SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Former two-division titlist Juan Manuel Lopez, like many others, has his opinions about boxing's Mexico-Puerto Rico rivalry -- including that it has been extremely favorable to his career.
Nearly half of Lopez's 35 professional bouts have come against Mexican fighters -- fourteen, to be precise. Four, specifically, have had a major impact on his path.
"Fighting against Mexicans has been a huge part of my career," Lopez said. "But I see it more as a competition between two countries with big fighting styles. Puerto Rico fighters move well, they are more technical. Mexico fighters like to clash, there are very few who like to counterattack. Juan Manuel Marquez is one of the few, and we might consider Oscar De La Hoya, since he is of Mexican origin but developed in the United States.
"If we want to talk about the topic, we have to divide it by eras. The [Wilfredo] Gomez era was huge. 'Tito' Trinidad and his 'Fight of the Millenium' against Oscar De La Hoya was huge. [Ivan] Calderon had two big clashes against [Hugo] Cazares. And back in the day, Hector Camacho was a headache to the Mexican boxers. They were all transitions."
Lopez won a junior featherweight title in 2008 when he defeated Mexico's Daniel Ponce De Leon by first-round TKO. He moved up to featherweight in 2010, winning a title in his first bout in the division, and later bested Rafael Marquez (yet another Mexican star) to run his record to 30-0.
But the prestige that came with those wins all but vanished in 2011 when Lopez put his belt on the line against another of Mexico's finest: Orlando Salido.
"Salido is the toughest fighter I've ever faced," Lopez said. "Sometimes, styles define the fights. Salido is a fighter who takes a lot of punches, and that's one of the factors that helped him beat me."
On Saturday, Lopez will face featherweight titlist Miguel Angel "Mikey" Garcia (who, like De La Hoya, is Mexican-American). In January, Garcia mostly had his way with Salido before winning a technical decision and grabbing the belt that Salido had lifted from Lopez.
"Mikey was a huge puzzle for Salido, but that won't be the case for me," Lopez said. "Styles make fights, and Mikey has the perfect style for me."