By Lee Bates
WBO junior featherweight champion Juan Manuel ‘Juanma’ Lopez (26-0, 24 KOs) will defend his title this Saturday against challenger Rogers Mtagwa. The bout is being promoted by Top Rank and is billed as “Island Warriors – Latin Fury 12.” The site will be the famed Madison Square Garden. The Puerto Rico native Lopez, who is promoted by Top Rank and PR Best Boxing has fought on two undercards earlier in his career at the Garden but this will be his first time headlining in a main event there. Lopez spoke with Fightnews on his upcoming fight as he closed out his training camp. He will depart from Puerto Rico to New York today.
What are your thoughts on Mtagwa after having seen him fight on video?
I expect a very tough challenge from him. I’ve trained extremely hard for this fight as I do for every fight. I’m ready.
You said you were confident you could stop Mtagwa inside the distance. Why is that?
Mtagwa is not a fighter that I’m going to have to chase around. He will be right there. I feel that eventually my power will take over and I will get the stoppage victory over him.
Since your world title winning first round knockout of then world champion Daniel Ponce De Leon in 2008 your popularity has really gone to another level in Puerto Rico. How are you handling the new fame now that your constantly mobbed by several fans whenever you go out in Puerto Rico?
I embrace it 100%. The fans’ support is the reason my popularity is what it is and I’m very appreciative. I make every effort to speak with the fans, sign as many autographs and take as many pictures with them as possbile. Im also thankful to my promoters Top Rank and PR Best Boxing (Ivan & Peter Rivera) for their hard work and getting me so much exposure.
Your personality has a lot to do with your growing popularity as your very accessible to the fans and always smiling. Your exciting fight style and knockout power is also made you very popular. Some have even begin to compare your growing popularity to that of former three-division world champion and Puerto Rico hero Felix Trinidad at the beginning of his championship reign. What’s your thoughts on that?
Felix is one the greatest fighters of all time. For anyone to compare me to him at all is truly a great compliment.
How thrilled are you to be headlining a main event at Madison Square Garden?
I feel very priviledged to be in the main event at such a historical venue. So many legendary fighters have fought there and so many legendary fights have taken place there. I’m excited about the opportunity prove that I myself am an elite fighter.
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Also featured on the card will be the WBA super featherweight champion Yuriorkis Gamboa (15-0, 13 KOs) of Cuba who will be defending against former world title challenger Whyber Garcia (22-6, 15 KOs) of Panama. Unbeaten Olympic gold medalist Odlanier Solis (14-0, 10 KOs) of Cuba will take on Chicago based former 2-time world heavyweight title challenger Fres Oquendo (31-5, 20 KOs). Pawel Wolak (24-1, 16 KOs) will take on Carlos Nasciemento (24-1, 20 KOs) in a junior middleweight bout.
Tickets, priced at $250, $150, $75 and $50 and are available at the Madison Square Garden Box Office, all Ticketmaster outlets or online at www.thegarden.com. Island Warriors — Latin Fury 12 — is available on Pay-Per-View.