Exciting Juan Manuel Lopez moves up to featherweight when he meets southpaw cutie Steven Luevano tonight in what should be an interesting contrast of styles at the WAMU Theater in New York City.
Top Rank, looking to match Lopez with Yuriorkis Gamboa later in the year, has chosen Luevano to play patsy in The Big Apple. In boxing, of course, long-range plans are nearly always shortsighted, but can Luevano, 37-1-1 (15) and a solid underdog across the books, pull off the upset and send the power brokers back to the drawing board? Two years ago it might have been possible, but Luevano has shown signs of vulnerability recently that may point to a physical decline. In his last bout, a DQ win against Bernabe Concepcion, Luevano was anesthetized by a vicious combination that landed after the bell sounded to end the seventh round. In 2008 Luevano was floored in bouts against Terdsak Jandaeng and Mario Santiago. He was lucky to escape with a draw against Santiago after a taxing brawl, and now he steps into the ring with the hard-punching Lopez. Not many fighters will find Luevano an easy puzzle to solve—Santiago found success via brute force—but there
is a frailty to Luevano these days that cannot be ignored.
Juan Manuel Lopez, 27-0 (24), is coming off of a brutal free-for-all against Rogers Mtagwa last October in which Lopez barely managed to last until the final bell. It appeared that he was only one or two solid shots away from being stopped, but Mtagwa, the iron-willed journeyman determined to earn distinction, could not manage to deliver the coup de grâce. Lopez, who was rattled several times throughout the fight, earned a unanimous decision after twelve hellish rounds of give and take. At 26, Lopez should just be entering his prime, but withering fights like the one with Mtagwa cannot do anyone, young or old, any good. Against Luevano, it should be safe to assume, Lopez will be in for a much quieter night.
A fine boxer who controls the pace of most fights with economical footwork and a busy jab, Luevano, 28, has accomplished much more than his pasty looks and baby face would lead one to expect. He has gone a long way on the limited but potent fuel of sound technique and an overworked jab. In order for Luevano to defeat Lopez, however, he will have to add a few new angles to his game: straight one-twos out of his southpaw stance will not be enough to keep Lopez at bay. Nor will his pesky jab, by itself anyway, be able to win the fight.
Still, Lopez, Caguas, Puerto Rico, cannot afford to relax against Luevano. If he does, he might find himself lulled by a fighter known for hypnotizing opponents with shifts, feints, and jabs. Should Luevano successfully pull off his mesmerist technique, Lopez might find himself behind on points early and playing catch-up for the rest of the bout. But this depends on whether or not Luevano comes out slightly more proactive than he has in his last two fights. He can spellbind average fighters, but Lopez is not an average fighter.
If Luevano, La Puente, California, thinks he can replicate the strategy he used for Concepcion against Lopez, he will be making a tactical error. Concepcion appears to be totally devoid of imagination; Lopez on the other hand, will press behind a jab, catch and counter, and throw rapid combinations to the head and the body. Lopez is fast enough to counter Luevano with a right hook, and during clinches, Lopez will have a distinct advantage on the inside.
Defensively, Lopez could use some improvement, but Luevano simply does not work enough or hit hard enough for that to appear to be a factor. There is chance that Luevano might have to stand his ground and exchange more often than he would like to–as he did against Santiago–and if that happens he will be within range for some thumping shots from Lopez. In that case, Lopez should be able to hurt Luevano somewhere along the way. If he does, he might be able to score a late TKO, but Luevano is tougher than he looks and ought to be able to last the distance in losing a competitive decision.