Sunday, April 26, 2009

JuanMa Keeps Getting Better

Michael Nelson gives his thoughts on the performance of Juan Manuel Lopez in his victory over Gerry Penalosa this past Saturday night.

Juan Manuel Lopez passed the second big test of his career Saturday night. Thoroughly answering many of the remaining questions left about his game, he overwhelmed the durable Gerry Penalosa and left trainer Freddie Roach with little choice but to call an end to the fight after the 9th round.

JuanMa had blown out the vast majority of his opponents before Penalosa within four rounds. Against the only man he couldn't run over, Hugo Dianzo in August 2007, he showed vulnerabilities that young fighters tend to have by slowing down late in the fight and not paying much attention to Dianzo's body.

He came much more prepared for Gerry Penalosa. Displaying incredible conditioning, he swamped the 36 year old with power punches while remaining responsible defensively, picking off or slipping most of Penalosa's counters. With the bigger, stronger Lopez working every minute of every round, Penalosa was never able to back him off. Worst, the deep waters Gerry and Freddie were hoping for never arrived. Lopez hardly took a deep breath during the action.

Even more impressive was the variety of punches Lopez threw. Understanding that Penalosa's guard would catch most of the blows directed at his head, Lopez was determined to rip the body. Also understanding that Penalosa likes to get low and duck under his opponent's punches, Lopez wasn't nearly as reliant on the right hook as he was in previous fights. He handcuffed Penalosa's head movement by consistently shooting the uppercut underneath. Trainer Alex Caraballo came up with a great game plan, and Lopez executed it with perfection.

Perhaps the only scantron bubble left unmarked pertains to how fast Lopez will escalate up the pound-for-pound ratings. Right now, it seems to be more of a matter of when than if. With the violence of the Israel Vasquez-Rafael Marquez trilogy taking a huge chunk out of the careers of both men, I'm not sure who at 122 pounds would threaten to beat the 25 year old phenom. Celestino Caballero is on quite a run and may be the man with the tools to test Lopez' whiskers. But with Celestino's leaky defense, it's hard to favor him in a shootout.

Meanwhile, a word must be said about Gerry Penalosa. Clearly outgunned throughout the fight, Gerry could have easily gone into survival mode and dropped a lopsided decision instead of having a TKO by 9 on his record.

But Penalosa has never been about just surviving. Regardless of who he's up against and where the fight is taking place, he believes he can win and he does his damndest to make that belief into reality. So while it's likely he'll fall just short of the Hall of Fame, Gerry's a special fighter who has had some tremendous performances during his 20 year career.

Freddie Roach did the right thing in pulling him out. He knows his fighter. He knows that the word 'quit' won't be found in Penalosa's vocabulary. Someone needed to do what was best, and look out for the interests of the remainder of Penalosa's career, and more importantly, his life beyond boxing.

As often happens in boxing, a young man shined brightest at the behest of an older man's fading glimmer. But neither fighter's performance last night will soon be forgotten.

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