Lopez hoping to re-launch his career

Former featherweight titlist faces a tough test against "Mikey" Garcia

Updated: June 14, 2013, 8:14 PM ET
By Dan Rafael | ESPN.com

The two featherweight title battles that Juan Manuel Lopez had with Orlando Salido were not for the faint of heart. They were both bruising slugfests that were fight of the year candidates.

Both fighters suffered damage, although Puerto Rico's Lopez took the worst of it.

In 2011, Salido, of Mexico, traveled to Puerto Rico and stopped Lopez in the eighth round to win a 126-pound world title, and although Lopez bounced back with a low-level victory, he met Salido again in Puerto Rico in his next fight in 2012 and was knocked out for the second time, this time in the 10th round.

Salido, meanwhile, followed the second win against Lopez by hammering a soft touch in a non-title fight before stepping into the ring to defend his crown against Miguel Angel "Mikey" Garcia on Jan. 19 in New York.

Things did not go well for Salido. Garcia dominated. He knocked Salido down four times and was cruising toward an obvious victory when an accidental head butt broke Garcia's nose at the end of the eighth round. Unable to continue, Garcia nonetheless won the lopsided technical decision and a world title.

Now Garcia is ready to make his first title defense -- against Lopez. They will meet on Saturday night in the "Boxing After Dark" main event (HBO, 10:45 ET/PT) at American Airlines Center in Dallas.

Some might believe that because Garcia easily beat Salido and Salido twice knocked out Lopez it means that Lopez (33-2, 30 KOs), 29, also a former junior featherweight titleholder, should be easy work for Garcia.

But it doesn't always work like that in boxing, however, and Lopez said he is determined to prove it.

"It is a matter of styles," Lopez said through translator Ricardo Jimenez, a publicist for promoter Top Rank. "Salido and I love to go at it, have a war. Mikey is more of a counter-puncher. Either way, it's a great fight and I congratulate him for that win [against Salido]. Different fighters and different styles. Anything can happen and anyone can win. There is no way to tell from one fight to the next who will win.

"I feel good about it. I think Salido was pretty beat up when he faced Garcia and I think Salido was fresher when I got him."

Garcia (31-0, 26 KOs), 25, of Oxnard, Calif., who fought on the Salido-Lopez II undercard, said that despite Lopez's knockout losses to the man he routed for the title, he is taking nothing for granted against the fierce puncher.

"I also agree with Juanma that the styles are different and I fight different than Salido does," Garcia said. "I am preparing myself differently for this fight because I am fighting Juanma. It is going to be a different fight. You can't jump to conclusions. We'll just have to see what the fight dictates and how it unfolds.

"I don't have thoughts that the way I beat Salido that I'd be able to walk through Lopez. It doesn't work that way. It is a different fight, a different opponent, and I have to prepare differently."

In the opening bout, scheduled for 10 rounds, slick lightweight Terence Crawford (20-0, 15 KOs) of Omaha, Neb., takes on Mexico's Alejandro Sanabria (34-1-1, 25 KOs) of Mexico City. The fight will be Crawford's first since he took a junior welterweight fight on short notice against big puncher Breidis Prescott and cruised in a dominant decision win in March on the Mike Alvarado-Brandon Rios II undercard in Las Vegas.

After Garcia scored a seventh-round knockout of Bernabe Concepcion on the Salido-Lopez III undercard, he went out to ringside to watch the main event. Little did he know that he would wind up facing both men.

"I saw it when I was there live and I watched a few rounds here and there [on video] but there is only so much I can pick up from them," Garcia said. "I have seen a few clips and that's about it."

While Garcia -- who is trained by his brother Robert Garcia, the 2012 trainer of the year -- has been active and dominant, Lopez has had to not only overcome the losses to Salido, but a long layoff that followed the second fight.

Moments after the second knockout, while he was still in the ring, Lopez gave an interview to Showtime, which broadcast the bout, during which he accused referee Roberto Ramirez Sr. of stopping the fight because he was a gambler, clearly implying that he had a vested interest in the outcome and stopped the fight because of a wager.

The comments, made while Lopez was obviously still concussed, angered Puerto Rican boxing officials and even though Lopez profusely apologized, he was suspended for a year, fined $10,000 and ordered to complete 100 hours of community service.

Salido/Lopez
AP Photo/Dennis M. Rivera PichardoJuan Manuel Lopez, left, was stopped by Orlando Salido twice in less than a year.
The commission lifted the suspension a bit early and Lopez returned in February for a ninth-round knockout win against Aldimar Silva Santos, a low-level opponent. Lopez was quite rusty and had his problems in the fight. In April, Lopez fought another low-level opponent, Eugenio Lopez, and won by second-round knockout.

Now Lopez is taking on a serious opponent in Garcia, but he believes the two tuneup fights helped him shake off the rust of the layoff.

"I think those two fights I had were very important because after the long layoff I was able to get in the gym, get on my diet, get a rhythm of training and fighting," Lopez said. "It helped me tremendously and I am ready to take on this fight."

As for the layoff, Lopez said, it probably did him some good after a series of very tough fights.

"Without a doubt," Lopez said of the layoff being a blessing in disguise. "Ever since I started boxing professionally [in 2005], I have had one fight after another with a lot of tough fights mixed in there and I never took any time off. So it was good, even though I didn't want it that way. But there is a silver lining in everything. It was good for my body. Now I have come back and I feel good."

Lopez, a southpaw, knows he cannot afford another loss if he wants to remain involved in major bouts.

"Juanma knows his career is on the line in this fight," trainer Orlando Pinero said.

"I need to win and prove I am still on an elite level in boxing," Lopez said. "Mikey may not be the greatest featherweight champion but he is one of the smartest. In the ring he makes adjustments all of the time. He can punch too, proven in his win over Salido. This is what I am dealing with."

For Garcia, the fight is a chance to add another quality name to his record and then possibly move on to the junior lightweight division, where Top Rank has talked about giving him a title shot against Puerto Rico's Roman "Rocky" Martinez.

But first things first.

"We are looking at this as a tough, physical fight," Robert Garcia said. "All title defenses are big battles."

Said Mikey Garcia: "Juanma has nothing to lose. Those kind of fighters are dangerous. I don't plan to lose in my first title defense. But I know Juanma will be a desperate fighter looking to take me out. He knows a win over me relaunches his career."