Baby-faced Luevano confident he’ll beat Lopez
When you look at Steven Luevano words like “veteran,” “battle-tested” and “formidable” won’t pop into your mind.
The 28-year-old featherweight titleholder from La Puente, Calif., still looks like a teenager, a wimpy one at that.
With narrow shoulders, skinny arms, pasty complexion and a quiet demeanor, you get the feeling that if Luevano were still a teenager, he would be the target of any high-school bully.
However, the bully that picks on Luevano is making a big mistake. Despite his non-athletic looks, the crafty southpaw is all fighter. The former amateur standout can definitely be considered a veteran with 39 pro bouts under his belt.
And with a title-winning effort against then-undefeated Nicky Cook and five defenses of his 126-pound belt, including a unanimous decision over rugged Terdsak Jandaeng and a stirring draw with talented Mario Santiago, it’s safe to say he’s battle-tested.
How formidable is Luevano (37-1-1, 15 knockouts)? We’ll find out when he defends his title against undefeated 122-pound beltholder Juan Manuel Lopez on Jan. 23.
His showdown with the popular Puerto Rican KO artist is by far the biggest fight of his 9¾-year career. Luevano-Lopez is the featured fight of a Boxing After Dark broadcast from New York City’s famed Madison Square Garden.
Luevano, once a staple of Telefutura’s now-defunct Solo Boxeo series, has never been featured on an HBO broadcast (or Showtime for that matter).
“Steven’s hungry for this fight,” said Robert Garcia, who co-trains Luevano with his father, Eduardo Garcia. “He’s been looking for a fight like this for the past three or four years. That’s a fighter’s dream, to be on HBO and headline a big card like that.
“(Since he won his title) he’s always been on big pay-per-view undercards, like some of Manny Pacquiao’s fights, but he’s never been the headliner of a big card.”
Luevano doesn’t need his trainer to tell him how important the Lopez fight is to his career.
“It means a lot to me (to fight on HBO),” he said. “I’m going to be noticed by a lot of people, and if I win, I’ll be recognized as one of the best.”
Lopez (27-0, 24 KOs), a powerful southpaw with solid technique, was on his way to cracking the pound-for-pound lists of many boxing writers before struggling with Rogers Mtagwa in his last fight. Lopez started off well but faded badly down the stretch of the 12-round barnburner last October, narrowly avoiding getting knocked out by the gutsy but aging fringe contender in the final round.
Most fans and experts believe Lopez will be too much for Luevano despite the nearly disastrous ending to the Mtagwa fight.
Freddie Roach, who worked Gerry Penalosa’s corner when Lopez stopped the Filipino veteran after 10 one-sided rounds last April, is among those predicting a Lopez victory.
The respected trainer, who coached Bernabe Concepcion for a title bout against Luevano last August that ended in a seventh-round disqualification loss when his fighter clocked the titleholder after the bell, is obviously familiar with both fighters. He doesn’t think Luevano, who has never been stopped, has the chin or physical strength to deal with Lopez’s power.
“Bernabe had Luevano hurt in the first round of their fight and I think he could’ve knocked him out if he pressed a little more,” Roach said. “I like Luevano but it looks to me that he’s starting to struggle to make 126 pounds and it’s taking away his legs and his strength. Lopez is probably going to feel stronger at 126 pounds and he’s not the kind of guy you want to fight if you’re feeling weak from making weight.”
Luevano admits that making featherweight is not easy for him and that Lopez is a dangerous opponent but he believes that he will be able to handle both struggles.
“I would say that Lopez is one of the most talented fighters I’ve faced so far; he’s a champ at 122 pounds,” he said. “But this is a fight I’ve wanted for a hile. I’ve had my eye on him because he was just one division lower than me and not everyone can make the same weight forever, even though I’ve been at featherweight since I started my career.
“Is it hard for me to make featherweight? Yes. It gets harder to keep (the weight) with every fight, but I’m real focused and dedicated at what I do and it’s just something I got to do.”
Luevano expects to make weight without problems, and he says he will not only be the bigger man in the ring on fight night, he’ll be smarter.
“I’m naturally bigger and stronger,” he said. “Lopez’s knockouts don’t bother me at all. He’s a hard hitter but he can’t hit what he can’t see, so it doesn’t matter how hard he punches. I’m going to box him, keep him on the outside, and I won’t let him get any confidence.
“He doesn’t like to go into the late rounds. That’s why he likes to end his fights early But I’m going to take him into the deep end of the pool.”
Roach was hoping Penalosa could do the same thing, but his fighter absorbed too much punishment while waiting for Lopez to tucker out and he mercifully stopped the bout after the 10th round.
Garcia believes Luevano has the youth and savvy to take Lopez late without taking a beating.
“I watched Lopez come up and I was impressed just like everyone else, but that Mtagwa fight made me realize that he’s very beatable,” Garcia said. “He gets hit with punches that he shouldn’t get hit with, and Steven is such a good counter puncher that I have to like his chances.
“Steven is the smarter boxer, he has the reach advantage, and the experience, so a lot of things are in our favor.”
Garcia says Luevano’s maturity is a big factor in the fight.
“He doesn’t mind going to New York City, which is basically Lopez’s hometown,” he said. “The Puerto Rican fans won’t bother Steven. We went to London, England and beat Nicky Cook over there, where there were only three people cheering for Steven. But he went out and looked great in that fight. It was one of his best performances.”
Luevano stopped Cook, who was 27-0 at the time, in the 11th round of their title bout in July of 2007.
“I know Lopez is very dangerous, especially in the first few rounds,” Garcia said, “but once he realizes that he’s getting caught with punches he doesn’t see and he’s missing his punches, I think he’ll slow down in the later rounds, and that’s when Steven will stop him or take over the fight.
“That’s what he did with Cook and he’s going into this fight thinking the same way.”