Now that Miguel Cotto has moved his summer fight to July and not in the eve of the Puerto Rican Day Parade, it may appear as the Puerto Rican Nation and mainland Boricua community may have a new Parade boxing hero with Juan Manuel Lopez. Latino Sports writer Rich Mancuso says, “More importantly he now has the ability to rival Cotto with the attention that has gained over the past few years.”

ATLANTIC CITY –  Juan Manuel Lopez came in the ring Saturday evening at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City New Jersey knowing he had an opportunity to capture the WBO junior featherweight championship from Daniel Ponce De Leon. He just didn’t expect the fight to end so quickly as he TKO’d De Leon at 2:25 of the first round.


It was a barrage of punches from Lopez (21-0, 20KO’s) from the beginning and De Leon (34-2), an established champion from Mexico, never recovered after going down twice in the first round .after left and right combinations.  And with his new championship Lopez may have become a sudden and marketable commodity for HBO that televised the fight.


“I knew my left hook was going to be there,” said Lopez proudly wearing his new championship belt after the fight. “It was a question of getting him early and I did,” he said.   Though there was no return bout clause in the contract, De Leon a fighter from the Oscar De La Hoya “Golden Boy” promotion stable may get one.


Lopez said, “I will give him whatever he gave me,” commenting about the opportunity to fight for the title. Though it was an anticipated fight, it was expected that a knockout would end it, though not as early as it did.


“It’s another Mexican and Puerto Rican rivalry,” said promoter Bob Arum of Top Rank at a final pre fight press conference earlier in the week in New York City. But it never was a war and De Leon, who had seven previous title defenses said the knockout was a surprise.


“He surprised me,” said De Leon about the new champion. “I came to the ring confident He got me with a good shot. I went down and I could have continued but the referee did his job. I’m okay and feel confident he will give me a rematch.”


De Leon is still an established fighter in the division now residing in Huntington Park, California and Lopez from Caguas, Puerto Rico, came in the fight as two relatively unknown and established fighters that got their needed exposure.  But it was Lopez who gained more fans and the exposure based on his early and quick disposal of De Leon.


On his performance the exuberant Lopez said, “It’s hard to talk about my performance. I had faster fights but I didn’t know if they were any easier. On the first of two knockdowns Lopez said about De Leon, “He was hurt after the first knockdown and I didn’t want to give him any time.”


“He hits hard,” said Lopez, a member of the 2004 Puerto Rican Olympic team, “but not enough to hurt me. I knew he was sloppy and I waited for the opportunity.”


Arum smiled before the fight and had every reason to smile more. He feels Lopez is now another great champion from Puerto Rico similar to Miguel Cotto the WBA welterweight champion he also promotes. And both Lopez and Cotto are from the same town in Puerto Rico, Caguas


Cotto was also a promising kid with an Olympic medal, a relatively unknown name in the ring. But everyone knows what happened from there as Cotto has become one of the premiere fighters in the world. But Lopez does not want to be compared to Cotto or another former champion Felix “Tito” Trinidad.


 Lopez earlier in the week got some attention when he said” I am Juan Manuel Lopez, not “Tito” Felix Trinidad or Miguel Cotto.”  But after the way he handled De Leon, and with a new championship, the natural southpaw now has knocked down his last 10 opponents.


More importantly he now has the ability to rival Cotto with the attention that has gained over the past few years.


In a prelim bout super welterweight Ernesto Medina (3-3-1, 1KO) of Chinchipe Ecuador took a four-round unanimous decision over Arman Ovsepian of Los Angeles California. The 22-year old Ovsepian made his pro debut..


Also Kevin Mitchell of Dagehan England (27-0, 19K0’s) retained his WBO Intercontinental Junior Lightweight championship with a fifth round TKO over the previously undefeated Walter Estrada (30-6, 20KO’s) of Barranquilla Columbia. The 23-year old Mitchell used a left hook to the body of Estrada as the round ended and he could not continue.


And in the main event undefeated middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik (34-0, 30KO’s) easily disposed challenger Gary Lockett (28-2) O Wales at 1:40 of round 3 when referee Eddie Cotton called a halt to the bout after Lockett’s corner threw in the towel.

About Rich Mancuso

Established sports journalist and educator. Contact Rich at [email protected]