to-toe and trade, but to have a chance to win you have no other alternative but to engage with them. And often times because of one fighters' superiority in ring strength over the other, the weaker fighter has to do something to try and hold his ground. It's either that or submit, which we know isn't really an option once a fighter is gloved up and in the midst of combat.
As we saw this past weekend for the second time in two fights, despite perhaps being the bigger puncher, Juan Manuel Lopez couldn't do enough damage to Orlando Salido before being stopped by him. Forget about punching angles and foot placement, the reality was, when Lopez, who was noticeably gun shy for a few rounds, landed on Salido who fought a more intelligent fight, he couldn't deter him from proceeding with what he was intent on doing. And a lot of that had to do with Salido being the physically stronger fighter who also possesses the better chin. The sense one got from the onset was that Salido was too strong for Lopez, and Lopez' defense was just too easy for Salido to penetrate with his Sunday punches.
Granted, while he was fresh Lopez was able to stay with Salido. The problem for Lopez was, despite almost knocking Salido out in the fifth round, he couldn't finish him. And the punch Lopez nailed Salido with would've knocked out a horse. Once that didn't work, there was no hope for Lopez. Salido, who is clearly the stronger fighter, by surviving the best Lopez had, began to come on. By the 10th round Lopez was weakened and had nothing left and was ultimately put away. Postfight, Salido's face looks like he was mugged. Only the mugger wasn't strong enough to finish him and take his wallet.
Forget about the Salido-Lopez series for a moment. Look at some other big match ups where the maybe better technician hung with the stronger, more durable fighter until after using up everything they had physically to stay in the fight, they had nothing left after five or so rounds.
Look at the series between former heavyweight champ Joe Frazier and decade long top contender Jerry Quarry. When they met the first time, Jerry tried to take the fight to Joe. And for the better part of three rounds he gave every bit as good as he took. The problem was that in order for Jerry to fight Frazier on even terms during those nine minutes, it took everything he had physically and by the fourth round Quarry's stamina was springing leaks. From the fourth round on Frazier didn't miss a beat and Quarry kept falling more links behind until the fight was stopped after the seventh round due to a terrible eye cut and Jerry not having anything left to defend himself.
When they fought a second time five years later, Quarry had re-invented himself and promised that he wasn't gonna fight Joe's fight and go to war with him again. When that was relayed back to Frazier, he assured the media that once he tagged Jerry with something big, he'd go back to fighting him and then he'd take over the fight. And for the first round Quarry boxed beautifully and wasn't nailed with anything of major consequence. Then came round two and Frazier landed a thundering left-hook to Quarry's jaw. From that moment on Quarry was fighting for his life because he wasn't strong enough to box Joe. Sure, he knew that he wanted to use the ring and keep Frazier turning as he was going away from his left hook, but he lacked the needed physical strength, not punch, to keep Frazier off so he could box him.
We can use Frazier again in his fights with Jimmy Ellis and Muhammad Ali. Both Jimmy and Muhammad wanted to use the ring and time Joe on the way in as they picked their spots. For two rounds Ellis was looking good, then once he ate a big left hook in the third round, he was never able to physically recover and couldn't come out for the fifth round. The biggest difference between Ellis and Ali fighting Frazier was, Ali was physically strong enough to come back after Joe landed a lot of heavy leather on him.
You can't say that Ali really beat up or hit Joe much, if any harder than Ellis did while Jimmy wasn't tired. The difference was Ali was strong enough to not only stand up to Frazier's head and body assault, he was also strong enough to tie Frazier up and force him to break off the exchanges. And even when Ali needed to come up for air, he could go to the ropes and let Joe work his body over, yet in two of their three fights Ali had the needed reserve to come back in the later rounds because he was so physically strong.
Another great example is the two fight series between light heavyweight champs Matthew Saad Muhammad and Marvin Johnson. I remember being in the gym 10 days before their first fight at the Spectrum in Philadelphia when Johnson came to Frazier's to train. On his last day before the fight when he came in to just warm up, trainer George Benton told Johnson that Saad was as strong as a wild bull, and for Johnson to assure himself a win, he couldn't trade with or engage Saad in a brutal fight that turned into a war. Yes, Johnson was probably the sharper puncher of the two, but Saad had a great chin was prohibitively stronger than Marvin.
When they met in the ring Johnson dominated the first eight rounds, hitting Saad with left and right uppercuts that should've landed his head in the upper rafters. But as Benton warned, Saad was so strong and couldn't be broken by a fighter who wasn't as strong as he was. After beating Saad for eight rounds Johnson started to tire and the wall in front of him started to fire back at Johnson who lacked the strength and energy to stabilize Saad's rally. Johnson attempted in vain to box Saad and keep the fight from becoming a war of attrition. But due to him emptying his wagon in trying to either get “Miracle” Matthew out of there or deplete him enough to the point where he couldn't come on at the end, it took everything out of Johnson and he couldn't hold him off and was stopped late in the 12th and final round.
In their rematch two years later the same scenario was repeated. Only this time Johnson's strength and energy were depleted in eight rounds. So regardless of how well he fought and boxed while he was fresh along with him being the better technician, Marvin Johnson wasn't physically strong enough to defeat Matthew Saad Muhammad the only way he could, by boxing him. In two fights Johnson had the early formula to beat Saad, but the physicality of Saad dictated the outcome of both fights. And like Salido this weekend, Saad looked like the loser after both fights.
When all is said and done, Juan Manuel Lopez lacks the needed physical tools to get the execution fighting Orlando Salido. He doesn't have enough punching power to stop him, and once he gets winded and slows down some, he isn't physically strong enough to box and survive an emerging Salido. Like any fighter in that predicament, once Lopez realizes that he can't get rid of Salido and he's growing confident and escalating his attack, JuanMa begins to rush his shots. At this point Xs & O's are forgotten and the only thing he's running on is trying to survive until he comes up with something or lands a lottery punch.
If Lopez and Salido fought only four or six round bouts, Lopez would have the edge because Salido can't really get to Lopez until he expends himself. While fresh Lopez can handle anything Salido tries. The problem is, for him to keep Salido somewhat under control, it takes everything out of him physically and in a long damaging fight, Lopez lacks the needed physicality to make it to the end of the 12th round.
The asset of physical ring strength (much different than who is simply the stronger man) and durability is monumental in determining the outcome between two closely matched world class fighters. No, it's not the be all end all but it effects so much of what transpires after fighters touch each other and feel the physical presence of each other. In the end the stronger fighter isn't guaranteed to be the winner every time out, but it sure is a huge advantage that's very difficult to address and overcome. And the biggest punchers aren't necessarily always the stronger fighter physically.