Form For Fury: Mikey Garcia-Juan Manuel Lopez Preview

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“His conception of funerals is that they were mainly to amuse the living.” – Henry James, The Aspern Papers

A few of boxing’s unspoken rules will manifest when featherweights Mikey Garcia and Juan Manuel Lopez square off at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas, Saturday night. One such rule, the soft first defense, dictates a new champion savor the accomplishments of his title winning effort by dispatching an overmatched opponent. Garcia, owner of this fight’s strap, scored his hardware in a January slap-up of diehard Orlando Salido. Lopez has shared the ring with Salido as well, getting knocked silly both times.

There is also the practice of exploiting a fading fighter’s name. Lopez has been declining since a scare against the pedestrian Rogers Mtagwa in 2009, with that slope made more pronounced by better opposition. With wins over Daniel Ponce De Leon, Gerry Penalosa, and Rafael Marquez, however, and the still passionate backing of his countrymen, Lopez, Caguas, Puerto Rico, has enough currency in the sport to squeeze another HBO payday out of his body.

And finally, there is the legerdemain of selling a potential whitewash as entertainment. As accurate as he is patient, Garcia can take ages to get to work, but when he does the results are strikingly definitive; and Lopez, no stranger to the canvas, has long sacrificed form for fury. The likelihood of a knockout however, has little bearing on competition, and equating entertainment solely with a spectacular finish is to not see the forest for the trees. At a glance, there seems very little about Garcia-Lopez that warrants enthusiasm beyond the possibility that someone (Lopez) is deboned to a collective gasp.

All of this theorizing would be razed like a tin shack, of course, if Lopez actually beats Garcia. The question then, is whether, despite the unspoken rules at play, a competitive fight breaks out.

Garcia, Oxnard California, would prefer otherwise. Garcia is a lethal counterpuncher, and to pursue him is to court disaster. Yet Salido, despite four knockdowns in the first four rounds, chose just such a strategy, and was boring into Garcia when a head butt to Garcia’s nose ended the fight. With trainer/brother Robert pulling the plug as the action heated up, questions persist about how Garcia might fare in a dogfight. It will be up to Lopez to provide one.

Lopez, 29, is one of the more spirited assailants in boxing. But while a ruinous puncher, the sacrifices in defense and technique precipitated by his ferocity mitigate the danger somewhat. He has the nasty habit of absorbing the full force of every blow that finds his chin, a problem compounded by his increasingly poor punch resistance. These are minor flaws against the likes of Mike Oliver and Aldimar Santos, but it is hard to envision Lopez remaining upright if he recklessly attacks a fighter of Garcia’s pedigree. The alternative is to try and box Garcia, but that approach is problematic in its own right.

For one, Garcia, 31-0 (26), is the superior boxer: he has better footwork and balance, throws straighter punches, and only dispenses with defense when there is no threat of retaliation. Moreover, he is comfortable disgruntling an audience while waiting to strike. There is a calculating air to Garcia that borders on reticence; as if, like a bee, aggression were potentially fatal. However frustrating this trait, it has served him well. If Lopez wants to box, Garcia, 25, will oblige, confident that his opponent’s porous defense and deteriorating reflexes will inevitably betray him. But Lopez isn’t interested in outboxing anyone.

A born fighter, Lopez lives and dies by his offense. When a fight goes well for him, it is because his aggression overwhelms; when one goes poorly, that same aggression is being exploited. Unable to fall back on the boxing skills he has largely abandoned, and made only more desperate by this failing, Lopez redoubles his assault when the fight turns against him. Against a sniper like Garcia, such fervor will merely expand the target; and that target, having agreed to a deleterious return to featherweight, stands to be riddled.

But for all his vulnerability, Lopez, 33-2 (30), has only lost to Salido—and neither time did he go quietly. Nor is Garcia, clinical and measured, one to make a statement more emphatic than that of victory. If he lets Lopez hang around, lets him wing a bunch of murderous hooks, and just happens to eat one, all those unspoken rules could go out the window. Whether that equates to Lopez having more than a glorified puncher’s chance will be borne out Saturday.

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Tags: JUAN MANUEL LOPEZ Mikey Garcia

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