Like miniature chocolates laced with chili powder, Marcos Maidana and Josesito Lopez are recognizably one thing and don't need to be anything other than what they are — because who doesn't like chocolates and brawlers? — but they have added a touch of something else to make themselves all the zestier. In their purest brawling forms, Maidana and Lopez, fighting one another Saturday on Showtime, made exciting fights. In their slightly more evolved forms, they have made exciting fights that added a drop of something more sophisticated, and all the better.
Both Maidana and Lopez have been quite blunt about their intentions for this weekend: They are going to try to punch the living shit out of each other. Lopez, smarter against Victor Ortiz a couple fights ago than in any previous fight of his career en route to the best win of his life, says he knows he needs to be smarter than Maidana too, but explicitly has acknowledged that there's no chance he's going to turn into a fancy Dan overnight. Maidana, under the tutelage of trainer Robert Garcia, has added a jab into his arsenal (gasp!) but has also been clear about how he intends to win the fight — pressure, unrelenting pressure.
That mixture of almost entirely pure action fighters, each spiced with just a touch of nuance, is more than enough to make Lopez-Maidana one of the best match-ups of 2013.
That both are legitimate top-10 caliber welterweights who could be in a different mix with a win — for a bigger fight in a loaded division — also doesn't hurt. Not long ago, both were junior welterweights. Lopez is in the welter top 10 already, having beaten Victor Ortiz in his move up to 147. Ortiz earned his way into the top 10 after just one win over Andre Berto. Lopez beat Ortiz to take his spot. Maidana isn't quite there yet, having lost in a lackluster showing against Devon Alexander in his inaugural move to the weight, but he looked much better against a very good version of Jesus Soto Karass, like someone who belonged among the top welters.
Maidana is the purer puncher, or at least he was at 140. His punches had zero effect on Alexander last year, and struck me as having little impact overall, like the seven pounds had turned his cement block hands into mere rocks. But his body was more sculpted against Karass, and he was able to drop then stop an opponent who had only been dropped once before in his life despite battling a whole list of hard hitters. Karass made Maidana look even better when, in his next bout, Karass beat former top-10 welter Selcuk Aydin. Maidana himself went and won an easy won down in his native Argentina in December, with a body shot-abetted knockout against Angel Martinez. Against Karass, admittedly a guy easy to look like a technician against, Maidana did show off the aforementioned jab, a crunching punch in Maidana's employ that he executed with good timing and frequency and that he used to set up his monstrous hooks and crosses. There were stretches of the fight where Maidana, cornered against the ropes by Karass, behaved as though he had watched a few Floyd Mayweather videos, dipping, ducking and rolling. Ultimately, though, it was the Maidana of years past that won the fight — pure power, relentless aggression (accompanied with plenty of fouls) even when encountering huge return fire.
Lopez has some power, too, though, breaking Ortiz's jaw with a left hook and digging body punches with a level of commitment and torque rare among today's fighters. Even with Maidana's upgrades, Lopez is probably still the more versatile fighter. Maidana fought backing up some against Karass, but Lopez's counterpunches against Ortiz were eye-opening. Among metrics of technical ability, Lopez fares worse against Maidana in how straight they throw punches, but better on defense, probably. Even though he made Ortiz quit, it's not 100 percent clear Lopez is a natural welterweight, because Ortiz is a flaky dude, however justified you think he was in quitting against Lopez. He's definitely not a junior middleweight, as he showed in a game effort against Saul Alvarez, who practically laughed off Lopez's power. Lopez, who is prone to getting stung from time to time, says he'll be more acclimated to 147 after having had to bulk up to 154.
If you throw out each man's worst lost, Alexander for Maidana and Alvarez for Lopez (both defensible losses, ultimately, since both Maidana and Lopez were moving up in weight), we have two men who haven't been beaten all that definitively or have won them all. Maidana lost to Amir Khan, but he nearly knocked him out along the way; Lopez lost to Jessie Vargas, but many scored it for Lopez. Both made their names beating Ortiz, and haven't beaten anyone better. Both are relatively untested at 147 pounds. They're essentially on the exact same level.
Maidana, as mentioned, is the harder puncher; that will matter because Lopez can be wobbled, although he tends to recover well. Lopez is probably the slightly better technician, which will matter because Maidana has struggled most with boxers who have some craft, although Lopez is no Alexander or Erik Morales ([double] although he is younger and fresher than Morales, to say the least). Another interesting element here is that Maidana got dropped on a body shot by Khan, and got hurt to the body by Karass, which will matter because Lopez is a better body puncher than either, although Maidana too recovers well.
Anytime a boxer has an eraser like the power Maidana has, and he is getting better at applying it, he'll be in the fight against someone as hittable as Lopez. But when adding up where they are even, and adding up where Lopez has the advantage in both total qualities and some more subtle match-up elements — I left out Lopez's speed advantage and his more nimble feet — I have to give Lopez the overall better chance of winning. By the end of the night his face will be mashed into an unrecognizable form as a result of the high-level brawl, but he should take an exceedingly narrow decision for his troubles. With the crowd on his side and powerful adviser Al Haymon on his side, it might be a controversial decision.