By Matt Richardson
As the spotlight wanes on the Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao mega-match implosion, boxing and its myriad of young talent will move on. The first step in this process begins this weekend at the theater in Madison Square Garden when two of the sports brightest stars box in compelling, competitive fights against quality opponents. This is what boxing is about. The Mayweather-Pacquiao fight would have been nice to have to look forward to. But boxing will be fine as long as fight cards of Saturday’s nature continue to be made.
Photos: Ed Mulholland
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In the main event, unbeaten junior featherweight title-holder Juan Manuel Lopez (27-0, 24 KOs) will move up four pounds to take on featherweight title-holder Steven Luevano (37-1-1, 15 KOs). Lopez is returning from a fight-of-the-year candidate against Rogers Mtagwa last October, also at the Garden. In the televised co-feature, featherweight title-holder Yuriokis Gamboa (16-0, 14 KOs) will meet Mtagwa (26-13-2, 18 KOs). Gamboa will undoubtedly try to look more impressive against Mtagwa then Lopez did, with the hope that wins by Lopez and Gamboa could set up a match between the two sometime later in the year.
Talk of the clash was muted at Wednesday’s final press conference at the Garden, however, because Gamboa elected to continue training in Miami, Florida than come up to New York City to promote the card. “Cubans love the warm weather,” said Bob Arum, the promoter of the show, “unlike Puerto Ricans who can adapt.” Mtagwa, a Tanzanian native, attended the press conference but elected not to speak thru broken English. His manager spoke instead, thanking the usual entities while predicting victory for his charge. So while Gamboa was absent and Mtagwa relatively mum, there was little hype for the fight between the two on Saturday or a looming fight between Lopez and Gamboa later in 2010. And while the promotional bandwagon for that fight has yet to begin, Arum and company did the second best thing – talk up Saturday’s card instead.
“It’s going to be a great fight on Saturday night,” Lopez said thru translation. “It’s one of my dreams to fight for my second world title. I prepared very hard for this fight and I’m ready to go up to 126.” Luevano, meanwhile, said he appreciated the opportunity. “It’s an honor to fight here at the Garden,” Luevano said. “Come Saturday, I’m going to give it my best, give it my all and still keep my title.”
Arum said the nine-bout card is “real close” to being sold out with only a “few hundred” $100 and $75 tickets left. The promoter said overall they have fielded a “tremendous response” to Lopez; a fighter Arum said is “fast becoming the biggest star in his country (Puerto Rico).”
The non-televised portion of the card will feature a variety of prospects and contenders with middleweight John Duddy at the top of the list fighting Juan Astorga in a scheduled eight-rounder. Junior middleweight Pawel Wolak will also see action against Ishmail Arvin and featherweight Jorge Diaz will box Tommy Atencio. A trio of unbeaten fighters (cruiserweight Carlos Negron, light heavyweight Will Rosinsky and junior welterweight Chris Algieri) will also fight on the card.
Puerto Rican boxing staples Miguel Cotto and Felix Trinidad are also expected to attend the card in support of Lopez. Arum promised a “great, great event on Saturday night.” And with a stacked card, fight stars at ringside and competitive fights on paper, Saturday’s boxing should help move the sport past the Mayweather debacle and into a more positive position in 2010.