Inside Fights will be covering tonight’s Featherweight Championship doubleheader on HBO. First up will be WBA Champion Yuriorkis Gamboa defending his title against the dangerous puncher Rogers Mtagwa. After that, Juan Manuel Lopez makes his featherweight debut against WBO Champion Steven Luevano. The action kicks off at 9:45 pm.
Boxing After Dark from Madison Square Garden is under way. Max Kellerman gives us his rundown of the featherweight division. Three of the seven fighters he mentions are fighting tonight.
We get a background video on Gamboa, who comes from Cuba. He won Olympic gold in Athens in 2004 and says the experience of traveling abroad taught him that he deserved more in life than what he had in Cuba, including the traveling itself. Because if one were to cast a cursory here, they’d know of how far the airline industries have grown.
He sold his gold medal to give his daughter a birthday party, saying he didn’t need it because people already knew he was a champion. In 2006, Gamboa met with Tony Gonzalez, an attorney who became his manager. He took his chance and defected from Cuba that year and made his way to the United States. He now fights out of Miami but wants to eventually return home to see his people again.
The commentators briefly discuss Rogers Mtagwa, a Philadelphian with double-digit losses, who always comes to fight. His performance against Juan Manuel Lopez, who he almost knocked out in October, helped him land this fight against Gamboa. Surprisingly, Mtagwa only weighed in at 122 pounds for this 126-pound title fight. He recently competed at junior featherweight.
Fittingly, Mtagwa comes out to “Eye of the Tiger.” He takes his time getting to the ring, stopping in the aisle a good while to throw some punches.
Gamboa doesn’t take as long to get to the ring. He carries the flag of Haiti with him in support of the people impacted by the recent disaster. Steve Smoger is officiating this one, which is a great choice given how reckless these two can be.
Yuriorkis Gamboa (16-0) vs. Rogers Mtagwa (25-13)
ROUND 1: Gamboa gets in a body shot. Mtagwa walks into a counter left hook. Big overhand right lands for Gamboa, but Mtagwa hasn’t flinched from anything yet. Gamboa lands a huge left hook that wobbles Mtagwa back. He is too fast for Mtagwa thus far. Mtagwa walks into another left hook and takes another. Gamboa mixes in a body shot as well. Good jab by Gamboa. Gamboa dodges some shots and walks away casually with his hands down, not even looking at Mtagwa. Gamboa catches Mtagwa off balance with a left hook upside the head, and Mtagwa goes down. He isn’t hurt, but Smoger gives him the full eight count. Mtagwa looks more disinterested than anything after a fantastic first round for Gamboa.
ROUND 2: It was actually a very good shot by Gamboa. The shot may have dropped Mtagwa either way, but he was a bit off balance. Mtagwa is swinging wildly now and takes a hard right from Gamboa. A big left hook to the chin knocks Mtagwa back, and they are slugging, but Gamboa is doing all the landing. Big whiff by Mtagwa as Gamboa is fighting very composed. Another right and a left land for Gamboa. A huge right hand wobbles Mtagwa, but he doesn’t go down. Gamboa continues to land huge shots, and a left-right combination finally puts Mtagwa down along the ropes. Mtagwa beats the count, and Smoger warns him that he is watching closely. Mtagwa finally lands a right but takes a huge left hook, and he is hurt bad. He is wobbling all over the place but slugging back. Gamboa scores with another left hook, and now Mtagwa is holding on. Mtagwa takes a few more shots and slumps into a sitting position on the ropes. Smoger has seen enough and stops it. Terrific performance by Gamboa.
Gamboa wins by second round knockout.
Mtagwa is already responding to questions for a doctor, and Gamboa comes to embrace him. Mtagwa had taken similar leather from Lopez back in October, but Gamboa was wobbling him even more and put him down clean twice. The third knockdown was more exhaustion than anything else. Mtagwa didn’t debate the stoppage, so he must have been in bad shape.
Gamboa tells Kellerman that his plan was to show his stuff in the fourth round, but the knockout presented itself. Kellerman asks him about fighting disciplined, and Gamboa says he has been trying to improve all deficiencies and erase them. Kellerman asks him about the statement he made, given how Mtagwa and Lopez went life-and-death with each other. Gamboa says Lopez cannot be compared to him as they are two different fighters. Gamboa doesn’t comment on the proposed showdown with Lopez, deferring to the “it’s up to our promoters” answer boxing fans loathe.
Miguel Cotto is in the house and with Bob Papa. Papa expresses his condolences at the passing of Cotto’s father. Papa talks about Cotto’s proposed fight with Yuri Foreman. Cotto says it’s in negotiations now but may be happening in June. Cotto enjoys fighting around the Puerto Rican Day parade. Papa asks Miguel for a prediction on Pacquiao-Clottey, and Cotto gives the “I don’t know; it’s going to be a great fight” response. Cotto says Puerto Rico brings many great boxers to the table, and Lopez is one of the best in the last 10 years. Papa compliments Cotto on his English, saying they spoke 8 years ago, and Cotto promised to get better. More of a time-killing interview than anything.
It looks like HBO is passing on a 24/7 series for Pacquiao-Clottey and is instead going with a “Road to Dallas” program before the fight, akin to the Countdown shows HBO used to do.
Kellerman says before the Mtagwa fight, Lopez was probably considered a contender to become the best fighter in the world, according to popular vote. Kellerman says Lopez needs to erase what happened last time out against Mtagwa by looking superb tonight. Papa says Gamboa has certainly raised the bar by blowing Mtagwa out with ease.
They talk about Luevano, who feels he isn’t getting the respect he deserves after five title defenses. Lennox Lewis says this is Luevano’s opportunity to command respect.
Lopez makes his way to the ring, where Felix Trinidad awaits and embraces him. Looking back at the Mtagwa fight, Kellerman believes that Lopez’ claim to being weight-drained for that fight has some legitimacy. Kellerman also points out that the fight showed the heart Lopez has.
Luevano was actually knocked out in his last fight against Bernabe Concepcion, but it happened after the bell, so Luevano won by disqualification. He has lost once to Martin Honorio. Luevano wastes little time getting into the ring.
Before the fight, Michael Buffer asks for a moment of silence for Miguel Cotto, Sr.
Benjy Esteves is the referee for this one. The crowd boos Luevano when he is introduced.
Steven Luevano (37-1-1) vs. Juan Manuel Lopez (27-0)
ROUND 1: The battle of southpaws is underway. They are boxing early, and Lopez partially lands a straight left to back Luevano off. Luevano gets in one of his own. Lopez leads with the jab and lands a solid left hand. Lopez walks into a right hook from Luevano. Lopez lands a right hook, a body shot and a good left hand to the head. Good jab lands for Lopez. Right hook scores for Lopez. Good opening round for the challenger, who more than held his own boxing and landed the power shots.
ROUND 2: Lopez lands a left hand, but Luevano answers with one of his own. Lopez gets in a right hook. Luevano just misses with a straight left. Two good jabs by Luevano. Lopez lands a right hook. Lopez gets in a body shot. Now Lopez lands a stiff jab. Lopez walks into a right hook from Luevano. Then, Luevano opens up, landing a three-punch combination. Lopez lands a straight left to the head, and Luevano grabs his arm. Luevano lands another jab. A brief rally from Lopez at the end of the round may have stolen it for him, though Luevano seemed more effective in the round.
ROUND 3: Lopez walks into a stiff jab to start round three. Lopez knocks Luevano’s head back with a straight left. Luevano may be hurt as he backs off and takes some combinations. Luevano gets in a straight left now and seems to have regained his composure. Luevano lands a straight left-right combination. Luevano gets in a good right hook. Now Luevano targets the body but eats a right hook upstairs. Lopez adds in two more right hooks and a body shot as the action picks up. Luevano waves Lopez in for more, and Lopez is banging away. Lopez jumps in with a right hook to the chin. Luevano stands and tries to trade as the crowd gets excited. Luevano fought foolishly after getting caught, and now his nose is bleeding.
ROUND 4: Lopez lands a right hook. Luevano gets his jab going and lands a few good ones. Lopez lands a clean left and knocks Luevano’s head up with a right hook. Another left for Lopez, followed by a right hook. Luevano’s counters are hitting mostly glove, but he knocks Lopez’ head back with a jab. Lopez lands a body shot and two big left hands that seem to stun Luevano briefly, but he keeps crowding Lopez to try to smother his power. “Juanma” chants go up as Lopez lands a right hook to the head. Another right hook from Lopez and a straight left. Big right hook wobbles Luevano a bit, but Luevano answers with his own right hook. Lopez is starting to take over this fight in a big way, though his lower lip is cut.
ROUND 5: Good jab by Luevano to start. Lopez lands a big right hook in return, and Luevano seems to be losing his footing after these big shots round after round. Right hook by Lopez, and Luevano has to hold on. Straight left lands for Lopez. Lopez starts banging away at the body, and a big right hook snaps Luevano’s head back. Uppercut lands for Lopez. Lopez lands a right-left to the head. Luevano goes to the body, holds and hits. Lopez gets in a right hook and an uppercut. Luevano isn’t far from busting up.
ROUND 6: Luevano and Lopez get tangled up, and Luevano shoves Lopez away and into the ropes. I could be wrong, but it appears Juan Manuel Marquez is sitting beside Bob Arum, with Cotto on the other side of Arum. Lopez lands a big left to the head, but Luevano has not gone anywhere yet. Lopez lands a body shot and a jab upstairs. Luevano isn’t returning fire as often after getting hit, and that’s probably the result of Lopez targeting the body. Lopez lands a good left. A right hook from Lopez brings Luevano’s hands down momentarily. Lopez tags him with some hard right hooks and forces Luevano into the ropes. Luevano lands a low blow, and Lopez looks to Esteves to call it. It’s all Lopez at this point.
ROUND 7: They clash heads right away. Harold Lederman apparently gave Luevano round 5. Not sure how. Lopez catches Luevano trading with a huge uppercut. Luevano is stunned and staggers back, taking more shots. Lopez rushes in and floors him with a big right hook-left hand combination to the head, knocking Luevano down hard in the corner. Luevano beats the count at 7, but Esteves stops it. Bad call. Luevano briefly complains and walks away. It was a quick stoppage, but Lopez was taking the fight over in a big way. Still, Luevano deserved a chance to show what he had.
Lopez wins by seventh round TKO.
Lopez is lifted up by his team and reacting wildly over the victory. They’re pouring water on his head. Luevano has water poured over his head on the stool, then comes over to embrace Lopez, the new WBO Featherweight Champion. They share words, and Luevano keeps pointing at Lopez, saying he is the better man.
Kellerman asks Lopez about his reaction to winning, and Lopez says it is his dream to win titles in four divisions. This is his second one. Kellerman asks if Luevano was a difficult opponent, and Lopez says it wasn’t one of his toughest fights, just a difficult style. Kellerman asks Lopez if he saw Gamboa’s win and if he had that on his mind at all. Lopez says what Gamboa did doesn’t matter and points out that Mtagwa weighed in at 122 for a 126-pound fight. Lopez echoes Gamboa in saying they are two different styles, and that’s how it goes sometimes. Kellerman asks about the potential fight with Gamboa, and Lopez also throws out the “whatever my team wants” response. Lopez says he could even be fighting Marquez next, surely referring to Rafael and not Juan, but you never know.
So two very impressive performances by Gamboa and Lopez set them up for a big, big showdown later this year. Kellerman thinks Luevano was a harder opponent to look good against and says you could argue that Lopez had the better win. Kellerman says a lot of people could say Mtagwa was a club fighter but that it’s hard to get around what Gamboa did to him tonight. Kellerman starts to ramble like Larry Merchant. Papa simplifies things by saying he’s looking forward to Lopez-Gamboa.
Papa talks about Mosley-Berto being cancelled and extends HBO’s condolences to Berto’s family and everyone affected in Haiti.
That concludes the coverage of this featherweight doubleheader. Let’s all cross our fingers that Arum actually puts Lopez in with Gamboa and doesn’t continue his recent trend of keeping his biggest fighters (Pacquiao and Pavlik) out of their biggest fights (Mayweather and Williams).
Tags: Boxing, Juan Manuel Lopez, Juan Manuel Lopez vs Steven Luevano, Rogers Mtagwa, Steven Luevano, Yuriorkis Gamboa