Top Rank announced last night that Juan Manuel Lopez would be returning to defend his newly-won featherweight belt for the first time in June, and with Bernabe Concepcion banging out a win over Mario Santiago in Vegas, Lopez-Concepcion now just needs ink on paper to make the fight official.
Concepcion (28-3-1, 15 KO) is a solid enough fighter, but the 22-year-old Filipino doesn't strike me as a great challenge to Lopez (28-0, 25 KO), who knocked out Steven Luevano on January 23 in his jump up to 126 pounds. What this is is what you'd have to expect from Top Rank when Bob Arum made a big to-do about delaying Lopez-Yuriorkis Gamboa, hoping to "clean out" the featherweight division with his two fighters and then match them up when the fight is truly ripe, and ready to produce some big money.
It's a nice idea, but like I said when this came up, don't expect these guys to actually start cleaning out much of anything. Concepcion is borderline top ten at 126. What matters is he's a Top Rank fighter, and frankly on paper is kind of an easy mark for Lopez. Should Lopez beat Concepcion, as most are going to assume he will, then after he does Arum can attempt to sell it as a major victory. It'd be a fine win, and with the depth of the featherweight division sort of iffy, I'm not really complaining about the fight. But it is what it is, so let's call it what it is.
Meanwhile, Yuriorkis Gamboa is rumored to be headed for a twin-bill showdown with Celestino Caballero, the 5'11" junior featherweight who was stripped of one of his titles earlier this week. Gamboa (17-0, 15 KO) would be taking the biggest challenge of his career by far against Caballero (33-2, 23 KO), but let me just throw this out there.
If Gamboa and Caballero fight, Gamboa will wipe the mat with him. He will destroy him. He will leave Caballero in a heap. I've simply seen too many awful flaws from Caballero, some of which are because he's so awkward due to his height. I cannot see him surviving against Gamboa, who is aggressive, way too fast, and powerful. I'm not saying Caballero isn't a dangerous fight, or that the fight isn't worth the time. It's a very good fight in all ways, in fact. I just think Gamboa steamrolls this guy. I recall watching the far slower, far, far less talented Jorge Lacierva find success against Caballero in 2007 (one of the dirtiest, ugliest fights in recent memory), and I can't see Caballero finding ways to combat Gamboa's style. Caballero is too deliberate. He largely preys on guys that aren't quick and/or don't come to make the action happen. Gamboa doesn't fit that bill. Gamboa is a nightmare for Caballero.
All just my opinion, of course.
And if you're wondering why Gamboa would be matched with credible titlist and top 20 P4P guy Caballero while Lopez gets fringe featherweight Concepcion, there are a couple things to consider.
- The possibility that Lopez wants absolutely nothing to do with Caballero. Those two have been talking trash since last autumn. Supposedly they were going to meet in January; that fight looked almost good to go at one point. Didn't happen. Caballero still wants it. It's not happening. Yet Gamboa might fight Caballero?
- Top Rank doesn't think Lopez is a good matchup for Caballero. Compared to Gamboa, I'd be inclined to lean that way myself. Lopez has not been the world-beating dynamo some of us thought he would be in his last three fights, though he's been impressive in all of them for different reasons. But if I were a matchmaker with Caballero as an outside opponent, and I had to pick one of my two guys to fight him, I go with Gamboa every time.
- If Lopez loses, it hurts Top Rank more. Why? Because he's Puerto Rican. And there are a lot of Puerto Rican boxing fans in the U.S. (and in Puerto Rico, obviously). Gamboa, meanwhile, is a Miami-based Cuban who is co-promoted by a German company. Simply put, if you just measure them by pure upside, the absolute potential for their earning power in the States, Lopez is a far more valuable commodity. The Cuban audience is there in the States, but it's not close to the Puerto Rican audience. Lopez is just worth more money in theory. If Lopez keeps on his path, he'll be a major star. Gamboa's style can make a fan of anyone, but there's really no substitute for ethnic marketing, which Top Rank is fully aware of.
And I know they'd never do it, but might I suggest a June 12 show with Yuri Foreman-Miguel Cotto and these two fights? You throw those three fights on a PPV (which is where Foreman-Cotto looks to be headed, sadly enough), and I know damn sure I'm buying. That's a loaded card. You can have Matt Korobov fight my mom in the opener for all I care.