Friday, December 09, 2022  |


Lopez, Gamboa cruise but Arum balks at immediate showdown


Yuriorkis Gamboa (right) lands a crunching right to the face of Rogers Mtagwa on the way to a dominating second-round KO of the normally durable journeyman. Photo / Naoki Fukuda

NEW YORK, N.Y. — Juan Manuel Lopez had something to prove Saturday night and it’s safe to say he proved it at the Theater at Madison Square Garden.

The last time Lopez was there, he sat glumly in his corner with a towel over his head grateful he had escaped with his perfect record still intact. On Saturday night, he slapped his knees in excitement immediately after one of the best performances of his career.

Lopez was sharp, at times electric and much more tactical and cunning than he was the last time he fought at the Theater, when he was engaged in a life-and-death struggle against Rogers Mtagwa last October.

This time, the Lopez the sellout crowd of 5,142 expected to see showed up, dominating and then stopping Steven Luevano 44 seconds into the seventh round to take the Southern Californian’s alphabet title.

That set up the possibility of a great featherweight showdown with Yuriorkis Gamboa, another featherweight titleholder, sometime in the near future. Gamboa did his part earlier by stopping Mtagwa in the second round, the Tanzanian’s reward for the scare he put into Lopez back in October.

But don’t expect to see Lopez-Gamboa right away. Bob Arum, the promoter of both fighters, dispelled any notions that the fight is on the horizon.

“I know what people want and they can go [expletive] themselves,” Arum said with great exuberance. “I want to wait and build this to be the biggest featherweight fight of all time. It’s my job as a promoter to do that. When they fight, they’ll fight to be best featherweight in the world. I want to see those two clean out the division and I don’t want to see them rush to fight each other. There’s no way I want to rush and do this.”

Arum mentioned a possible matchup with Celestino Caballero — with either Lopez or Gamboa — in May or June. Arum also said he would like to add Chris John to the mix.

Lopez (28-0, 24 knockouts) demonstrated that he could compete with any of the above on Saturday, fighting much more patiently than he did when he went after Mtagwa three months ago.

The Puerto Rican star slowly broke down his experienced foe until it was time to go in for the kill. A right uppercut followed by a short right put Luevano (37-2-1, 15 KOs) down and ended his night. Referee Benjy Estevez Jr. waved off the fight with Luevano on his feet but very wobbly.

Mtagwa never had a chance against Gamboa, who began landing bombs after the opening bell and didn’t stop until the fight ended with Mtagwa slumped in the corner at 2:35 of the second round.

The Gamboa-Mtagwa fight was fun while it lasted. Gamboa (17-0, 15 KOs) made easy work of Mtagwa, when referee Steve Smoger stepped in to stop the fight with Mtagwa (25-14-2, 18 KOs) slumped in the corner at 2:35 of the second round.

Gamboa dropped Mtagwa in the opening round with a left hook. In the second, the Cuban expatriate hit Mtagwa with almost every left hook he threw and wobbled the Philadelphia-based Tanzanian with a right. He then floored Mtagwa again with a right to the chin. Finally, Gamboa trapped Mtagwa in the corner and put him down under a torrent of shots.

At that point, referee Steve Smoger didn’t hesitate to end the slaughter.

A point of intrigue going into this fight: Could Mtagwa repeat against Gamboa what he did against Lopez? Obviously not. It didn’t even seem to be the same fighter.

One problem was the fact Mtagwa weighed in at 122¾ pounds for the 126-pound fight. Another was that many placed way too much emphasis on Mtagwa’s once-in-a-lifetime performance three months ago.

Afterward, neither Lopez nor Gamboa was ready to commit to a fight against each other. They deferred to Arum, whose ear-to-ear grin made it clear that he relished a potentially huge fight between his two young stars at some point.

But can Gamboa be successfully attacking at full throttle against someone as seasoned as Lopez? Can the stout, thick Gamboa neutralize Lopez’s considerable reach advantage? Can Lopez keep Gamboa away?

We’ll just have to wait to find out.

Joseph Santoliquito is the managing editor for THE RING magazine.