Saturday, Nov. 6, 2010 | 11:22 p.m.
It took Puerto Rican boxer Miguel Cotto about six years to become a household name in the sport.
Juan Manuel Lopez appears to be on the same plan.
The 27-year-old Lopez (30-0, 26 KO) recorded the biggest win of his career Saturday in front of 4,818 fans at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, stopping two-time world champion Rafael Marquez (39-6-0, 35 KO) in eight rounds of work.
The charismatic fighter will celebrate the win by returning to Puerto Rico where, according to Top Rank CEO Bob Arum, he’ll host his next fight in early 2011.
“His next fight will take place in Puerto Rico,” Arum said. “This is the way we handled Miguel Cotto. We kept bringing him back to Puerto Rico and that made him huge later down the road on pay-per-view.
“We’ll do the same thing with Juan Manuel Lopez in the first quarter (of 2011).”
Like Lopez, Cotto began his professional career on a tear, winning his first 31 fights.
Included in those was a 2007 bout against Zab Judah in New York City at the Madison Square Garden. The fight helped Cotto break his way into the mainstream. Two years later, he’d fight Manny Pacquiao in a bout that generated 1.25 million pay-per-view buys.
Lopez still has a way to go when it comes to worldwide star power, but his dominant performance over Marquez this weekend went a long way in showing that, competitively speaking, he’s ready for the biggest stage.
Following his impressive win over a future hall of famer, Lopez may have put the win into words best.
“Today, I join the elite of the division,” he said.
Even the fact that Marquez may have been slowed by a nagging shoulder injury shouldn’t dampen Lopez’s biggest win.
Although Marquez wasn’t present at the post-fight press conference to give Lopez full credit for the win, his promoter, Gary Shaw, did it for him.
“(Marquez) is a great champion but he was beaten by a better fighter in the ring tonight,” Shaw said. “There are no other excuses. We knew we had a shoulder problem coming into the fight, but it’s not an excuse.
“Juan Manuel Lopez is an explosive fighter.”
Following in the footsteps of another Puerto Rican champion, Felix Trinidad, Lopez has developed one of the most exciting fighting styles in all of boxing — one of very little defense.
In the buildup to Saturday’s fight, Marquez and his camp made comments on the featherweight champion’s chin, stating he’s shown a vulnerability of going down often in his fights.
Whether cognitive or not, it almost seemed as if Lopez took those claims as a challenge Saturday, standing in the pocket and throwing caution to the wind throughout all eight rounds.
“This was an opportunity for me to show everyone not only that I can punch, but that I can take a punch,” Lopez said. “I fought the best puncher in the division and he couldn’t knock me down.”
Marquez nearly took advantage of Lopez’s aggressiveness in the fourth round, when he landed a hard counter left hook that buckled his opponent’s knees and had him in visible trouble.
Instead of going down, however, Lopez survived and weathered every shot the hard-hitting Marquez gave him. Even with the knowledge of Marquez’s injury, Shaw admitted he couldn’t believe Lopez didn’t hit the canvas.
“(I was) shocked,” Shaw said. “Everyone said Juan Manuel didn’t have a chin — that he went down against this guy and that guy.
“I know one thing. The Juan Manuel that showed up tonight had one hell of a chin.”
Following his next bout in Puerto Rico against a yet-to-be-determined opponent, Lopez is expected to get his shot in June against fellow undefeated featherweight Yuriorkis Gamboa (19-0, 15 KO), who holds the IBF belt.
Like Lopez, Gamboa is expected to fight once before that.
While a title fight against the Cuban Gamboa might not catapult Lopez into the spotlight quite like the victory over Judah did for Cotto, a matchup between two confident, undefeated knockout artists is an easy fight to promote.
And one Arum is clearly looking forward to.
“If we can make it, which I think we can make it, we’ll look forward to fighting Gamboa in June.”