Orlando Salido looks to turn Puerto Rico into Snake Island for the local hero one more time when he faces Juan Manuel Lopez tonight at the Coliseo Roberto Clemente in San Juan.
Lopez, 31-1 (28), will be looking to avenge his upset TKO loss to Salido last spring. Between celebrity gallivanting, marital difficulties, too much time in the hammock, and, perhaps, one too many servings of Arroz con Dulce, Lopez was ill-prepared to face a rough-and-ready grinder like Salido last April. Quibbling about the stoppage was much ado about nothing, since Lopez had already been dropped once in the fifth, took a beating in the sixth, and was rocked again and again before referee Roberto Ramirez, Jr. jumped in to halt the action halfway through the eighth.
Now, with his personal problems behind him, Lopez looks to enter the rematch in peak condition. But will that help his poor defense any? Lopez has less head movement than that of a figure carved in the middle of a totem pole. In addition, he is susceptible to overhand rights and perversely fails to help his cause by dropping his hands when breaking off combinations. His biggest flaw, however, is his temperament. No sooner is Lopez, Caguas, Puerto Rico, clipped than he bangs his gloves together, asks for more, and begins to mix it up in anger. “Machismo” still exists in boxing, of course, you just have to look somewhere other than P-4-P lists, where headliners somehow earn accolades for elbows, butts, two-steps, and a vast array of Greco-Roman maneuvers. Fighting spirit is no longer a requirement to be a star these days, it seems, but Lopez, to his detriment, has enough of it to keep any real aficionado short of breath for as long as he remains in the ring. Indeed, Lopez is one of a handful of fighters who understand that boxing is an action sport and that the audience does not pay for tickets in order to flip through back issues of Cat Fancy at ringside. It is always hurricane season whenever Lopez enters the ring in Puerto Rico and tonight will be no different.
There is no way Lopez can look any more sluggish than he did last April, but Salido, Ciudad Obregon, Sonora, Mexico, remains a tough assignment no matter how hard Lopez has trained this time around. Salido has survived the kind of poverty that serves as a backdrop for UNICEF commercials, brutal KO losses early in his career, a suspension, some personal problems, and, maybe most impressive of all, the pitiless world of prizefighting itself, where the 99 percent toil under the ghastliest of circumstances. After 16 years as a solid journeyman—swinging the short end of the stick wherever some knowing promoter would dangle a paycheck—Salido remains as hungry as ever. Playing banana man to stars and would-be stars is a hard way for a pug to make money for managers, promoters, trainers, and cutmen. “This fight represents my future,” Salido told El Vocero, “and this is why I am at a thousand percent.” Against Lopez last April, Salido, 31, decided to drop the predictable shtick and ad-libbed with sneaky rights, feints, a consistent body attack, and the occasional hard counter left. He will look to repeat the same act in San Juan and hope that Lopez will wilt under pressure once more.
After all, Lopez has not exactly resembled El Morro in durability over the last couple of years. He was nearly stopped by Rogers Mtagwa, was wobbled by the much smaller Rafael Marquez, and was dropped by overmatched Bernabe Concepcion. Salido, of course, toppled him in eight. Since then, Lopez has scored a single meaningless comeback victory over a shot Mike Oliver, notching a second-round TKO in a fight not fit for agate type. Meanwhile, Salido turned back Kenichi Yamaguchi in 11 and struggled against Weng Haya en route to an 8th-round TKO win. Haya floored Salido hard late in the third round of their shootout. Salido, 37-11-2-1 (25), was so badly hurt that he could not completely recover between rounds, and he hit the deck again within seconds of the bell to start the fourth from a light left to the jaw. But Haya did not have the skill to finish what he started, and Salido roared back to stop his unheralded tormentor. Still, the question should be asked: has Salido, who has been dropped four times in his last four starts, lost his resiliency? If so, then this fight may come down to who can take the most for the longest.
No doubt Lopez, a surprising favorite on most books, will be in better shape and far more focused than he was in April. If he decides to box more and work behind his southpaw jab, then he ought to be able to pick his spots with more care and possibly hurt Salido. It is a boxing adage that most fighters who are knocked out once by an opponent get knocked out quicker in a rematch. This axiom has been thrown for a loop recently by Miguel Cotto (against Antonio Margarito) and Cornelius Bundrage (against Sechew Powell), but can Lopez continue the trend? At 28, “Juanma” has looked sloppy for too long now to think he can suddenly transform into a smooth boxer-puncher overnight. Would we have it any other way?
In boxing, as in life, being careful is no guarantee against the capriciousness of chance or fate. No, and after the first hard, hurtful exchange between the ropes, Lopez simply will not give a damn and will likely ask for more.
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