5 reasons Salido will beat Lopez
Five keys to victory for Orlando Salido against Juan Manuel Lopez
Saturday's featherweight title fight between challenger Juan Manuel Lopez and champion Orlando Salido figures to be a fight for survival. Less than a year ago, Salido (37-11-2, 25 KOs) scored a huge upset when he knocked out the heavily favored Lopez (31-1, 28 KOs) in the eighth round to capture the belt that again will be on the line, again in front of a Puerto Rican crowd that will watch the rematch at San Juan's Coliseo Roberto Clemente.
Salido, 31, proved that his victory was no lucky strike by making two solid defenses of his crown in his native Mexico in preparation for this clash. Puerto Rico's Lopez, 28, once the most feared man in this division, now faces the prospect of suffering a major career setback if he loses this challenge. The stage is set for a crossroads fight, after which the winner will have a chance to make a run at a series of high-profile fights in an interesting division while the other fighter sinks into fringe-contender territory.
Here are five keys to victory for Salido in this career-defining fight:
Act the part
Salido had been a champion before fighting Lopez for the first time (he defeated Cristobal Cruz in his third crack at a belt in 2010), but his blue-collar ethics and pride might have worked against him at times. Salido has often fought like he was challenging for a title, even when he was defending one. This time, he needs to act the part: behave like the true, legitimate champion. Let the other guy come to him, dare Lopez to grab the belt from him, force Lopez to do the hard work while he waits for his chance to respond. If Salido properly enjoys his championship status, maybe this time he'll have an even easier go of it in the ring against Lopez.
Make it an inside job
A puncher like Lopez depends greatly on unloading long-range blows that find their way through his opponents. His awkward southpaw stance doesn't allow for a lot of room to work his punches with ease. And although there's no perfect distance to fight when your opponent carries the kind of power that Lopez does, in this case it's advisable for Salido to stay close and avoid the possibility of Lopez's long, looping hook finding its range. And for his own offense, it will prove much better for the champion to be stationed near Lopez when he drops his guard (which will be often) so that he can make use of those spaces to land bombs. The midrange game paid off in the first fight, but chances are Lopez will be better prepared this time. For Salido, it would be wise to be ready for the infighting.
Work the count
Even though looking for a knockout would be the most intelligent way to approach this fight (given that it's an already proven formula for success), Salido should dismiss the notion of an early knockout. In other words, there's no rush. This time, the burden of proof is on Lopez, and the pressure to get an early KO in front of his adoring crowd after losing the title to Salido by knockout in their previous encounter would be huge for the Puerto Rican star. Salido might want to take it round by round, letting Lopez take the initiative and then putting in the work toward the end of the round to feel the challenger out for a possible stoppage. Salido's ability to measure Lopez's stamina could prove crucial in his search for another stoppage.
Eye of the tiger
Wait for an opening. And if it doesn't happen, wait some more. Eventually, Lopez will be Lopez and he'll neglect his defense as if he were shadowboxing in his garage or going for broke in a video game. If it takes two or three rounds of Salido throwing one punch for every three punches he receives, so be it. If he hears some boos, catcalls and hoots of derision, he should summarily disregard them and ... keep waiting. Lopez will get cocky, and Salido will have to be ready when he does. Lopez might have learned to sustain a decent defensive stance through 12 rounds, but the bet here is that he'll be his old self for much more than a few seconds sometime during the fight, and if Salido is ready for that, it's all over for JuanMa.
Let the dogs out
Trying to outbox Lopez won't work any better for Salido this time than it would have in their first fight. Let's be real: Earning a decision against Lopez in Puerto Rico would take a volume of punches that could put a man in jail for cruel and unusual punishment. Salido didn't leave it in the hands of the judges the first time around. Why do it this time? He did the most damage in the first fight, and he can do it again. Salido should finish what he started. If he does, he'll have what amounts to a brand-new career on his hands after beating the hardest-punching featherweight in the business twice in less than a year.
Diego Morilla is a contributor to ESPNdeportes.com.
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