Sunday, May 28, 2023  |


Lopez next Puerto Ricoan idol?

Fighters Network

Juan Manuel Lopez (left) landed 421 power punches like this jolting left cross to the incredibly durable chin and body of Gerry Penalosa before the veteran's trainer, Freddie Roach, stopped the bout after nine rounds. Lopez showed more than power in the impressive win; he had the look of a future star. Photo / Joe Perez-PR Best Boxing Promotion

More than 10,000 packed the Ruben Rodriguez Coliseum in Bayamon, Puerto Rico to cheer on Juan Manuel Lopez in the young titleholder’s toughest fight to date, against Gerry Penalosa, Saturday, and thanks to the unbelievable toughness of the battle-hardened veteran those fans got to watch their budding junior featherweight star ply his brutal craft for more than a minute or two.

Going into Saturday’s HBO-televised fight, Lopez had won his last three fights — all WBO 122-pound title bouts — by first-round KO, creating a buzz among hardcore fight fans and a happy frenzy in Puerto Rico.

The 24-year-old Caguas native had to work harder than usual to get his knockout against Penalosa, but he punished the 36-year-old fighter with relentless pressure and non-stop combination punching until the veteran’s trainer Freddie Roach had seen enough after nine rounds and mercifully pulled the plug.

Penalosa was as durable and game as advertised, but unfortunately for the former two-division titleholder, Lopez is as good as his hype.

In fact, Lopez (25-0, 23 knockouts) is probably better than his hype.

Lucky for him and for the sport he hails from a culture that supports its fighters and practically reveres the world beaters from the island.

Puerto Rico loves boxing. Unlike Mexico and other Latin American countries, the Sweet Science doesn’t have to compete with soccer in Puerto Rico.

And although Miguel Cotto is still Puerto Rico’s most accomplished active fighter, and Ivan Calderon is a pound-for-pound ranked master boxer, Lopez doesn’t have to compete with them for the affection of Puerto Rican fight fans.

They knew the 2004 Olympian had promise when he turned pro with a string of early-round KOs in 2005. They thought he might be special after he won the WBO title with a first-round KO of rugged Mexican banger Daniel Ponce-DeLeon last June.

However, Saturday night, Lopez proved to be the real deal by administering the worst beating Penalosa has ever taken in his 63-bout pro career.

In winning every round against Penalosa, Lopez was powerful but patient, technical but fluid, poised but intense, economical but busy.

VERY busy.

Lopez averaged 113 punches per round Saturday night, most of which were power punches — almost half of which landed flush to poor Penalosa’s head and body with frightening regularity.

Lopez landed 444 of 1,020 total punches (44 percent), according to CompuBox statistics. He landed 421 of 863 power punches (49 percent). In round three, Lopez landed 42 of 107 punches. In round eight he landed an incredible 87 of 136 punches.

The only thing more amazing than Lopez's punch output was Penalosa’s ability to take them. However, Roach did the ring thing by giving the proud Filipino warrior one more round after the eighth before waving the beating off.

“I thought he might get tired (after the eighth),” Roach said after the fight. “He didn’t.”

Lopez is obviously a dedicated athlete with impeccable conditioning, something Puerto Rican hall of famers Wilfred Benitez and Wilfredo Gomez didn’t always have.

Lopez looks like the total package — natural talent, skill, technique, discipline — and the ingredient that really sets him apart: personality.

It was fitting that he was flanked by Puerto Rico’s last idol, Felix Trinidad, during Saturday's pre-fight introductions.

Lopez doesn’t just possess tight offense, a monster hook, and a killer instinct like the prime “Tito”, he’s also got Trinidad’s charisma and appreciation of Puerto Rico’s loyal fans.

Lopez loves the fans and the fans love him back.

That’s not the relationship they have with Cotto, who is respected and adamantly supported but not beloved.

Calderon is also respected and supported on the island, but the undefeated 108-pound champ is as quiet and understated as his KO percentage. He’s friendly and funny, but those attributes don’t combine to make him charismatic.

Lopez has got “it” both in and out of the ring.

All he has to do is keep winning and he’ll continue his fast track to becoming the Caribbean island’s new idol.

Doug Fischer can be reached at [email protected]