Saturday Night Star Power: Twinkle, Twinkle Little Lopez
By Lyle Fitzsimmons,
Contributing Boxing Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Get ready for a new star in the boxing universe.
Though he's already a hot commodity to the well-informed fight fan, Puerto Rican slugger Juan Manuel Lopez is poised to reach a newer, higher stratosphere this weekend.
Unbeaten in 29 fights with 26 knockouts over five-plus years as a pro, the confident 27-year-old Rio Piedras native has a significant coming out against a distinguished foe in a Showtime main event.
He'll meet former 118- and 122-pound champion Rafael Marquez in a scheduled 12-rounder in defense of his own WBO featherweight title belt, which he's successfully held on to once since wresting it from Steven Luevano via seventh-round TKO in January 2010.
"It is truly a dream that is coming true," said Lopez, who weighed-in at 125 1/2 pounds on Friday. "For all of us it is just a dream to have this opportunity. We are going to take full advantage of it. I know that I read that the team of Rafael Marquez said that I have no chin, but the one that is undefeated is me.
"I know he has won a few fights by knockout, but on Saturday night you'll see who really can take a punch and who can't. And one time (promoter) Gary Shaw told me if you're so good how come you don't fight Rafael Marquez. I'm so good I'm going to beat Rafael Marquez on Saturday."
It's the ninth consecutive championship match for the heavy-handed Lopez, who burst onto the scene two years ago with a one-round KO of Daniel Ponce de Leon for the WBO's featherweight title.
He defended that belt five times -- four by stoppage -- before moving up to fight Luevano at Madison Square Garden. A return home to San Juan six months later resulted in a two-round KO of Bernabe Concepcion, a fight in which both men were on the canvas in round one.
It's the ninth consecutive championship match for the heavy-handed Juan Lopez.
On Saturday, judges Raul Caiz Sr., Duane Ford and Dave Moretti will have the scorecards and Tony Weeks is the referee. The Showtime broadcast begins at 10 p.m. (et) with a Super Six super middleweight tournament bout between Glen Johnson and Allan Green.
"We are really thankful for this opportunity," said Orlando Pinero, Lopez's manager. "What you are going to see Saturday is a dream come true. When Juan Manuel won his first title, he told the world at the post(-fight) conference that he wanted to fight the best in the world and the first two names he mentioned that night were Rafael Marquez and Israel Vazquez.
"This Saturday up in the ring is Rafael Marquez and he is expecting a great war. You are going to see a great war between Puerto Rico and Mexico."
Marquez, now 35, is making his first appearance since the presumed final fight in a four-bout series with the aforementioned Vazquez in May.
The two men fought three times in just less than 12 months over 2007-08, with Marquez winning the first meeting in seven rounds and Vazquez taking the second in six, then the third with a split decision.
Marquez evened the score at Staples Center in Los Angeles, stopping Vazquez in three.
He won the first nine title bouts of his career, holding the IBF and IBO crowns at 118 and taking the WBC belt at 122 in the first Vazquez fight. In a 15-year pro career, he's 39-5 with 35 knockouts.
"I will show that I can beat anyone at any point in their career," said Marquez, who also weighed 125 1/2. "Experience and talent will beat youth. Did I bring my power with me? I think I have. Hard work and preparation will beat youth anytime.
"I have a lot of respect for Juanma's talents. I believe he is a top-10 pound- for-pound fighter. I don't think the fight will go the distance and I know Juanma won't be the winner."
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WEEKEND'S (OTHER) BEST BET It's not exactly a travel agent's early November dream destination, but a boxing fan will have more than a little with which to stay occupied this weekend -- and week -- in Newark, N.J.
The Saturday night fare off Turnpike Exit 14 is part of a gloved HBO twinbill commencing at 10:45 p.m.
The action opens with Episode 3 of Pacquiao/Margarito 24/7, which depicts the two fighters as they enter the final full week of training -- focusing on preparation and fitness -- in California-based camps before departing to Texas for their Nov. 13 bout at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington.
Thirty minutes later comes the two-bout live show from the Prudential Center, leading off with former 130-pound champion Robert Guerrero in his third fight at lightweight against 28-year-old Californian Vicente Escobedo.
Guerrero has won a pair of bouts -- one by KO and another by wide decision -- since jumping up from junior lightweight, where he took the IBF belt from Malcolm Klassen in August 2009. He's 27-1-1 with 18 knockouts and has won 11 straight with two no-contests since his lone loss in 2005.
Escobedo is 22-2 in five years as a pro, losing only on split decisions to Daniel Jimenez in 2006 and Michael Katsidis in 2009.
He won his most recent bout with a third-round TKO of veteran Carlos Urias in Mexico City.
Appearing as the headliner is enigmatic former two-division champion Zab "Super" Judah, who faces his toughest test since returning to junior welterweight when he meets unbeaten Argentinean Lucas Martin Matthysse in a scheduled 12-rounder.
The winner will be elevated to No. 2 in the IBF's world rankings at 140.
Judah is nearly five years removed from his last stint as a world title claimant, which ended in January 2006 with a surprise loss to Matthysse's countryman Carlos Baldomir in a WBC welterweight title fight at Madison Square Garden.
He's just 5-3 with a no-contest since, including losses to Floyd Mayweather Jr., Miguel Cotto and Joshua Clottey in subsequent attempts to regain 147- pound laurels. Three straight wins have come well below welterweight, however, as Judah strives to return to the division he ruled off and on from 2000-03.
Matthysse, ranked No. 7 by the IBF, has 25 KOs in 27 wins and has gone past four rounds just once.
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TV TOPICS (Some fights may not be televised)
SATURDAY HBO - Newark, N.J. Zab Judah (39-6) vs. Lucas Martin Matthysse (27-0) Robert Guerrero (27-1-1) vs. Vicente Escobedo (22-2)
Showtime -- Las Vegas, Nev. Juan Manuel Lopez (29-0) vs. Rafael Marquez (39-5) -- WBO featherweight title Allan Green (29-2) vs. Glen Johnson (50-14-2) Marvin Quintero (20-2) vs. Daniel Attah (24-6-1)
THURSDAY Integrated Sports Media -- Newark, N.J. Tomasz Adamek (42-1) vs. Vinny Maddalone (33-6)
Lyle Fitzsimmons is a veteran sports columnist who's written professionally since 1988 and covered boxing since 1995. His work is published in print and posted online for clients in North America and Europe. Reach him at email@example.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/fitzbitz.