- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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Former featherweight and junior featherweight titlist Juan Manuel Lopez, who returns Feb. 2 from an 11-month layoff, found out Thursday who he will fight: Aldimar Silva Santos of Brazil.
"This will be a good return fight for JuanMa after his biggest absence from the ring," promoter Peter Rivera of PR Best Boxing Promotions said. "We are going to see how JuanMa looks after almost 11 months without a fight. JuanMa is training hard because he wants to win a world championship again."
Lopez, whose layoff came after a knockout loss and subsequent disciplinary suspension by the Puerto Rico Boxing Commission, and Silva Santos will meet in a scheduled 10-round bout at a contract maximum weight of 128 pounds at Ruben Rodriguez Coliseum in Bayamon, Puerto Rico.
The 29-year-old Lopez (31-2, 28 KOs) has not fought since March 2011, when he was knocked out by Orlando Salido in the 10th round of a featherweight title fight rematch that was one of the year's most action-packed slugfests. In April 2011, Salido stopped Lopez in the eighth round to win the featherweight belt from Lopez.
After their second fight, a still-concussed Lopez did an ill-advised postfight interview with Showtime's Jim Gray just minutes after being knocked out and claimed that referee Roberto Ramirez Sr., an experienced world championship official, was a gambler and had a gambling problem, clearly suggesting that the reason Ramirez stopped the fight was because he had action on the bout. Ramirez vehemently denied the accusation.
Lopez later apologized for his comments, but the Puerto Rican commission suspended him for one year, fined him $10,000 and ordered him to perform 100 hours of community service.
In mid-November, Henry Neumann, Puerto Rico's secretary of sports and recreation, lifted Lopez's suspension, clearing the way for his return next month.
Silva Santos (18-3, 9 KOs), 31, is coming off a six-round decision win against Rodolfo Franz, who was 1-14 at the time, on Dec. 29. In his previous bout in August, Silva Santos was knocked out in the second round by elite junior featherweight prospect Jesse Magdaleno.
Also appearing on the card will be lightweight Jose "Chelo" Gonzalez (21-0, 16 KOs); flyweight McWilliams Arroyo (13-1, 11 KOs), a 2008 Olympian and 2009 world amateur champion; twin brother and junior bantamweight McJoe Arroyo (11-0, 6 KOs); and Jonathan Gonzalez (11-0, 10 KOs). All will be in regional title bouts against opponents to be determined.