Lopez May Have Spoiled Plans but Prevails to Keep His Title

New York – Juan Manuel Lopez the WBO junior featherweight champion from Caguas, Puerto Rico and WBA featherweight champion Yuriorkis Gamboa of Cuba defended their respective titles in separate bouts on the “Island Warriors” “Latin Fury 12” pay-per-view show at the WaMu Theatre at Madison Square Garden Saturday evening. The fighters did what they had to do to set up an eventual title bout against each other at the Garden in June,

But Lopez, (27-0, 24 KO’s) had his problems with Rogers Mtagwa (26-13, 3, 18KO’s) that had Top Rank promoter Bob Arum wondering, “I thought Lopez fought a stupid fight,” he said.  “He can’t fight a stupid fight against Gamboa. If he fights like that against Gamboa he’s done.”

And with those words, Arum may have been saying that Lopez has to take another fight before facing Gamboa in what could be a mega fight in the featherweight division with Lopez going up in weight .to 126. Gamboa, earlier did his job in disposing Whyber Garcia (22-7, 15KO’s) of Panama in the fourth round.

Mtagwa, ranked 15th by the WBO, a relatively unknown fighter, took the last three rounds on two of three ringside cards of the judges, who scored it 115-111 and 116-111 for Lopez. Kevin Morgan gave Mtagwa the last six rounds though gave Lopez a 114-113 edge in the 12-round bout.

Lopez got the decision by winning the first part of the fight, but he took some punishment and was left staggering between the ropes in the 11th round and if it weren’t for the ropes, Lopez would have went down.  In what could be classified as a fight of the year, the intensity of the fight continued in the 12th and final round. Lopez continued to take punches and had nothing left as Mtagwa went for the knockout he didn’t get

The outcome was disappointing for Mtagwa who definitely made a name for himself. “Yeah, I won the fight,” he said.  “The first round I was really tired  He is not as strong as they say He gives good shots.. Yeah it was very close fight,” he said.  “Yeah I want a rematch.  I don’t believe I lost the fight.”

But that return bout may not occur immediately. Arum wants to put Lopez and Gamboa together, but first Lopez may have a date on HBO on January 23rd in Puerto Rico. It will be Lopez against junior featherweight title holder Celestino Caballero or featherweight champions Steven Lueveno or Elio Rojas if purse arrangements can be made.

“Lopez has to fight a smarter fight than he fought,” claimed Arum who almost saw that eventual showdown with Gamboa go down the drain by the way his champion fought. “He let himself become vulnerable. He showed a lot of heart though.”  The stat of the night though was Mtagwa having a distinct edge in power shots landed, 62-34, in the last two rounds.

Lopez, who knocked down Mtagwa briefly in the first round realized it was going to be a tough evening after that.  “That guy was very strong,” he said through interpreter Ricardo Jimenez.  “I tried hitting him but he is a very strong guy. He added “Sometimes it is very difficult to fight guys like this. They have nothing to lose… He is a strong guy even in the last round he was coming after me.”

Lopez is in the second year of his title reign after dethroning defending champion Daniel Ponce De Leon via a first round knockout last June. He has successfully defended his title four times since, all by knockout and is billed to be the next exciting fighter out of Puerto Rico, of course next to WBO welterweight champion Cotto.  .

Gomboa remained undefeated (16-0, 14K0’S) easily dominating WBA 13th ranked Whyber Garcia (22-7 15 KO’s) of Panama City Panama. Garcia had won four of his last five fights. The loss was for the world title against WBA super featherweight champion Jorge Linares last year.

Garcia could not match the punches of Gamboa which included a barrage of left and rights in round four.  The stoppage came at 0:58 of the round when referee Steve Smoga stepped in and stopped the bout.

“It’s one of my strategies to study the fighter and settle in,” said Gamboa who used that strategy well from the opening bell in round one. As for Garcia not coming into him, a type of fight that Gamboa likes to fight, he stated, “I definitely like when men come into me. It is better for my counter punches,”

The early stoppage showed what type of fighter Gamboa is. His punches were effective and strong which prevented Garcia from throwing anything strong at Gamboa. “At the end of the second round I knew I was going to knock him out quick,” he said.

The anticipated fight though would be for Lopez to unify the title .against Lopez, a fight that could happen early next year. “A lot of people ask me the same question I want to prove what is best for me,” responded Gamboa when asked about an opportunity to meet Lopez.

“I didn’t think Lopez is better than me,” he said. “I don’t need a warm up fight. I am ready for him. I expect to get better than this.  But winning by knockout at the Garden there is nothing like it.  I should be carrying the card over Lopez because I’m better.”

During the week Gamboa commented about making his debut at the Garden. He said winning the fight convincingly is what was needed to be done in order to accomplish the goal of meeting Lopez soon. And just being in The Garden meant he achieved his goals.

He commented about leaving his country and pursuing his goal of becoming a world champion. “It was a big risk for me to leave and take the stuff that I took, leaving not only the boxing team but my country. It goes on to prove that if I seat a goal I can accomplish it.”

On the under card John Duddy (27-1, 17KO’s) made a successful return to The Garden and got the unanimous decision over Jorge Munoz (21-4, 13KO’s) of Topeka, Kansas. Duddy at times let his opponent come at him and was able to use counter punches and scored points with the judges.

In a 10-round heavyweight bout the veteran, 38-year old Monte Barrett (34-8, 24KO’s) of Queens, New York became an easy victim of undefeated Cuban sensation Odlanier Solis (15-0, 11KO’s.)  Solis pounded Barrett early and put Barrett on the canvas with a quick left hook in the second round .and got the TKO.

And welterweight Omar Chaez, the son of former legendary champion Julio Cesar Chavez remained undefeated (18-0-1 13 KO’s) getting the six-round unanimous decision over (7-10-1) James Ventry.

E-mail Rich Mancuso: [email protected]

About the Author

Rich Mancuso

Rich Mancuso is a regular contributor at NY Sports Day, covering countless New York Mets, Yankees, and MLB teams along with some of the greatest boxing matches over the years. He is an award winning sports journalist and previously worked for The Associated Press, New York Daily News, Gannett, and BoxingInsider.com, in a career that spans almost 40 years.

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