What a difference a fight can make.
Last year, prior to the first meeting between Juan Manuel Lopez and Orlando Salido, Lopez was regarded as one of boxing's future superstars. Considered by many to be a potential pound for pound talent, as well as a huge box office smash, due to his crowd pleasing style, Lopez could do no wrong. Apart from Pacquiao versus Mayweather, Juan Manuel Lopez versus Yuriorkis Gamboa was considered THE must see fight in boxing, in the eyes of many.
Orlando Salido had other ideas.
In the biggest upset of 2011, the undefeated Lopez, 32-1 [28 kos] was sensationally stopped in the eighth round by 8 -1 underdog Salido, 35-11 [23 kos]. Lopez versus Gamboa has now lost it's glamour.
This Saturday, at the Calise Roberto Clemente in Puerto Rico, the 28 year-old Lopez has a chance of redemption when he gets his rematch with Salido in yet another chapter in the now famous Mexico versus Puerto Rico boxing rivalry. The contest, televised by Showtime, will be for Salido's 126 pound title.
Up until the Salido fight, Lopez was on the fast track to stardom. Winning his first world title at bantamweight, via a stunning first round knockout over the always tough Daniel Ponce De Leon, Lopez rapidly progressed through the ranks and weights, with successful title defenses against the likes of Gerry Penalosa and Rogers Mtagwa, before moving up to featherweight and continuing his run with wins over Steve Luevano, Bernabe Concepcion and Rafael Marquez.
Contrary to Lopez, the 31 year-old Salido was never considered to be one of boxing's prodigal sons. He plied his trade the old fashioned way. Suffering numerous defeats, during the early part of his career, Salido seemed barely a C level fighter. However, after a nine fight winning streak, which was eventually halted by fellow Mexican, Juan Manuel Marquez, Salido's talent was starting to become apparent. His improvement continued with wins over Mtagwa [ in less difficult fashion than Lopez managed ], Robert Guerrero [ later ruled a no contest due to a failed drugs test ] and an avenged loss to Cristobal Cruz, in which Salido claimed the IBF 126 pound title.
Moving on from their last contest back in April of last year, both fighters have failed to impress. Lopez looked less than spectacular whilst stopping light hitting American Mike Oliver in two. Meanwhile Salido was dropped twice on route to stopping Filipino Weng Haya in eight rounds.
Lopez, a dangerous southpaw, is the owner of knockout power in either hand. Although most of his attacks begin with the right jab, he often leads with power shots, in particular his right hook and overhand left. While Lopez does not invest to the body as much as he should, he is not just a head hunter either. Lopez' best weapon is his overhand left, which combined with his right hooks and uppercuts, make him one of the better combination punchers in boxing. Once Lopez has an opponent hurt, his size and strength simply overwhelm his opponents. He is among the best finishers in boxing.
Because of his lack of footspeed and less than great skills in close, Lopez, at his best, inflicts the most damage to his opponents at mid-range.
What makes Lopez so captivating to watch is his vulnerability, which is direct a result of his defensive neglect and seemingly poor chin. Lopez' entire emphasis is on attack, so much so, that he has been hurt in fights [ Mtagwa and Concepcion ] when he really shouldn't have been. As with a lot of southpaws, Lopez has also looked vulnerable to the right hand. More worryingly, Salido seemed to find a home for it in their last fight.
Technically, there is nothing flashy about Lopez' movement, he will circle counter- clockwise from time to time, behind his jab. Before marching foward trying to land his power shots. Lopez is always pressing the attack. Despite Lopez preferring to be right in front of his man, he is not comfortable right in close. When he had Concepcion hurt in their fight, he took a step back, almost to regain his optimum distance at which he likes to get his punches off.
Salido, fighting out of an orthodox stance, is a more thinking man's fighter than Lopez. While he is not a pure boxer, there is a lot more strategy involved in his work. On the surface, Salido seems like the stereotypical Mexican fighter, walking foward behind a high guard, taking two to land one, looking to get inside and land his power shots. Looks can be misleading.
Yes, Salido likes to come foward, yes, he is aggressive, but there are lot of subtleties that can sometimes go unnoticed. Salido is superb at creating punching angles. He achieves this by slipping punches on the inside, and coming back with a counter. Salido also likes to throw punches, away from the target, with the intention of countering straight back, because of his new found angle. While Salido is not a particularly hard puncher, he is an accurate puncher. Because of his limited handspeed, he has been forced to work a lot more on the timing of his punches, something Yuriorkis Gamboa found out during their bout. His overhand right that he likes to throw in close or at mid-range, is by far his most productive punch.
Salido, as proven in the past, is more than capable of fighting bell to bell. His stamina, for a fighter of 31, in a smaller weight class, is tremendous.
Perhaps the most effective part of Salido's arsenal is his comfort level in close. Granted, he is no Pernell Whitaker, but Salido is not that easy to hit clean. His clarity and experience on the inside enable him to see most of the action amid heavy fire.
Like their first fight, Salido will again be the underdog. Lopez will be looking to prove the result of their last fight was nothing more than a minor set-back, whilst pursuing bigger and better things. Of course Lopez is capable of winning the fight. His heavy handedness is a "get out of jail free card" if ever there was one. Let's also remind ourselves that like last time, the fight is in Lopez' native Puerto rico. At the time of the stoppage, the judges had the fight even going into the ninth round, despite the fact many thought Salido was in control and winning the fight.
In terms of what both fighters require from the other, they both oblige. Although Lopez is the more athletic of the two, neither fighter is blessed with great speed or movement. Neither fighter wants to go looking for the other. They will be right in front of each other, willing to trade shots.
This is the reason why Salido came out on top last time. Salido is by far the more polished fighter in close. He is not as wreckless as Lopez is. Using the last fight as evidence, look at their body shapes during most of the exchanges. Lopez, looking to land his wide power shots in close, was standing square on to Salido, with his feet parallel to his shoulders. Contrast this to the way Salido was standing. Salido, with his right shoulder and left [front] foot, almost in a six o`clock position, was in a perfect position to throw a straighter, less telegraphed right hand.
Simply put, Salido has a better understanding of punching angles than Lopez does. If both fighter's are throwing at the same time, technical correctness will win the day. Think of Nonito Donaire beating Fernando Montiel to the punch as an example.
Lopez cannot afford to get into a gunslinging contest with Salido again. While Lopez has a significant edge in power, Salido has the edge in precision and poise. There is more craft, than craziness, to his work. Last time out, Lopez was hit over and over by Salido's overhand right. Lopez had no answer for it because of his lack of head or upper body movement. Suicide, when operating within punching range. Salido on the other hand, often utilises head movement in close. He also likes to dip and bend at the waist on offense and defense.
In order for Lopez to avoid the right hand, he needs to learn how to adapt in the ring. If Lopez goes in with the same strategy as last time, expect the craftier Salido to once again expose Juanma's defensive flaws. Instead, Lopez should take a look at how Gamboa was successful against Salido. The Cuban was able to keep Salido guessing as to where the next attack was coming from. By using more movement and distance, he made Salido walk to him, which enabled Gamboa to come in from different angles, landing his combinations.
The problem of course, is whether or not Lopez can adjust. If he can, then maybe we will see a more rangy, counterpunching based strategy with more in the way of lateral movement. If not, then we will probably have a repeat of the first leg as Lopez will be standing flat footed, stalking and looking to land his power shots while disregarding his defensive responsibility, as Salido, proving he is the better technician in close, will be landing his right hand all night long.
This really is the last chance saloon for Lopez. Defeat wouldsurely put a fatal bullet in his chances of becoming a major box office performer. For his sake then, let's hope he doesn't opt for a gun fight. Salido has already proven that he will be the last man standing if Lopez decides to take that avenue.