When the bout between Juan Manuel Lopez and Rafael Marquez was first announced, talk of Fight of the Year quickly surfaced. But if you were to ask any of their compatriots why they were looking forward to the fight, the fact that their styles made for an excellent clash on paper was almost secondary to the idea that the Puerto Rican Lopez and the Mexican Marquez would be writing a new chapter in boxing’s most celebrated rivalry between two nations with proud traditions.
Perhaps none were anticipating the fight more than Puerto Rican boxing fans, whose territory had been on the short stick in the last two major bouts between the nations. In 2008, Antonio Margarito stopped Miguel Cotto in 11 classic rounds – albeit in controversial fashion as it is now suspected he used loaded gloves to score the stoppage – to end Cotto’s unbeaten streak. This summer, Puerto Rican junior flyweight Ivan Calderon finally suffered the first blemish on his record when he quit against strong-punching Mexican Giovani Segura in perhaps that division’s most memorable battle.
That each defeat came at the hands of a Mexican rival only made them all the harder to swallow for the Puerto Rican boxing community. Both Cotto and Calderon’s losses ended with them on their knees, a visual surrender that seemed to suggest they were submitting – on that night – to a better country.
But this Saturday, the tables were turned when WBO Featherweight Champion Lopez survived some scares against Marquez and turned an ebb and flow encounter into a one-sided shellacking to remain undefeated.
The bout began tactically, with neither man anxious to taste the other’s power. Marquez waited until half of the first round was through before clipping Lopez with a straight right hand. On cue, Lopez started letting his hands go and caught Marquez with a right hook. At the end of the round, another hook from Lopez clearly stunned Marquez and had him grabbing the champion around the waist. On his way back to the corner, Lopez waved his gloves, signaling to the largely Mexican crowd that Marquez was in for a long night.
In round two, Lopez caught Marquez ducking with a right-left combination, and Rafael quickly informed Referee Tony Weeks that he took it on the back of the head. Lopez leaned on Marquez when the Mexican veteran ducked low, and Weeks called for a break, after which Marquez knocked the Puerto Rican champion off of him with a body shot. Lopez took offense and rocked Marquez with a pair of right hooks to the head but not without eating a left hook from the challenger in return.
One exchange led to another that saw Lopez score with a left hand and an uppercut but again take a right hand and left hook from Marquez. Lopez came back with a clean left hand to the face that moved Marquez back and had him claiming rabbit punch to Weeks. Lopez pushed against Marquez on the ropes and hit him with a left, but Marquez quickly smacked him back with a left hook across the face. Back in the center of the ring, Lopez landed a straight left but took a straight right return in return. Marquez rattled off a combination, ending with a left hook to Lopez before the bell. Lopez raised his glove to salute Marquez on what was becoming a great fight, but Rafael turned away, reminding everyone watching that friendship took a backseat to the rivalry.
In round three, Marquez got in a counter left hook that turned the head of the champion and had Lopez pounding his gloves together. Marquez added an uppercut but was moved back by a hook from Lopez. Ducking in and out, Rafael showed his sharp-shooting abilities by lifting Lopez’ head with an uppercut on the inside. But when Marquez ducked again, Lopez pushed down on his head. Weeks looked to break the fighters, but Marquez again tried to body shot him. That prompted Weeks to call time and lecture both fighters for their respective fouls. This time, Marquez reluctantly touched gloves with Lopez.
Free to engage once more, Lopez immediately went on the attack, catching Marquez with a right hook and a sweeping left hand as he was leaning back. It was enough to send the off-balance challenger reeling across the entire ring. Lopez charged in, but shockingly, it was Marquez who got in the first shot, blasting Lopez with a huge right hand across the face. Lopez kept swinging, but Marquez avoided disaster with another right to the champion’s face. Marquez tried to follow up with a left hook but took a right hook in return. Lopez then stepped in and drilled Marquez with a straight left. Just as fast, Rafael smacked him with a left, and the two-way action had the crowd roaring in approval.
A sweeping right hook from Lopez caught Marquez on top of the head in round four. While the Mexican complained to Weeks about a rabbit punch, Lopez shot in a straight left and banged his gloves together, urging Marquez to fight. Marquez then blatantly swung for the back of Lopez’ head and instead took a straight left on the button that wobbled him back. Marquez spread his gloves in front of Lopez, but Lopez pounded his together and nodded. Lopez absorbed a body shot before getting in a left to Marquez’ face. When Rafael dipped down, Lopez leaned on him, which again made Marquez hit him as Weeks was separating them. Weeks reprimanded Lopez for the leaning, though Marquez was the one creating it.
With they went back to exhanging shots, Lopez caught a huge left hook from Marquez that instantly rocked him to the side on unsteady legs. Lopez planted his wobbly feet and banged his gloves together only to take a right-left combination to his exposed face. Now staggering, Lopez ate a right from Marquez, and was badly hurt. Marquez slammed in another straight right hand to Lopez’ mouth, but the champion grinned and banged his gloves together to mask his pain. Marquez battered him along the ropes, though Lopez did get in a pair of right hooks.
When Marquez dipped down yet again, Lopez held a glove to his head and landed two blows out of desperation – one to the body and one to the back of the head as the challenger was turning away. This time, the double infraction more than warranted a warning. But since Marquez had Weeks on Lopez’ back long before, it turned into a critical point deduction from Lopez. Lopez complained, but the delay probably helped him in the long run as he bought some equally critical recovery time. Lopez shouted at Marquez and smacked gloves with him, urging him to stop complaining and fight. He furiously pounded his gloves together and landed a left hand but took another left hook from Marquez before the bell. On his way back to the corner, the frustrated Lopez let Weeks have it as well.
With the fight suddenly near even, Lopez came out looking to regain control by moving Marquez back with two left hands. When he fired another, he ate a counter left hook from Marquez that buckled his legs once more. The challenger added a right, but Lopez quickly regained his composure this time. Lopez missed a right hook and pushed down on Marquez’ head, and yet again, Rafael backed him off by firing body shots, despite Weeks calling for a break. While Weeks lectured him once more about leaning on Marquez, Lopez dropped his gloves and looked to his corner in disbelief.
With Weeks’ lecturing providing the only lulls in the action, Lopez blasted Marquez with a right hook and took a left hook in return. Marquez added a straight right on the button, and when Lopez tried to answer with a left hand, he caught a left hook for his trouble. Marquez stepped in and scored with another straight right that moved Lopez back. The stronger Lopez shook off the blow, moved in and landed a left hand that doubled Marquez over. They traded left, and Lopez added a combination to the head of Marquez. Lopez kept coming and had Marquez backing up after a round of right hooks, ending a competitive round that resulted in Lopez being cut under his right eye.
Marquez tried to build on his success over the previous two rounds by throwing combinations in round six, but he caught a sweeping left across the face. A straight left from Lopez moved him back, where Marquez took a combination to the head. But he retaliated just as fast, turning Lopez’ head with a pinpoint right hand. Still, Lopez came back, attacking with both hands and again had Marquez doubling over. A pair of right hooks scored for Lopez as Marquez began visibly slowing down. Smothering the Mexican against the ropes, Lopez got in a right hook and an uppercut. More than a dozen more shots landed for Lopez before the bell as Marquez was fortunate to escape the round on his feet.
Looking to make a stand in round seven, Marquez took a right hook across the face, followed by a straight left to the nose. Two more hooks landed, and Marquez responded by holding his gloves over his ears, no doubt voicing another complaint. Lopez ignored it and poured on a left hand, uppercut and right hook. Getting overanxious, he then grabbed hold of Marquez’ head and stuffed in a pair of uppercuts, surprisingly without drawing a complaint from Marquez or a warning from Weeks. Lopez banged in two more uppercuts and a combination that slammed Marquez’ head to either side. The crowd got loud as Marquez momentarily retreated with his gloves down.
Back in the center of the ring, Lopez cracked Marquez with a right hook that froze him up for a second. The Puerto Rican followed up with a left hand but took a straight right from the challenger. Needing to make some magic, Marquez found it by going to the body and coming upstairs with a huge left hook that knocked Lopez’ head up. But it wasn’t enough as Lopez stuck his tongue out and leaned on Marquez. Weeks separated them just before Marquez threw another body shot.
They traded shots once more, Marquez targetting the body while Lopez attacked upstairs. Both men looked exhausted as Lopez slammed home an uppercut and a pair of right hooks before taking a straight right from Marquez. Throwing defense out the window, Lopez hit Marquez with nearly a dozen punches before the Mexican stumbled away from the ropes. Lopez looked for the home run left hand and instead got his own head snapped back by a left hook. Despite the punishment, Marquez continued to prove he was a threat to end the fight at any moment.
Eventually, though, the veteran Marquez began to succumb to the sheer volume of shots from Lopez. He was on unsteady legs and doubling over when Weeks suddenly jumped in to unnecessarily lecture Lopez about some infraction or other. The crowd thundered with boos at the over officiating, but Lopez calmly walked back to Marquez and ripped him with shots to the head all the way to the bell.
Marquez held his own for the first minute of round eight but was knocked back by a right hook before long. A left hand drilled Marquez on the chin as the challenger became more and more stationary. Lopez spread his gloves in front of Marquez halfway through the round, wondering what it would take to finish the proud Mexican off. A clean straight left from Lopez backed Marquez into a corner, where the champion began to tee off on him. Lopez poured it on but walked into a big left hook from Marquez – this time, to little effect, all but sealing the end for Marquez.
Lopez blasted him with a pair of big left hands and a right hook that knocked his head to the side. Overwhelmed but still firing, Marquez took two uppecuts before scoring with another straight right. Lopez landed two left hands and ate a counter left hook from Marquez. Marquez took a final left hand and was in retreat when the bell rang to end the round. He walked to his corner, gesturing to his right shoulder, but Weeks grabbed him by the arm and wheeled him away. Marquez stared Weeks down before his trainer, Daniel Zaragoza, guided him back to the stool.
In the corner, Marquez told Zaragoza he couldn’t move his right shoulder. Zaragoza suggested stopping the fight, but Marquez expressed a desire to continue. Weeks investigated and demanded a decision from Marquez, who ultimately decided to quit. And with that, Lopez made his way to the center of the ring and dropped to his knees. This time, the fighter on his knees was the victor. The Puerto Ricans could finally celebrate.
Post-fight, Marquez claimed his shoulder had been bothering him since the early rounds, though he continued throwing the right hand well into the eighth. In all likelihood, the 35-year-old saw the way the fight was progressing and didn’t like his chances against a younger, stronger and possibly faster opponent down the stretch, especially with a shoulder that was less than 100 percent. The injury supports his campaign for a rematch, which would be welcome in any event, so Marquez can be expected to play that storyline up in the hopes of getting Lopez in the ring a second time.
Having scored the biggest win of his career, Lopez instead seems to be looking toward a unification bout with fellow undefeated Top Rank stablemate Yuriorkis Gamboa next summer. He will fight again in Puerto Rico in the spring, most likely against lesser opposition, though Panamanian Celestino Cabellero remains the opponent most would like to see him face next. After weighing in for the fight with Marquez, Lopez’ team was approached by Caballero’s, and a scuffle ensued. Caballero, regarded as one of the most dangerous fighters in the world below 130 pounds, has been calling out Lopez for well over a year but has so far been snubbed.
Everything is looking up for Lopez, who not only notched a big victory for his nation that turned the tide of the Mexican-Puerto Rican rivalry but also has plenty of options regarding future opponents, many of them bringing built-in storylines that will help sell tickets. In the wake of Cotto and Calderon’s devastating defeats over the past year, Lopez can now enjoy the love that comes with being his country’s most prized fighter.
Tags: Boxing, Juan Manuel Lopez, Rafael Marquez