“I like you. You are a nice monster.” Tennessee Williams
In a breathtaking display of ultraviolence, veteran dangerman Orlando Salido battered fearless but outgunned Juan Manuel Lopez into a 10th-round TKO defeat before a packed Coliseo Roberto Clemente in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Saturday night.
With the win, Salido, whose know-how can serve as a how-to for any number of young fighters, puts himself into the fray for big money fights. Or, paradoxically, perhaps he has taken himself right out of them. Either way, his give-and-take melee with Lopez solidifies his standing as a genuine prizefighter, a man whose discipline and professionalism—along with an overriding air of Mexican-style menefreghista—will take him anywhere and under any circumstances. No matter where he goes, Salido will pack nothing but trouble in his suitcase, like a gunslinger who never forgets to take extra rounds with him to Dodge City.
Lopez, 125 ¾, opened the rematch moving predominately to his right—away from the right hand that had bedeviled him all night last April. It was a sign that he had made adjustments going into battle, but no sooner was he moving to the right than Salido was cracking him with hard lefts. Operating from behind his flicking southpaw jab, Lopez appeared ready to box; a counter right hook from the outside seemed to be his preferred weapon. Still, Salido, 126, built an early lead over the first four rounds, pressing the action and landing the more effective blows throughout, including two rights that wobbled Lopez and a ripping uppercut that jarred Lopez along the ropes in the third. As always, Lopez tried to fire back, but his timing seemed off and his balance was poor.
It should be noted, right from the start, that Lopez did not appear to be particularly sharp once the fight got underway. Every time Salido connected with a blow, Lopez shook, teetered, or staggered. In fact, with the possible exception of the first, Lopez appeared to be hurt in every round of the fight. In addition, his balance was woeful, and he seemed uncoordinated when he tried mounting an offense, often scissoring his feet as he stepped in to throw combinations. These are some of the early signs of being a shot fighter, and his general raggedness suggested something Davey Moore said about Wilfred Benitez after scoring a freaky second-round TKO over “El Radar” in 1984. “He’s still a young man,” said Moore, “but he’s an old fighter.” If Lopez, 28, is indeed bottoming out, then the courageous stand he made against Salido in San Juan is all the more remarkable.
Lopez did not seem to affect Salido much until the fifth, when he caught an onrushing Salido with a counter right hook that might have been laid out with a protractor, so short and precise was its angle. Salido went down—the fifth time he has hit the canvas in his last five fights—but beat the count, and the bell rang to save him from further punishment. The two men taunted each other before returning to their respective corners.
Rounds six and seven saw Lopez, Caguas, Puerto Rico, retreating in a straight line and Salido chasing him down, rocking “Juanma” with left hooks. Lopez landed a crack right in the sixth, but spent the last 30 seconds of the round taking abuse. Another left shook Lopez in the seventh, but he rebounded with a one-two before Salido, 31, returned fire, crashing rights and lefts against his—as always—exposed jaw.
With his strength ebbing, Lopez seemed to make a conscious decision just before the start of the eighth round, one that, strange as it sounds, could have been plucked from Sartre: “I hate victims who respect their executioners.” For Lopez, it was a leap of faith, an act of sheer will in the face of grim reality. These are the choices real prizefighters make, existential choices, ones that seem to have little to do with sport as we know it. After being outfought over the first half of the bout, Lopez chose to try to alter his waiting destiny by redoubling his fury. Predestination, in a boxing ring, is for losers. Of course, this is why we see so much of it these days, from abject mismatches to fighters who play it safe in the ring at every moment to those who shy away from risk in order to survive to hear the final bell. How much was Lopez willing to give in order to win? Everything, it turns out.
Incredibly, the two-handed cannonade Lopez unleashed in the eighth was against a different Salido, now turned counterpuncher and using the furious energy Lopez generated to his own advantage. Lopez threw punches raggedly from all angles, and as the round wore on, he looked more like a kamikaze in the ring than a world-class fighter. Although Lopez pressed the action behind one fierce barrage after another, it was Salido who landed the most effective blows, and by the end of the round, Lopez was being lashed by left-rights. After 16 years as a pro, Salido, Ciudad Obregon, Sonora, Mexico, is simply too clever to be bowled over by rudimentary aggression, no matter how intense it is.
In the ninth, they went to work with bone-chilling zest, not only against each other, it seemed, but, symbolically, against the humdrum order of modern prizefighting, where a larger-than-life pursuit is shriveled down to size week by week by week by assorted HTML superstars. With thousands of spectators on their feet howling, Salido took Lopez apart piece by piece, ripping shots to the head and body while Lopez flailed, for the most part, artlessly. But Lopez showed incredible resolve by taking flush punches repeatedly and firing back in response. At one point the two men exchanged a series of vicious bodyshots in close, whipsawing both hands in a blur. Lopez also landed a crushing right hook that backed Salido into the ropes. As glorious as his last stand was, however, there seemed to be more than a hint of fatalism in it. Lopez, flat-footed, threw wide punches with complete disregard for his own safety, and walked right into a number of shots seemingly oblivious to the fact that they were scattering his neurons. Indeed, Lopez wobbled to his corner when the bell rang to end three minutes of mayhem. Between rounds, Lopez was spent, and he leaned his buzzing head against the shoulder of his trainer before the bell sounded to toll his downfall.
Lopez, 31-2 (28), had nothing left in the 10th, and Salido immediately froze him with a left-right. Two pinpoint uppercuts followed by a left then sent Lopez crashing. Lopez hit the canvas hard, his neck whiplashing violently with the impact, and the fact that he made it to his feet so quickly was a testament to both his heart and to the fact that he was completely disoriented. As referee Robert Ramirez, Sr., tolled the mandatory eight, Lopez, glassy-eyed, staggered like a man who had polished off an entire bottle of Don Q by himself. Later, after Ramirez had called an end to the fight, Lopez tried to protest but found himself still reeling on unsteady legs.
Ragtag technique aside, what Lopez lacks most as a fighter is a certain sangfroid in the ring, the ability to move on from setbacks from moment to moment and round to round. Combine this flaw in temperament with the fact that he takes flush blows without turning his head or riding with punches, and you have a fighter destined for long nights in the ring. Final CompuBox stats—not always a reliable reflection of what occurs between the ropes—revealed that Salido outlanded Lopez in powerpunches by a 230-111 count. Not even a margin of error of significant percentage can make those figures look good for Lopez. For every clean shot Lopez would land, Salido, now 38-11-2-1 (26), would respond with two or three thundering punches.
In a postfight interview with Jim Gray, Lopez made outrageous accusations concerning Ramirez, Sr., and may have taken something away from his valiant performance by doing so. But Lopez, who looked like he wanted to fight until the bitterest of bitter ends, has the kind of pride and self-belief that can be found in only the most pathological—and successful—prizefighters. Doubt can be as fatal to a fighter as it is for a tightrope walker or a knife thrower, and Lopez was not going to admit defeat after the fight any easier than he would during it.
Lopez suffered a drawn-out beating against Salido, but, even when all was lost, when he had risen–bloody and bruised–from the canvas like a man waking from a morphine dream, there was nothing he wanted more than to face his tormentor again. It was the ugliest beautiful thing you can ever see in a ring.
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