Photos by Sumio Yamada
ORLANDO SALIDO TKO10 JUAN MANUEL LOPEZ
I doubt if we will see a better fight this year than the featherweight championship war in Puerto Rico on Saturday night when Orlando Salido repeated his previous stoppage win over Juan Manuel Lopez. It was a fight that had everything, with shifts of fortune, knockdowns — and a commitment to victory by Salido that was quite extraordinary.
Salido fought furiously and wouldn’t be denied. He was relentless in his attack. Down in the closing moments of the fifth, he came storming back to batter Lopez around the ring in the next round and finally overpowered him in the 10th.
Of course, Lopez’s post-fight comments in the ring were regrettable. He has since apologised, but his verbal attack on referee Roberto Ramirez Sr. was an astonishing outburst that soured what had been a spectacularly good night for boxing. We saw the sport at its finest and then ill-chosen remarks tarnished the evening.
The British Boxing Board has a policy in which fighters are not permitted to speak to the TV interviewer until they have been checked over by the doctor. This provides a certain cooling-off period. Comments made in the heat of the moment are thus less likely. The policy stems, I believe, from a remark made by Chris Eubank after his brutal victory over Michael Watson, when Eubank suggested that Watson, who had fought with amazing intensity, must have been “on something”. Eubank was seeking to pay tribute to the extraordinary physical and mental endurance that Watson displayed that night, but it came out the wrong way.
Whatever one thinks of Lopez’s choice of words, there is no denying his fighting heart. He gave his all, but it wasn’t enough against a Salido who fought with a fury that bordered on the fanatical. When Lopez dropped Salido with a right hook from his southpaw stance late in the fifth round it looked briefly as if he was going to avenge last April’s defeat, but the Mexican fighter attacked in the sixth as if nothing had happened, which must have been discouraging for Lopez.
The Puerto Rican crowd did its best to will Lopez to victory, cheering his every blow and chanting “JuanMa, JuanMa!” Yet while Lopez had his successes, knocking Salido down and landing hard enough and often enough to have the WBO champion bruised and swollen under both eyes, one had the sense of an unstoppable tide sweeping the Puerto Rican boxer back until it eventually engulfed him.
While round nine was breathtaking in its excitement — “Nothing like it in a long time,” as Showtime’s Al Bernstein noted — it was Salido who had the last word, rocking Lopez with a left hook followed by a right hand just before the bell sounded to end the round. I don’t think the commentators picked up on it, but Lopez wobbled as he made his way back to his corner. Lopez had weathered some shaky moments and stood up to some heavy right hands and left hooks, but his resistance had finally run out, and it was no surprise when Salido blasted him to the canvas with a series of punches early in the 10th.
When Lopez went down it was one of those puppet-with-the-strings-cut knockdowns, his whole body seeming to collapse. It says a lot for Lopez’s bravery that he hauled himself up in time to beat the count but he was clearly disorientated, blood coming from his mouth, his legs unsteady, and referee Ramirez did the right thing in stopping the fight after completing the eight count.
There has been much criticism of the judges’ scoring — two judges having Lopez in front by 86-84 scores, the third judge marking the fight even, 85-85. I know I am in the minority but I made this a dead-level fight going into the 10th round. Salido’s blows were having the more obvious effect, definitely, but Lopez was scoring solidly and I had the impression that only Salido’s durability disguised the authority of Lopez’s blows — other featherweights might not have taken these punches as well as Salido did.
While interpretations on how the fight should have been scored may vary, I think we can all agree that we saw something special in the ring on Saturday, the sort of contest that makes boxing the most compelling sport of all.