By Alex Dombroff
If Juan Manuel Lopez and Yuriorkis Gamboa established themselves as the top two featherweights in the world with impressive wins Saturday night, there seems to be no rush to definitively answer who is number one. It was the second time in four months that Lopez and Gamboa co-headlined a show from the theatre inside New York City’s Madison Square Garden. And for the second time in four months, it was thought to be their penultimate contests en route to a showdown between the two.
However, if promoter Bob Arum of Top Rank is to be believed, there will be considerable more buildup before he puts both men in the ring together.
“Don’t I owe it to my two guys to build this into the biggest fight I can?” asked Arum. “It will be a huge, huge fight, but not right now.”
Lopez (28-0, 25 KOs), fighting for the first time at 126 lbs. in a meaningful fight, sparkled in the main event, stopping WBO champion Steve Luevano in seven rounds.
In what amounted to a game of one-ups-manship, Gamboa (17-0, 15 KOs) came up with the best performance of his career in the co-feature, stopping Rogers Mtagwa, who fought a life and death battle with Lopez in his last outing, in two rounds.
Luevano (37-2-1, 15 KOs), making the seventh defense of the title he won from Nicky Cook in 2007, was in retreat from the get go, but still had no answer for Lopez’s uppercut. It was that uppercut which stunned the defending champion in the opening seconds of round seven before a flurry of punches put Luevano on the deck.
“He’s a great fighter and a great hitter,” said Luevano. “I was blocking his punch the entire fight. He got one in.”
Although Luevano arose, his wobbled demeanor for Benji Estevez to halt the proceedings 44 seconds into the round.
“The four pounds was a big difference, moving up to 126,” said Lopez. “I knew I had to be smart and be patient, and that’s what I was.”
In what was perhaps a tribute to the special senatorial election in Massachusetts earlier in the week, Lopez answered questions about stepping in with Mtagwa next in a non-committal manner that would make a politician proud.
“This is business. If it makes sense, fine with me,” said Lopez. “If it makes sense now, we’ll do it. If it doesn’t, we’ll wait. Whatever [Top Rank] wants, but I know eventually I’ll fight him.”
Mtagwa earned the opportunity in the final two rounds of his October 2009 bout with Lopez where he battered Lopez from pillar to post before the champion held on for the decision. In against the 2004 Olympic gold medalist, Gamboa, Mtagwa (26-14-2, 18 KOs) never got going.
Gamboa, making the second defense of his WBA title, came out on the offensive, and while Mtagwa did his best to counter, Gamboa walked through the offerings coming at up and put a further hurt on the challenger.
Mtagwa was dropped towards the end of round one, and twice in round two, the last coming after a vicious flurry from Gamboa that forced referee Steve Smoger to stop the bout without a count at 2:35 of the round.
Before Lopez had even entered the ring, Gamboa was fielding questions about a potential showdown between the two given his dominance of Mtagwa, compared to Lopez’s struggles.
Like Lopez, Gamboa toed the Top Rank party line.
“I hope that with this performance that nobody compares me to Juanma,” said Gamboa. “He’s Juanma. I am Yuriorkis Gamboa. I don’t think you can get anything from seeing me and Mtagwa and him and Mtagawa.”
As Arum was continually pressed about what would assuredly be the biggest bout at featherweight since Marco Antonio Barerra, Erik Morales, and Naseem Hamed ruled the division, he referenced the way those three fighters cleaned out the rest of the division before beginning to fight each other.
“We’ll have just clean up all the featherweights,” said Arum. “And then when everyone is panting about seeing these guys fight each other, I’ll do a big, big blowout kind of show.”
And more important, Arum added, when the fight does take place it will take place when it doesn’t just make the most sense financially for his company, but for the two fighters.
“It’s a great fight, but it’s got to be the kind of fight where, even though they are only 126 pounders, they will make a shit load of money.”