Juanma’s dilemma

It is safe to say that the devastating fourth round knockout loss Puerto Rican boxing superstar Juan Manuel (popularly known as “Juan­ma”) Lopez recently suffered against Ame­rican Miguel Angel Garcia in their showdown for the vacant World Boxing Organization (WBO) featherweight title (126 pounds) was an accident waiting to happen.

Truth be told, Lopez did not really deserve the title shot he received from Garcia. In two previous fights for the WBO’s featherweight title, Lopez was manhandled by Mexican Orlando Salido. In April 2011, Salido ended Lopez’s title reign with a brutal eighth round stoppage. The two squared off again in March 2012 with Salido again stopping Lopez in 10 rounds. Instead of graciously accepting defeat, Lopez accused referee Roberto Ramirez Sr. of having a gambling problem and stopping the fight prematurely. Lopez was suspended by the WBO for the unsubstantiated rant and the sanction resulted in a hiatus that lasted almost a year.

Lopez did not return to the ring until this February when he feasted on a sacrificial lamb named Aldimar Santos. He was back in the ring just two months later, bamboozling Eugenio Lopez, a guy who entered the fight with a pathetic win-loss record of 31-24. How Juanma received another shot at the WBO title despite having been knocked out in his last two world title bouts and going on a fistic vacation for nearly a year makes for a big mystery.

Garcia was such an overwhelming favorite that the defending WBO featherweight king did not bother to train in earnest, showing up overweight during the official weigh-in. For coming in at 128 pounds, two pounds above the featherweight division’s 126-pound limit, Garcia was stripped of the WBO crown. The vacant title was on the line only for Lopez.

As expected, Garcia carved up Lopez like Thanksgiving turkey. He floored Lopez with a left hook in round two and finished him off with a well-timed right cross in round four. Lopez fell flat on his back and was clearly on wobbly legs when he struggled to beat the count. Referee Rafael Ra­mos wisely pulled the plug, handing Garcia a no-sweat victory.

Garcia, who graduated from the Ventura, California County Police Academy before pursuing boxing full-time, improved his record to 32-0 with 27 knockouts. Garcia, the younger bro-ther of former International Boxing Federation super featherweight champ Roberto Garcia (the current trainer of Nonito Donaire Jr.), is likely to move up in weight and challenge WBO super featherweight (130 pounds) king Roman “Rocky” Martinez of Puerto Rico.

As for Lopez, the defrocked champion is clearly facing a dilemma. He is only 29 years old, but has accumulated as many miles in the ring as a beat-up Volkswagen Beetle. Lopez has been knocked out in three of his last six fights and was almost put to sleep by Filipino Bernabe Concepcion in 2010 and Tanzanian Rogers Mtagwa in 2009.

A former 2004 Olympian, Lopez knocked out his first nine opponents as a pro and briefly held the WBO super bantamweight (122 pounds) championship before moving up to featherweight and winning the 126-pound diadem in 2010. Lopez offered devastating power, but he was never the same fighter after he was nearly knocked out by Mtagwa. Salido exposed Lopez’s glass jaw with back-to-back knockout wins and Garcia confirmed that Lopez’s glory days are behind him with his four-round drubbing.

Then again, amid calls for him to call it a day Lopez remains defiant, even telling reporters that retirement is not in his vocabulary. For his own safety, Lopez may want to give the dictionary a second look. ‘Goodbye’ makes for an ideal alternative word to ‘retirement.’

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For comments, the writer can be reached at atty_eduardo@ yahoo.com.

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