Weekend Afterthoughts, Juan Manuel Lopez, Israel Vazquez, Jorge Linares And Yuriorkis Gamboa Edition

YouTube pirates have let me down, as no one has posted the full Fight of the Year candidate from this weekend between junior featherweight Juan Manuel Lopez and Rogers Mtagwa. Nor has anyone put up the featherweight return of Israel Vazquez. So, for this edition of Weekend Afterthoughts, I’m flying semi-blind. I’ve relied on a Lopez-Mtagwa highlight clip, some ringside footage of the ending to Vazquez’ fight above, somebody filming the final moments of Yuriorkis Gamboa’s fight off his television, a few news accounts and — hey! — one full fight viewed, the Jorge Linares upset.

  • Vazquez’ best days are probably gone. It pains me to think it, let alone say it. But I don’t think you can attribute Vazquez going life and death with someone like Angel Priolo to ring rust. The guy hadn’t won in five years, a losing streak that began when he was a mere flyweight, and was knocked out in five of his six straight losses. He, too, went on a long layoff — he hadn’t fought since May of last year. We’re almost certainly going to have to come to terms with the idea that Vazquez, the premier action hero in the sport for several years, has shortened his career badly because of his wars. Now, he’s made good money that way. I don’t feel bad for him. He’s had a tremendous career, if it’s effectively over. And candidly, I don’t think he could have fought any other way if he tried. He’s at his best when he’s pressing forward and brawling. He never showed a single gift for defense. He just out-willed everyone he fought, even men notorious for their willpower. His 12th round stand against Rafael Marquez in their third fight is one of the handful of most incredible things I’ve ever seen happen in a ring, when with badly damaged eyes (three retina reattachment surgeries, endless stitches) and a bum knee (reportedly, torn ligaments) he charged forward to score the last-second knockdown he absolutely had to have to win the fight by one point on the scorecards. I don’t want to see Vazquez-Marquez IV and never did, even if that was the talk of Vazquez’ promoter afterward (even light-hitting Chris John, whom Vazquez mentioned, sounds like too much). As sometimes happens, the fighter who appears to get the better of a rival comes out worse for the wear, and that’s what seems to have happened here. Maybe, just maybe, if Vazquez looks OK in his next fight, I wouldn’t oppose Vazquez-Marquez IV. But right now it seems like Vazquez’ career is de facto over, even if it isn’t officially so. Of course it would have ended with him in difficult circumstances, cut to the bone, only to rally for the knockout he needed. And what saddens me about it is not that Vazquez is financially insolvent, the way so many fighters are and that he is not; it’s that he’s the kind of fighter that ennobles boxing, who becomes like a drug you can’t get enough of no matter how unhealthy it all is. 
  • Lopez and Linares probably aren’t frauds. I fear I’ve come off excessively negative toward both men for their difficult outings, and I want to clarify: I’ve only cautioned against overrating both boxers prematurely, which is the other side of the coin to rushing to premature judgments about whether a difficult outing means someone won’t fulfill his potential. In fact, I think it quite likely that we’ll still see Lopez and Linares have very, very nice careers. A loss (for Linares) and a tougher-than-expected fight (Lopez) may mean both of them won’t live up to their potential; jumping to that conclusion, though — based off one fight — is foolish. Maybe there were legitimate extenuating circumstances for Lopez and Linares. Both men reportedly suffered difficulties making weight. Lopez, again, just from the highlight video and news clips and comments from people I trust, very stupidly fought Mtagwa’s fight, winging wild punches for no good reason. But if, in fact, these outings are signs they weren’t as good as some thought they were, which we’ll only know based on how they perform in future fights, then those who ranked Lopez and Linares as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters will be guilty of an even more grave overreaction than they have committed already. I say, resist the urge to write off a fighter too early, and resist the urge to think he’s the next big thing too early. And, in both cases, it’s entirely possible that if each fight didn’t do long-term damage to the youngsters, they will be improved fighters for having encountered so much trouble and surviving, as Lopez did, or bouncing back, as Linares will have to do.
  • Lopez’ opponents. IR pointed this out recently, and I think it bears repeating: This is the third consecutive fight where we came away so impressed by a Lopez opponent. Gerry Penalosa surviving that Lopez onslaught like he did for as long as he did was frightfully brave stuff. Olivier Lontchi made us think he was a better fighter than his record would have suggested by giving Lopez any trouble at all. And now Mtagwa comes away with an enhanced reputation. The potential meanings of this are also myriad, but inconclusive. Were Penalosa, Lontchi and Mtagwa not the mismatches they looked like on paper? Is the fact that Lopez had any difficult with any of them all another sign that maybe all of us (including myself, for regarding Mtagwa and Lontchi as hopeless cases) thought too highly of him too soon?
  • Next for Lopez and Gamboa. Top Rank’s Bob Arum still plans to put Lopez and Gamboa on a course toward a summer showdown. I always thought that was an interesting fight, but I actually think it’s more interesting now. As highly as I think of Gamboa, I was of the mind a good the first good Lopez shot would put him down. But one of the reasons I suspect Lopez had trouble with Mtagwa is that he was a featherweight squeezing down to junior featherweight. Does this mean Lopez’ power may not carry up to feather for a Gamboa fight? Maybe, maybe not, but it’s now a more legit question, one that improves Gamboa’s chances; and Gamboa clearly is more powerful than Mtagwa, and might have been able to finish a hurt Lopez the way Mtagwa couldn’t. It does look like Celestino Caballero’s off the table at any weight. Arum has always hated that fight, and said he offered $150,000 to Caballero and acted like Caballero turned his nose up at it even though Caballero’s team says they never got that offer. Lopez wants the fight, to his credit, and I’d still be very interested in it, at any weight. But he did suffer a deep cut, and may not be ready to go by January, as originally targeted. Even if he has another fight before Gamboa, it’s more likely to be with, say, a Steve Luevano. And Gamboa is likely to meet up with Bernabe Concepcion on the same card, an advertisement for Lopez-Gamboa. Interestingly, Gamboa’s team is thinking of matching him with Mtagwa on that card, perhaps responding to Lopez’ challenge that Gamboa wouldn’t have looked so hot Saturday if he’d fought Mtagwa, too.
  • Next for Linares. I really applaud Linares for wanting to a rematch right away against the man who victimized him in one round. It’s one of the ballsiest moves in boxing to seek an immediate rematch with the guy who dominated you. If Juan Carlos Salgado wins again, or is highly competitive in a loss, we’ll know he’s not a one-punch fluke, and we may have more questions about Linares, but we may also find out Salgado was just a bad match-up for him. But if Linares wins convincingly, it’s almost like the loss never happened. Then he’s back on the stardom course he looked to be on before. There’s no way Salgado makes more money against anyone else, so why not make it happen?
  • Fernando Guerrero advances, and so forth. Heavyweight Odlanier Solis survived coming in at 271 pounds to knock out a shot Monte Barrett. Fellow Cuban prospect Yan Barthelemy, a bantamweight thought to have some promise, got KTFO by Jorge Diaz. Guerrero, a middleweight prospect, survived his own difficult outing — including a knockdown — to pull out a majority decision over his toughest opponent yet, Ossie Duran. It was a tough weekend to be a highly-thought of young fighter, for the most part.

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board (http://www.tbrb.org). He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.