Juan Manuel Lopez survived the toughest test of his pro career in a Fight of the Year candidate war against Rogers Mtagwa. Lopez won via unanimous decision. (Photo by Chris Farina / Top Rank)
Juan Manuel Lopez and Rogers Mtagwa were set up for a war, but most figured it would be a short war, with Lopez eventually crushing the journeyman Mtagwa, an always-game fighter who can brawl with the best of them.
Instead, Lopez met the first great resistance of his professional career. Mtagwa battled, baited and hurt Lopez over 12 rounds of terrific action, but was outpointed in the end. Lopez remained unbeaten with an unanimous decision win, victorious on scores of 116-111, 115-111 and 114-113. Bad Left Hook scored it 114-112 for Lopez.
The fight was a straight-up brawl, a war that staggered and exhausted both competitors. Lopez scored a borderline knockdown in the fifth round, but the 12th round was a 10-8 for Mtagwa without a knockdown.
Before anyone gets too up in arms about Lopez not being as good as he is supposed to be, keep some other things in mind here. All great fighters have been pressed at some point in their careers, and 99.9% of them even get beaten. This one loss or even one tough opponent thing where everyone expects everybody to steamroll their opposition constantly is way out of hand among fans and people inside boxing. It hurts the sport overall, really. Great fighters do lose sometimes. It's a contact sport, and luck often plays a factor. Style matchups play a massive factor, too. Mtagwa wound up a damn hard style for Lopez to handle, but Lopez also showed a fantastic chin, a ton of heart and spirit, and he stayed up under a 12th round assault that would have floored a lot of guys. Mtagwa isn't feather-fisted and he was unloading.
In short, why focus on much more than the fact that this wound up being a phenomenal fight to watch? Both guys left it all in the ring, Mtagwa (26-13-2, 18 KO) again proved he's one tough SOB, and Lopez (27-0, 24 KO) may not have shown all of his great skills tonight, but he showed us something else, and that's his ability to survive and persevere when he gets into the deep waters.
I'm not saying don't analyze, or don't even discuss the flaws Lopez showed. There were some. But that shouldn't really be the focal point. It was a great fight, and chances are JML comes out of this stronger than he came in.
On the undercard, things more or less went as planned. Yuriorkis Gamboa (16-0, 14 KO) blitzed Whyber Garcia (22-7, 15 KO) in the fourth round, stopping him as soon as he stepped on the gas. The first round of their co-feature bout was tentative, and the second and third were fairly slow, as well. But when Gamboa turned the light on, it was over. Garcia had previous KO losses to Edwin Valero and Jorge Linares, so this was no surprise. No offense to Garcia, but this showed us nothing we don't already know about Gamboa.
In heavyweight action, Odlanier Solis (15-0, 11 KO) knocked out Monte Barrett in the second round. Solis, who was huge at 271 pounds on the scale and heaven knows what in the ring, clipped Barrett (34-8, 20 KO) with a left hook, which put Monte flat on his back. Moments later, he was able to finish him off with a flurry near the ropes and a second knockdown. For the 38-year old Barrett, that should be enough. He's got no punch resistance left and the only reason he got this fight and the David Haye fight last year is he rid the TV boxing world of the Tye Fields experiment, which gave his career a second breath. I am a Monte Barrett fan, but he's finished.
In the TV opener, Pawel Wolak (25-1, 17 KO) used constant pressure on the inside, forcing Carlos Nascimento (24-2, 20 KO) to quit after five rounds of action. Top Rank also showed half of John Duddy's eight-round decision win over Michi Munoz, which was a typical Duddy fight in which he gets hit a lot but wins, and makes it way harder on himself than it needs to be, or at least that's your first thought until you realize you've said that about pretty much all of his fights, and then it just dawns on you that John Duddy is popular and a lot of fun to watch, but just not all that good.