Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Juan Manuel Lopez vs Gerry Penalosa Preview

Michael Nelson previews this Saturday's intriguing HBO Boxing After Dark main-event between Juan Manuel Lopez and Gerry Penalosa.

Photo © Marty Rosengarten /

Puerto Rican heritage isn't the only thing Felix Trinidad and Juan Manuel Lopez have in common.

Trinidad's left hook terrorized the Welterweight and Jr. Middleweight divisions during his reign. Thrown with the power to discombobulate his opponent at any moment during a fight, it was perhaps the most feared punch in boxing.Southpaw JuanMa Lopez' right hook is quickly gaining a similar reputation. He has finished his last three opponents with it inside the first round, including Ponce De Leon, a man notoriously hard to hurt.

But like Trinidad, while Lopez has a great deal of talent, he has apparent vulnerabilities that are covered up by the deadly efficiency of his money punch. He head hunts a bit too much. He doesn't have much of an uppercut. And his left hand is more often than not simply used as a diversion to set up his right hook. Sum it up and it'll be very interesting to see how he deals with an elite defensive fighter.

Enter Gerry Penalosa.

Never stopped in 62 fights, Penalosa's six losses have all been close or controversial. Recently, the 36 year old took Ponce De Leon to school for long stretches of their bout, only to be rewarded with miserable scorecards that suggested he got dominated.

No matter. He bounced back with a surprising come-from-behind knockout victory over the talented and rangy Jhonny Gonzales. Far from a fluke shot, he slipped Gonzales' long right hand and expertly placed a left on Jhonny's liver before he could regain position. Gonzales took a step back and dropped to a knee, paralyzed with pain. KO 7.

The main ingredient behind Penalosa's success is his defensive acumen; he deflects or slips the vast majority of punches thrown in his direction, particularly at his head. Always calm and never changing expression, Gerry's style is like Winky Wright's without the monstrous forearms - making him susceptible to being outworked as well as providing openings for a dedicated body attack.

Lopez, also a calm operator who's fairly economical with his punch output, will have to deviate from his usual game plan if he wants to outwork Penalosa or consistently rake his body. Otherwise, it could be a long night for the 25 year old Phenom.

It should be noted that Gerry has shown vulnerabilities against fellow southpaws in his younger days, as he has been hurt or dropped by the right hook in previous fights. Gerry got staggered by a Hiroshi Kawashima hook in his 1997 WBC Super Featherweight title winning effort, and suffered a first round knock down as a result of getting nailed with a right hook from Young-Joo Cho a few fights later. Although those bouts took place more than a decade ago when Penalosa was far less seasoned, he can ill afford to make similar mistakes against JuanMa Lopez. Look for him to circle away from Lopez' right hand for the majority of the night.

Lopez can firmly entrench himself as one of the top 3 young talents in the sport with a spectacular victory over a well respected boxer like Penalosa. Likewise, Penalosa can make an intriguing argument for Canastota recognition if he overcomes Lopez' size and youth to stymie the meteoric rise of a potential pound-for-pound player. There's a uniquely wide range of possibilities - neither a quick Lopez knockout or a comfortable Penalosa decision would shock me.

The only thing clear about this fight is that it's a must-see. If you're watching the competing Showtime card, make sure to set your DVR or VCR. You don't want to miss this one.

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