Sunday, Jan. 24, 2010 | 11:25 a.m.
Juan Manuel Lopez wants to follow his idol Felix Trinidad as the next great Puerto Rican fighter, winning a handful of titles as he climbs through the weight divisions.
JuanMa captured No. 2 in style on Saturday night.
He used a thudding right hand and a flush left hook to knock out Steven Luevano in the seventh round, taking his WBO belt in the main event of a featherweight doubleheader. Earlier in the night, fellow rising star Yuriorkis Gamboa defended his WBA belt with a second-round stoppage of Rogers Mtagwa.
“We saw the video and we knew the right was there for me all night,” said Lopez, who fought a more disciplined fight than his last time out, when he was taken to the brink by Mtagwa. “I could feel I was landing it, and I was very surprised he took so many punches. He took a lot of punishment.”
Luevano (37-2-1), who defended his title five times, struggled to keep his distance. He’s a counter-puncher by nature and never had a chance to throw a counter, wilting under JuanMa’s intense pressure.
The charismatic Puerto Rican staggered the champion early in the seventh before finally trapping Luevano against the ropes, unleashing a combination capped by a clean left near the corner. Luevano staggered to his feet by the count of 10, but referee Benji Esteves wisely waved it off.
“He’s a great fighter and a great hitter,” said Luevano, his left eye swelling shut. “I was blocking that right punch during the entire fight, and he got one in.”
Lopez (28-0, 25 KOs) had looked dominant at junior featherweight, and he was simply overwhelming at 126 pounds. He didn’t have to drain himself nearly as much to make weight and showed that he can be a force in a crowded division that includes Chris John.
“He fought a really intelligent fight,” said promoter Bob Arum, who would eventually like to put Lopez and Gamboa against each other. “Let’s see if there’s any featherweights left standing, I want to wipe them all out, so there’s nobody left but those two guys.”
The outcome certainly delighted a reunion of great Puerto Rican fighters.
Trinidad, the former five-time champion, drew the first big roar from a crowd of more than 5,000 that packed the smaller theater at Madison Square Garden. He was followed by another roar for former welterweight titleholder Miguel Cotto, whose late father was honored before the main event with a 10-bell salute and moment of silence.
Cotto, who is coming off a loss to Manny Pacquiao, was in town to work on an agreement to challenge 154-pound titleholder Yuri Foreman on June 12. Cotto would be reclaiming his annual date on the eve of the Puerto Rican Day parade in New York.
Despite all the star power in the house, including former heavyweight champ Lennox Lewis, Gamboa (17-0, 15 KOs) may have stolen the show with his electrifying display.
The 2004 Olympic gold medalist from Cuba did damage with his first blow, a counter-punching left that stunned Mtagwa in the middle of the ring. Gamboa then knocked the granite-chinned Mtagwa down with 15 seconds left in the round, and the Tanzanian-born challenger never looked the same.
Gamboa dumped him again midway through the second round with devastating combinations, finishing the fight moments later when Mtagwa (26-14-2) was unable to get himself into a clinch to buy time.
“We knew he was fast but we felt we could handle his speed,” Mtagwa’s trainer Joe Parella said. “The game plan was to go three rounds, battle through it, but Mtagwa got caught early.”
Top Rank put Lopez and Gamboa on the same card for the second straight time. It would be an exciting matchup between two of the sport’s rising stars, and one Gamboa said he’s ready to take.
“I hope that with this performance nobody compares me to JuanMa. We’re different fighters,” Gamboa said through a translator. “I’d love for whoever the public or maybe the press considers the No. 1 featherweight, to have him in the ring for my next fight. That way I can show who is the best.”