by Dafydd Thomas
Showtime’s premature announcement of the deal between Juan Manuel Lopez and Rafael Marquez for a bout on September 18 gave Bernabe Concepcion all the motivation he could have asked for as he prepared for his WBO featherweight title bout on Saturday night.
The arrogance brewing out of Team Lopez was on show for the boxing world to see, with Lopez already talking up the Marquez fight in the press, rarely mentioning his upcoming opponent.
For Lopez, Concepcion is just a lay-by on the road to potential featherweight supremacy. But by overlooking Concepcion and dreaming of the big time, is Lopez putting his undefeated record in peril?
The amount of times that Lopez has entered the ring laid-back and unfocused on the job in hand is inexplicable. The first instance on the world scene was against Oliver Lontchi, where Lopez knew that his opponent was out of his depth but decided to drag it out instead of delivering a firework filled performance. And that lacklustre performance allowed Lontchi to connect with right hands, and pretty clean rights too. Lopez neglected the finer aspects of his arsenal in training by concentrating on power development, and it showed, as he was technically a mess at times. Still, Lopez confidently got Lontchi out in nine, but the cracks were wider than first expected.
Along came Rogers Mtagwa, roofer by day, raw fighter at night. Mtagwa showed his hand in the opening six rounds; heart, and plenty of it too. He took everything Lopez gave him, but still came back at the Puerto Rican, frustrating Lopez and drawing him into a pub brawl, trading haymakers instead of the effective combos that had won him the opening half. Lopez’s complacency showed through as he was out on his feet and one punch away from going home the loser in New York. Yuriorkis Gamboa’s two-round blitz of Mtagwa didn’t help Lopez’s cause.
For all of his personal flaws, being open to the body one of them, Concepcion might have the tools to combat Lopez’s weaknesses, and draw him into the same kind of fight conditions Mtagwa excelled under. Who knows, Concepcion might have the kind of power that can rock Lopez, especially if Juanma neglects his defense, but can he prove that he has matured enough mentally to get through the choppy waters in the opening rounds?
In my opinion, Concepcion is Lopez’s toughest opponent to date and could play live dog if the titleholder is not fully focused on this fight, which I don’t think he is. Lopez has underestimated and undermined his previous opponents, and I think it’s a mistake disrespecting Concepcion like he has. Can Concepcion be the man to capitalise on the complacency and derail Juanma’s journey to the top?