“I’m able to be with them a lot when I’m not training, which is good. And, of course, I have to train really hard and work really hard because there are a lot of them. I feel good when they’re around. Every time I see them, everyday, I go to the gym, I go, ‘I have to keep working hard.’ That’s why I go to the gym and train so hard because I know that it’s for them.”— Juan Manuel Lopez, talking about his five children who accompanied him to the pre-fight weigh-in of his seventh-round knockout that dethroned Steven Luevano as WBO featherweight beltholder at New York’s Madison Square Garden in January of last year.
RING TV.com conducted a Q&A with Juan Manuel Lopez, who became a fighter divorced from his senses and divorced from his WBO featherweight title belt as well as a man soon-to-be divorced from his wife all on one devastating night in April.
For in addition to being weighed down emotionally by the knowledge that he would soon be ending his marriage to the mother of his five children, Barbara DeJesus, Lopez was dethroned by Orlando Salido (36-11-2, 24 KOs) of Mexico following an eighth-round knockout loss before his partisan fans at Coliseo Ruben Rodriguez in Bayamon, Puerto Rico.
The setback erased a shot at a sought-after megabucks clash with 29-year-old Cuban-born, former Olympic gold medalist Yuriorkis Gamboa (21-0, 16 KOs), Lopez’s promotional stable mate with Top Rank Inc. who is now considering a rise into the junior lightweight and lightweight divisions.
Lopez (30-1, 27 KOs) will return to the site of his lone defeat on Saturday night in an attempt to regain lost luster against 31-year-old Mike Oliver (25-2, 8 KOs) of Hartford, Connecticut.
Oliver has won four straight fights since losing by consecutive third-round knockouts to Reynaldo Lopez and Antonio Escalante, respectively, in May and October of 2008.
A proposed fall rematch between Salido and Lopez was pushed back and will likely take place in January or February, if not the first quarter of next year.
Salido, who is coming off an 11-round knockout of Japan’s Kenichi Yamaguchi in July, could take a bout either in October or November.
Lopez addressed the importance of winning before his Puerto Rican fans, among other things, in this interview translated by Ricardo Jiminez of Top Rank.
RingTV.com: How important is it that your returning bout is going to be in Puerto Rico?
Juan Manuel Lopez: Without a doubt, it was very important to come back and to fight in Puerto Rico, especially after having lost in Puerto Rico my last fight.
It’s very important to show my Puerto Rican people that I’m back. My fans have been very good to me. They’re still supporting me in every way.
I just want to say thank you to everyone for all of their support. That’s why I think that it’s so important to me to come back here and to do well in front of them.
RingTV.com: Can you reflect on the loss to Salido, and what role the marital situation may have played in the setback beyond your performance in the ring?
JML: I think that we all did our jobs. The team, you know, we got ready properly for the fight. But I was definitely not into it. I think that I wasn’t concentrating. I wasn’t focused on the fight.
I had some personal problems that I was dealing with. So in the end, for the fight, I was not there 100 percent, mentally. But I think that I’m over it now, and I think that everything has been resolved and dealt with.
Now I can concentrate again on my career and everything. I think that I’m ready to become a world champion again and to get my career back on track.
RingTV.com: Was there anything that surprised you about Salido?
JML: You know, I expected him to be a tough guy. The guy can take a lot of punches and he throws a lot of punches. No surprises there.
You know, even though it was a tough fight from the get-go, I just wasn’t as focused for the fight mentally and prepared for the fight physically as I should have been.
RingTV.com: What sort of performance do you believe that you need to have on Saturday night?
JML: I want to look good. I want to look good, whether it’s a good decision win, or a good knockout. I just want to look good and get the win. I want to show everyone what I’m still capable of doing.
RingTV.com: What would be next for you assuming you defeat Oliver?
JML: I was hoping to get this guy Salido before the end of the year, but we just couldn’t do it. So, fortunately, I think we’re talking about the first couple of months of next year for that rematch.
RingTV.com: Would you consider pursuing Gamboa into the junior lightweight or lightweight divisions, or, a potential fight with WBA and WBO bantamweight titleholder Nonito Donaire?
JML: You know, I think that Donaire is a fight that’s out there. But, you know I think because of the weight right now, that’s not a fight that I am going to be waiting around for.
I’m thinking about going up in weight to 130 also, so the Gamboa fight still interests me. I think that it’s still a great fight. I think that that is something that we should be looking into later on.
But you know I’ll fight whoever Top Rank think that I should fight. Obviously, Salido is still out there, and that’s a fight that is very important to me.
But if something else bigger comes along, I’m willing to fight Donaire, I’m willing to fight Gamboa. Whatever comes up that’s next, I’m willing to do for the fans.
Lem Satterfield can be reached at [email protected]