Boxing has been plagued in recent years by rematches of great fights that, while attracting big audiences and high PPV sales, have failed to come close to the excitement of the first. Many expected Saturday’s WBO featherweight championship rematch between Orlando Salido and Juan Manuel Lopez to buck that trend and be a thrilling slugfest, and thankfully the fight of the year candidate lived up to those lofty expectations and then some.
Few gave Salido much of a chance against the undefeated Lopez in their first bout almost a year ago. An 8 to 1 underdog, the tough Mexican was coming off a unanimous decision loss to Yuriorkis Gamboa, while an eighth round stoppage of Rafael Marquez was the latest in a long line of impressive wins by JuanMa Lopez. In a highly competitive battle, Salido scored a knockdown in round five and then hurt Lopez badly in the eighth. With Lopez still fighting back, the referee stopped the fight. The stoppage caused such an uproar that referee Roberto Ramirez Jr. had to be escorted out of the building by security.
On Saturday night, Salido once again entered as the underdog despite his upset win in their first bout. Both fighters had much to prove in front of the rowdy crowd at Roberto Clemente Coliseum in Puerto Rico. Salido looked to affirm his status as a top featherweight and prove that the first fight was no fluke. Meanwhile Lopez was attempting to not just avenge his only defeat and regain his WBO crown; he was also seeking to regain his credibility.
The first two rounds were tame compared to what was to come as the fighters eased into their work. Salida landed the few meaningful punches while Lopez stayed on the defensive, unable to muster much of a reply to what Salido was doing. The pace picked up in the third and both fighters scored with clean shots. Lopez started to put punches together and score with some nice combinations, while Salido continued his aggressive approach, pushing Lopez back on his heels on several occasions, and once again winning the round.
The first half of the fourth round went much like the beginning of Lopez vs Salido II, as the champion continued to charge forward with power punches, putting Lopez on the defensive. But as the round drew to an end, Lopez abruptly stood his ground and landed some stiff shots of his own. The first minute of the fifth saw Lopez try to maintain his momentum, but after a sharp counter right from Salido he quickly went back on the defensive. But then, with Salido now on the attack, the tables suddenly turned again when Lopez struck with a hard counter right of his own that sent Salido to the canvas. The champion was seriously hurt and Lopez had gained a much-needed confidence boost; he was right back in the fight. However by the end of round six Salido was back in control and landing power punches to the head. He appeared to have taken back the momentum.
The seventh was once again dominated for the most part by Salido, who was able to keep Lopez on the ropes with heavy punches to the head and body. Lopez was unable to offer much of a reply to the relentlessness of Salido, and fell another round behind the champ. Lopez began to open up again in the eighth, landing some solid shots to the head, while Salido continued to apply pressure. Both fighters showed tremendous heart as they took turns eating hard power punches and then spitting out flurries in return and the intense end to the eighth set the table for a thrilling finish.
Both warriors came out firing to start the ninth, a round reminiscent of the best of Gatti vs. Ward. For three minutes both fighters went on a relentless assault, throwing power punch after power punch and completely ignoring defence. Near the middle of the round Lopez finally had Salido backing up, but the champ made him pay with several haymakers to the head. When the bell finally sounded, both fighters were left battered, yet somehow still standing.
In the tenth it soon became evident that Lopez had suffered more from the frenetic pace of the two previous rounds. The champion stunned Lopez with a hard right, then followed up with two more crushing shots that sent Lopez crashing to the canvas. Lopez, showing tremendous courage, climbed to his feet but he was in bad shape, staggering and bloody, his mouth open, his eyes unfocused. Referee Robert Ramirez Sr. took a good, long look but it was obvious Juanma was in no shape to continue.
With this thrilling TKO over Lopez, Salido solidifies his standing as a true champion and, along with Gamboa and Chris John, as one of the top featherweights in the world. While Lopez suffers another tough TKO loss, he showed both tremendous heart and that he is still one of the best in the division. My guess is he will be back, but if I’m advising him, I would tell him to stay far away from Orlando Salido. — Robert Portis