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Juan Manuel Lopez Ready for Salido, Talking About Move Up in Weight

Scott Christ is the managing editor of Bad Left Hook and has been covering boxing for SB Nation since 2006.

Juan Manuel Lopez was just in the boxing news last weekend, when after Yuriorkis Gamboa's four-round destruction of Jorge Solis, HBO's Max Kellerman asked Gamboa about a long-awaited fight between he and stablemate Juan Manuel Lopez. At that point, Lopez left his ringside seat to join the interview, and the two sides both gave the public thumbs up. What that means out of the public eye remains to be seen.

But Lopez, too, has a fight on the horizon. He is just about two weeks away from fighting for the third straight time on Showtime when he meets Mexican veteran Orlando Salido in Puerto Rico. Salido hasn't fought since last September, when it was he across the ring from Gamboa. Unlike Gamboa's most recent fight, that one went the full 12 rounds, and the tough veteran proved his mettle by hanging in the fight with Gamboa and making much of it competitive. It was talent that won out that night, and Gamboa had that in spades. But Salido gave a fair accounting of himself.

The fight with Lopez is no doubt a letdown in terms of opponent for many. After all, we've already seen Salido lose to Gamboa, and the hope was that after Gamboa beat Salido and Lopez topped Rafael Marquez in November, we'd finally get to see the two stars square off. That's not the case just yet.

As with any fight against a credible opponent -- and some that aren't -- the favorite cannot really afford to totally overlook the underdog. Especially not a favorite who has proven at times as vulnerable as Lopez has. The young Puerto Rican star is undefeated and has a great knockout rate, but has had trouble with limited brawler Roger Mtagwa, and got himself into a firefight with Bernabe Concepcion just last year. The undersized, aged Marquez also hit him plenty in their truncated brawl.

Yes, Lopez won all of those fights, and two of them by stoppage. But all came a bit by the skin of his teeth. And he's not looking to underestimate Salido.

"I expect a very tough fight against a strong fighter like Salido, who is a true warrior,'' Lopez said. "But at the end of the day, I will be victorious and will give my Puerto Rican fans a fight to remember."

And before you start hoping for a Lopez-Gamboa clash to follow perhaps this summer or fall, you might want to take that down a notch. Lopez has started to talk about moving up in weight, while Gamboa has given no indication that he's interested in going north of the division just yet.

"I really feel strong at 126," Lopez said. "I'm eating well. I'm doing my diet the proper way. I definitely feel better than I did at 122 and I'm much stronger. But I may be moving up after the end of the year."

As for Salido, he seems ready to welcome the challenge of not just fighting an undefeated, younger man who will be a heavy favorite, but doing it on the road and renewing the age-old Puerto Rico-Mexico boxing rivalry. "It's never easy to fight in a champion's backyard, but I will give it my all to win and bring the belt back to Mexico," said Salido.

"I know one thing, Lopez is a great champion who likes to fight and with my style it should make for a great and exciting fight."

I mentioned this the other day, actually, but I really do think this is the sort of fight, with the right mix of opponents, where the upset is not likely, and not even a good underdog bet, but there as a small, realistic possibility. With the way Lopez gets hit and leaves himself open, a guy like Salido could be dangerous. Lopez's flaws and faults are what make him as exciting as he is, but they also make him vulnerable to the degree that it's not too hard to see someone he's better than scoring that upset.

Showtime and Top Rank have also set up an attractive and interesting co-feature between super featherweights Roman "Rocky" Martinez and Luis Cruz. Martinez is a former titlist who was stunned in one of the biggest upsets of 2010, getting outboxed in Scotland by heavy underdog Ricky Burns. His opponent is a fellow Puerto Rican, and Cruz (17-0, 14 KO) will be making a big step up in competition. The 25-year-old prospect hasn't faced anyone near the top 10 of the division, where Martinez still resides. It's a good, risky bounce-back fight for Martinez, and will be a good chance for everyone to see what Cruz can bring to the party at 130 pounds.

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