Somewhere In Between: Juan Manuel Lopez Vs. Bernabe Concepcion Preview And Prediction

Neither fully inspiring nor fully disappointing, Juan Manuel Lopez versus Bernabe Concepcion Saturday on Showtime is, on the inspiring tip, a potentially very good scrap between two top-10 featherweights, one of the best divisions in boxing, where one of the men — Lopez — is a pound-for-pound contender and one of the most exciting young talents on the sport. Yet, on the disappointing tip, it is a far cry from Lopez-Yuriorkis Gamboa or Gamboa-Celestino Caballero — two significantly more desirable featherweight bouts — and Concepcion is a serious underdog, certainly a step down in competition for Lopez from his last opponent Steven Luevano, whom Lopez demolished but Concepcion struggled with in a disqualification loss.

Amid a dry summer stretch for boxing, this sunshower is refreshing, even if it still burns that Top Rank Promotions dangled Lopez-Gamboa then Gamboa-Caballero in front of us only to then snatch it away. At minimum, it’s a chance to see a top-flight boxer in action, something in sparse supply of late, and if it works out the way I expect it could, it might be action-packed if not brief.

As always in fights where I’ve basically telegraphed my prediction, I’ll spend some time trying to decipher how the underdog wins.

Lopez’ win over Luevano and Concepcion’s loss to him doesn’t help matters. Luevano never had a chance against Lopez. Lopez was too big, too strong and too fast for the light-hitting Luevano. Concepcion’s low work rate against Luevano — and his historically low work rate against everyone, what with the way he stands there thinking “wait wait wait wait wait wait wait” — had him looking a bit like Rocky Juarez, i.e. a dangerous puncher who never does enough to fully realize that danger, even against someone unlikely to threaten his own chin.

Lopez has only looked even remotely vulnerable against Rogers Mtagwa in the fight before Luevano, when Mtagwa dragged him into an ill-advised brawl. Maybe the lower weight class — Lopez-Mtagwa was at 122 — had something to do with it, too. Certainly, Lopez carried up excellent power from junior featherweight against Luevano, who’d never been torn apart like that against some pretty good and powerful boxers. Concepcion does have the potential to make Lopez trade a bit more than he’d want, since he can sting anyone with his shots, and Lopez’ pride may get the best of him if that happens. And Lopez’ chin is untested against a true featherweight puncher.

There are a lot of things Concepcion is going to have to contend with against Lopez, but there are a few key things. He’s going to be at a reach and height disadvantage, like he often is as a 5’4″, 66″-armed dude. I think Lopez knows how to use his size better than, say, Mario Santiago, Concepcion’s last opponent. He’s going to want to be careful not to reach with his punches, something he does a fair amount, because Lopez can counter, especially with his lethal right hook — just ask Daniel Ponce De Leon, the man Lopez plastered with that hook to burst onto the scene as a real talent. And Concepcion’s going to want to stay off the ropes, where Santiago froze him and hurt him badly in the 10th, even though Concepcion won a decision in the end.

I can’t say I have much advise on how Concepcion can manage that. He could jab his way in, but Lopez has a good jab of his own, so it’s hard for me to imagine Concepcion outjabbing Lopez. Concepcion does have a decent 1-2, with speed, so maybe he could work that more so he doesn’t get outjabbed to death, although overcommitting to his 1-2 could lead him to do some reaching. He could also try to counter Lopez with his own decent counter left, but Concepcion waiting for Lopez to go first is a recipe for disaster, because Lopez is going to be able to back him up against the ropes that way.

So this is where we’re left. Lopez should be bigger, faster, stronger and all-around better. Concepcion’s hope is that he and trainer Freddie Roach can trick Lopez into letting his Latino blood get to boiling, and then the powerful Filipino can start battering away at the potentially vulnerable Puerto Rican’s ability to remain conscious. But even then things don’t look so hot. Ask yourself whether you’d rather be punched by Santiago or Lopez, then consider whether Lopez is going to be as passive as Santiago was for stretches of his bout with Concepcion. Then think about this: Yes, Concepcion dropped Santiago in the 6th round of their fight, but Santiago also got dropped by the feather-fisted Luevano, and no Luevano shot budged Lopez for a millisecond. So even if Concepcion does connect, he’s unlikely to hurt Lopez.

I don’t see this one going too long. Lopez might not put the full assault on in the 1st round as he takes the measure of Concepcion’s power, but after that he’ll get Concepcion backing up and he’ll beat the stuffing out of him. I expect Lopez to stop Concepcion in four.

[TQBR Prediction Game 3.0 is in effect. Please follow the rules, ESPECIALLY THE ONE ABOUT POSTING DEADLINES. After a one-fight grace period last time for some new players, late predictions will go back to equaling zero points.]

About Tim Starks

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