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Thursday, December 20, 2012
Juan Manuel Lopez to return Feb. 2

By Dan Rafael
ESPN.com

Former featherweight and junior featherweight titlist Juan Manuel Lopez, out of action since March because of a disciplinary suspension by the Puerto Rico Boxing Commission, will return to the ring Feb. 2.

Lopez will face an opponent to be determined at a maximum weight of 128 pounds at the Ruben Rodriguez Coliseum in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, promoter PR Best Boxing announced Thursday.

"I've been training since August and I feel in good shape for my comeback," Lopez said. "I will fight in another division, but the featherweights should know that I'm not out of that division. I'm going to fight in the junior lightweights in my return bout and I'm going to see what happens."

The 29-year-old Lopez (31-2, 28 KOs) lost his featherweight title in April 2011 via eighth-round knockout to Mexico's Orlando Salido. After a second-round knockout in a tuneup fight in October 2011, Lopez met Salido in a rematch March 3.

The fight, one of the most action-packed of 2012, was a barn burner and Lopez, who had knocked Salido down in the fifth round, was ahead on two scorecards, with the third one even, going into the 10th round. But in that round, Salido rallied to knock out Lopez.

That is when Lopez, who was still obviously concussed from the knockout, got himself in hot water. During an ill-advised postfight interview with Showtime's Jim Gray just minutes after being knocked out, Lopez 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, which Ramirez vehemently denied.

Lopez later apologized for his comments, but the Puerto Rican commission meted out a one-year suspension, 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, ended Lopez's suspension.

"Juanma Lopez can continue his career starting today," Neumann said at the time. "Practically, this is a pardon, taking into consideration Juanma's career as an amateur and professional. Juanma has been an example, serving his community work and adding the forgiveness of the referee."

"I learned a lot from this experience," Lopez said. "I feel so good because I can fight again and continue my career. This is my sport, but is my job too."

Also appearing on the Feb. 2 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). They all will be in regional title bouts against opponents to be determined.