By Francisco Salazar
World champion Steven Luevano has not faced a challenge in his professional career that he did not like. Being an underdog is something now that is second nature to the soft-spoken and often shy Luevano. Relishing the role of being an underdog, Luevano will once again be just that when he steps inside the ring against Juan Manuel Lopez, who is moving up in weight to challenge Luevano for his title. Rather than feel overwhelmed by that notion and of fighting in Lopez’ adopted hometown, Luevano can not wait to get inside the ring and do what he does best: win.
Luevano will defend his Featherweight title on Saturday night against Lopez at the WaMu Theatre at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
The bout will headline a Top Rank card and will be televised on HBO.
It does not seem that long ago when Luevano first captured his world title with an 11th round knockout over Nicky Cook about two and a half years ago. He has since successfully defended the title five times and hopes to make it six after Saturday night.
Now fighting in his 10th year as a professional, the 28 year old Luevano is in the prime of his career. He has excelled in becoming one of the most watched young champions in boxing today.
Don’t believe that? Lopez believes it and even told Luevano not long ago “We were both at a function and he came over to me,” recalled Luevano, who is managed by Cameron Dunkin. “He made it a point to walk over to me and say he liked the way I fought. For him to come over and talk to me as if he knew me says a lot about him. He’s a nice person.”
As much as there is respect for one another, Luevano knows that compliments go only so far. Now, it is all business in the ring.
With a mix of speed and power, Lopez will give Luevano fits inside the ring. Luevano knows that Lopez will be at his best in an attempt to take his title away from him.
“He’s a good fighter and a strong fighter,” analyzed Luevano, who retained his title in his last bout against Bernabe Concepcion in his last bout in August. “He hits hard, but we worked hard in the gym to prepare for Lopez.”
Former world champion Robert Garcia, who trains Luevano, agrees.
“Steven looks really good in sparring, probably the best I have seen him,” said Garcia, who recently opened his own gym (Oxnard Boxing Academy) in South Oxnard, not far from his old stomping grounds of Channel Islands High School. “He was at 129 pounds (last) Friday.”
Garcia continued, “In Lopez’ last bout against (Rogers) Mtagwa, his defense was exposed quite a bit. He was hurt, but showed heart in surviving at the end. We feel we have the right game plan to come out victorious.”
Lopez will have the crowd support on Saturday night as the fight will take place in New York City. Lopez has an increasing fan base of Puerto Ricans, who will be out in attendance.
Luevano knows that he will hear boos as he enters the venue on Saturday night. Whereas Lopez might have an advantage of having crowd support, Luevano is again content to be the underdog entering this fight.
“I feel that I am the underdog,” said Luevano, who is the father of three children, the oldest being 11 years old “Fighting in New York City with a Puerto Rican fan base is huge for him. All that could work against him because he is fighting in front of his fans and wants to keep those fans. He may fight out of his game plan just to satisfy them.”
“As for me, I like being the underdog. I definitely put a lot more heart into the fight.”
Luevano knows all about being the favorite and losing under those circumstances. In November of 2005, Luevano squared off against Martin Honorio, a tough hombre of a fighter, but one that he was favored to win. After 10 rounds of grueling action that included point deductions and Honorio being knocked down, Luevano lost a disappointing unanimous decision.
“That was a learning experience for me,” said Luevano, who has long been promoted by Top Rank, “It was the first time I fought a dirty fighter. He kept hitting me low and behind the head. If it comes about, I would like to fight him again down the line.”
Luevano, a fighter with sound technical skills to compliment his strong compact defense, is a solid boxer. When necessary, he has on occasion fought aggressively, which could make for a great fight with Lopez if both start to trade heavy punches towards one another.
One bout that saw Luevano fight tooth and nail was in his 12 round decision draw against Mario Santiago in June of 2008. Luevano was hurt early by the hard-hitting Puerto Rican, but came back aggressively to hurt and almost knock down Santiago.
Luevano learned a lot about himself from the fight to apply for future fights.
“We did not have the best sparring for that fight,” said Luevano, who looks up to Julio Cesar Chavez and Pernell Whitaker as idols growing up. “I know that my punches had more of an impact on Santiago then they did on me. I opened up more than I wanted to because he hurt me a little earlier in the fight. It was a big learning experience for me.”
Luevano has big dreams and goals that he wants to fulfill. Although he is only 28, Saturday night will mark his 40th professional bout.
Luevano has expressed an interest in wanting to unify the titles in his weight division, should he come out victorious on Saturday night.
And why not? Luevano has worked extremely hard to get to where he is at now. Luevano has made his hometown of La Puente, a suburb of Los Angeles, proud for the accomplishments that he has done.
Aside from being a devout father and playing baseball with his friends, Luevano has done well for himself to accomplish so much right before hitting his peak.
Although he has a tall order in front of him in Lopez, Luevano is eager to successfully defend his title Lucrative bouts could be in the works and he is eager to make those happen.
Yes, being an underdog could have its psychological disadvantages. However, Luevano is content to enter the ring as one. If it has worked thus far, why fix it?