Lopez Stops Vazquez in the “War in Clemente”
By: Eric Lunger
The Roberto Clemente Coliseum in San Juan has hosted a long parade of famous Puerto Rican boxers. On Saturday night, in a fight billed as the “War in Clemente,” two favorite sons of the island clashed in a bitter non-title bout, at a 129 lbs. catch weight.
Wilfredo Vazquez, Jr. (26-6-1, 19 KO’s) is a ten year pro who skipped the amateurs to begin professional boxing under the tutelage of his father, himself a storied fighter and three division WBA world champion. Wilfredo Jr. won the WBO world title at junior featherweight in February of 2010, knocking out an undefeated Marvin Sonsona. After one successful defense, he lost the belt to Ivan Hernandez (26-4-1) in October of the same year. Vazquez had mixed results since then, coming into Saturday night’s bout with three losses in his last five, most recently a split decision loss last December to Rafael Rivera (20-0-2).
Like Vazquez, Juan Manuel Lopez (34-5, 31 KO’s) won a WBO title in 2010, defeating Bernabe Concepcion (29-3-1) by TKO in the second to gain the feather weight belt. Lopez has some tough losses on his record, albeit to quality opponents. His most recent fight was more than two years ago, in which he suffered a violent second round knock out at the hands of Jesus Cuellar (24-1). A southpaw, Lopez possesses an excellent defense and a surprisingly powerful and quick straight right. After a lay off of 25 months, this was essentially an out-of-retirement fight for Lopez.
The evening began with what can only be described as a farcical undercard. There were two KO’s within 25 seconds. One bout featured an aging veteran who was showboating for the crowd so ostentatiously that the referee had to issue a warning. The light heavyweight bout was so mismatched that I found myself just hoping no one would get badly hurt.
But, occasionally, it is good to sit through a bad undercard because it highlights, like no other way possible, the training and technical skill of elite level fighters. When Vazquez and Lopez answered the bell, you could plainly see that these were former world champions for a reason. And especially striking is the defense of fighters of this caliber – it is just so hard to even touch them.
At any rate, when Vazquez came out in the first round with speed, fast footwork, and a flicking jab, I thought he was miles ahead of Lopez, whose ring rust was evident. With Vazquez apparently ready to box from the outside, Lopez looked lumbering and out of synch. Vazquez won the first two rounds and looked very much in control, but in the third, Lopez began to land his lead left and this gave him confidence to come forward more and more, forcing Vazquez to fight off his back foot.
The middle rounds were very close and difficult to score. In the fifth, Lopez appeared to wobble Vazquez, who briefly struggled to control his legs. Either Lopez saw something the fans did not, or he decided to retreat into his patient game plan, but Lopez did not go for a KO at this point. Vazquez recovered and the round ended.
In the sixth and seventh rounds, both fighters began to work the body, and each gave and received a couple of low blows. The ninth round was high theatre: Vazquez landed a good right counter, but couldn’t hurt Lopez. Lopez responded with lead lefts to Vazquez’s midsection, trying to set up his straight right. There were some vigorous exchanges in the middle of the ring that brought the Roberto Clemente crowd roaring to their feet.
Round ten saw Vazquez attempt to revive his jab, but both fighters took a step back, a breather really, in this round. In the eleventh, Lopez came to life, now finding his jab and landing through Vazquez’s guard. Suddenly, and almost unexpectedly, Lopez trapped Vazquez in the corner and launched a sustained flurry of hooks, catching Vazquez and dropping him into the ropes and onto the canvas. The referee had seen enough, and did not administer a count.
Unfortunately, the end was marred by a chaotic and ugly scene, as one of Vazquez’s corner men managed to taunt Lopez into exchanging blows with him; beer cups and jeers rained into the ring as it filled with various persons attempting to impose order. The donnybrook finally resolved itself with both boxers hugging and talking to each other animatedly, and even Vazquez’s father was seen embracing a tearful Lopez. A moment of high emotion, indeed.
The post fight mayhem ought not overshadow the bout itself. It was a highly technical but exciting display by two elite level fighters. Both men showed a fierce will to win, mixed with tactical patience and determination. In a month marked by a dearth of boxing action, Vazquez and Lopez showed why boxing is a sport like no other.