JUANMA, SALIDO: AN HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE

LOPEZ, SALIDO: Lightning doesn't always strike twice. / Photo: SUMIO YAMADA
Location: 
BAYAMON, PR, March 10
Graham's Odds: 
Lopez -140; Salido +120
Over 10.5 +140; under 10.5 -165

In theory, a boxer who stops his opponent should be able to win the rematch, perhaps more quickly, but ring history shows this simply isn’t so. Many times, the boxer who lost the first time gets his payback in the encore.
 
Puerto Rico’s Juan Manuel Lopez will be seeking to turn the tables on Mexican veteran Orlando Salido in their eagerly awaited return bout on Saturday night, and the oddsmakers say he will get his revenge.
 
Lopez will again be on home turf, with a big crowd behind him. In the first fight, last April, Lopez stormed to an early lead on the judges’ scorecards, suffered a knockdown in the fifth round, seemed to be back on track in the seventh and then got caught by big punches in the eighth round and just “went”.
 
It is fights such as Saturday’s rematch (for the WBO featherweight title) that keep boxing aficionados endlessly intrigued, and Showtime viewers in the U.S. and fans watching on BoxNation in the U.K. might be witness to one of the most vivid fights of the year because there seems certain to be high tension in every round, and quite possibly some torrid exchanges, before one or the other fighter gains ascendancy.
 
Sometimes, a fighter loses because he simply wasn’t prepared for the type of performance the other man produced. Think of Lennox Lewis being far too confident heading into his bouts with Oliver McCall and Hasim Rahman — and Lewis clearly was not in the best possible condition for the fight with Rahman. These were one-punch upsets, though. Lewis learned from his mistakes and was fully focused and ready to fight in the rematches, which he won easily.
 
I wonder if the upset loss last April might have been largely due to Lopez not being mentally and physically conditioned to overcome the very determined challenge he faced from Salido that night. Lopez had been going through domestic turmoil and there seems little doubt that he had to lose far too much weight in too short a period of time. I suspect, too, that he might have underestimated Salido. Now, Lopez’s personal life looks settled and he is clearly in tremendous physical condition for the rematch. Lopez had the look of a winner at Friday’s weigh-in, supremely confident, as if he knows that this time he is as ready as he can possibly be.
 
Last April, Salido was able to endure in the face of fierce onslaughts — he simply hung on a bit longer than his opponent as the action blazed back and forth. One would think that  Salido has the psychological advantage because he prevailed last time. He might feel that he took Lopez’s best punches whereas Lopez ultimately couldn’t take Salido’s shots. In Lopez’s mind, though, will be the fortifying thought that Salido wasn’t facing the real JuanMa Lopez that night.
 
Boxers who lost glorious give-and-take wars but won the rematch include Stanley Ketchel, Rocky Graziano and Humberto “Chiquita” Gonzalez.
 
If you can believe the contemporary newspaper accounts, the September 1908 middleweight title bout between Ketchel and Billy Papke was “one of the bloodiest in ring history”. Papke dropped Ketchel in the first 80 seconds and it was felt that Ketchel never really recovered, but the old Michigan Assassin fought gamely, both eyes swollen and closing, until two more knockdowns in the 12th round ended the fight in Papke’s favour. In the rematch, though, on Nov. 28, 1908, Ketchel dominated the fight with “swift assaults” before knocking out Papke in the 11th round. “I anticipated the result long before I entered the ring and backed my opinion with my own money,” Ketchel was quoted as telling the scribes of the day.
 
Graziano and Tony Zale fought three times for the middleweight title but the first two bouts were the ones that rank among the most savagely contested in ring history. Zale, the superior technician, stopped Graziano in the sixth round of the first fight, at Yankee Stadium on September 27, 1946, but as one contemporary reporter noted, Graziano had “trained harder and longer than he ever did before” for the rematch at Chicago Stadium nine months later, when he overpowered Zale in the sixth round. Graziano was cut over the left eye and the right eye was swollen and closing, but “Pitilessly, tirelessly, savagely Graziano slashed at Zale, driving rights and lefts to the head, face and jaw,” as The New York Times reported until, in round six, “Zale was rendered helpless to protect himself.”
 
The first of the three light-flyweight title bouts between Michael Carbajal and Chiquita Gonzalez was a scaled-down version of Zale-Graziano, with Carbajal surviving two knockdowns to knock out Gonzalez in the seventh round at the Las Vegas Hilton on March 13, 1993. In the rematch, though, at the Great Western Forum in Los Angeles 11 months later, Gonzalez switched tactics, using a moving, boxing, countering style instead of going right at Carbajal. The change worked, with Gonzalez taking a split decision after 12 nip-and-tuck rounds. Gonzalez suffered a cut between the eyes after a clash of heads in the third round but he stuck to a smart, disciplined method of boxing, showing “patience and poise” as I reported from ringside for Boxing Monthly. “He hadn’t fought an exciting fight, to be sure, but he fought the right fight,” I wrote.
 
Will Lopez fight the right fight on Saturday night? Lopez has shown he can produce technical excellence — I remember how beautifully he boxed when outclassing Cuauhtemoc Vargas on ShoBox five years ago — but it seems that JuanMa has fallen in love with his firepower. If he goes in blasting away at Salido it could be anyone’s fight, because each man has shown vulnerability — Salido was shockingly floored twice by an ordinary Filipino fighter last December, while Lopez suffered wobbly moments against Rogers Mtagwa and Rafael Marquez and had to pick himself off the canvas to stop Bernabe Concepcion.
 
If Lopez stands off, boxes, and seeks to time Salido for precise punches from his southpaw stance, he could do very well — but one senses that that at some point in the fight heavy punches will be thrown and landed and that even if Lopez starts off by being wary he will soon enough find himself drawn into in a war.
 
Salido is very experienced, and the 31-year-old from Obregon knows he must keep a tight defence and wait for the right moment before he starts to gamble a bit and unload the right hands and left hooks that ended Lopez’s unbeaten record last April. Despite the odds in Lopez’s favour, I make this a spin-of-the-coin type of fight and it would not shock me whoever wins. If the winner is Lopez, he will join Ketchel, Graziano, Gonzalez — among others — in a select band of boxers who have shown that lightning doesn’t necessarily strike twice.
 
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