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Juan Manuel Lopez vs. Francisco Vargas: Preview, Prediction for Upcoming Fight

Briggs SeekinsFeatured ColumnistJuly 7, 2014

Juan Manuel Lopez vs. Francisco Vargas: Preview, Prediction for Upcoming Fight

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    Al Bello/Getty Images

    Saturday night on the Saul Alvarez-Erislandy Lara pay-per-view, former featherweight champion Juan Manuel Lopez will face undefeated contender Francisco Vargas. The WBO International and NABF super featherweight belts are on the line. 

    A win over a recognizable name like Lopez will put Vargas close to a world-title shot. Lopez needs to win to stay relevant at the highest level of the sport. 

    These are both action fighters who come forward. It could be an exciting war.

Tale of the Tape

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    Julie Jacobson/Associated Press
    Per Boxrec     Juan Manuel Lopez     Francisco Vargas 
    Record:     34-3, 31 KOs      19-0, 13 KOs 
    Height:     5'5.5"     5'8" 
    Reach:     69"     70" 
    Weight:     130 lbs     130 lbs
    Stance:     Southpaw      Orthodox
    Age:     31      29 
    Hometown:     Caguas, Puerto Rico     Mexico City, Distrito Federal 
    Rounds     164     73

    Even though this is a matchup between a former champion and a rising prospect, Juan Manuel Lopez and Francisco Vargas are only actually separated in age by two years. Lopez was a knockout machine in his youth who developed into a star quickly. 

    Vargas is over two inches taller, but the difference in reach is merely an inch. The former featherweight champion will look to exploit angles from his southpaw stance. 

Main Storylines

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    At the start of this decade, Juan Manuel Lopez was one of the hottest fighters in the sport, an undefeated, two-division world champion with a string of impressive knockouts. But he's suffered three stoppage losses since 2011 and at this point is fighting to stay relevant and position himself to win a world title in a third weight class.

    Lopez looked very much like his old self earlier this year when he stopped experienced veteran and former world champion Daniel Ponce De Leon inside of two rounds. It was exactly the type of performance he needed coming off from a four-round destruction at the hands of Mikey Garcia in June 2013.

    But Ponce De Leon is a faded star and was always a good matchup for Lopez, who also knocked him out in Round 1 in 2008. It was a step in the right direction for "JuanMa" but didn't necessarily prompt a lot of fans to buy back in on him as a world-champion-caliber fighter.

    Francisco Vargas should be a more serious test. He's an undefeated contender with solid skills and a rugged, pressure style.

    At 29, Vargas is a bit old for a rising contender, but he didn't turn professional until his early 20s, following an amateur career that saw him represent Mexico in the Olympics. His progress as a professional has been steady. His last three fights have all been against fellow highly rated prospects.

    This is the type of win over a name veteran that could propel Vargas to the next level. Lopez is a dangerous fighter to view as a stepping stone, but to reach a world title, Vargas will have to treat him like one.

Strengths

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    Juan Manuel Lopez is one of the top pound-for-pound power punchers of the past 10 years. He's an explosive athlete with power in both hands. His right hook is a fight changer.

    The former golden boy is now a hard-traveled veteran. It will be interesting to see if he can learn from his experiences and become a more cagey fighter in his 30s.

    Francisco Vargas is a rugged, pressure fighter. He maintains a heavy work rate and doesn't give an opponent a lot of room to be comfortable.

    Vargas is a good combination puncher, working to both the body and head. I like the way he lowers levels between punches, making himself a tougher target to hit in the pocket.

Weaknesses

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    Juan Manuel Lopez has always been an all-offense fighter. He leaves a lot of room to counter and is very hittable for an opponent who can stay comfortable against him in the pocket.

    Lopez has been stopped in each of the last three years, and all of them were brutal. A lot of fighters are never the same again after the kind of damage JuanMa has absorbed.

    Francisco Vargas is going to be there to get hit during this fight. It's built into his style. It remains to be seen how he'll react when he gets hit by a puncher like Lopez.

    Vargas has faced a decent level of competition for where he is in his career. But if Lopez is even 80 percent of what he once was, he's on a different level than anybody Vargas has seen to date.  

Juan Manuel Lopez Will Win If...

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    Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    Four years ago I would have said a come-forward fighter like Francisco Vargas was made-to-order for Juan Manuel Lopez. But at this point in Lopez's career, I think he needs to take some care to protect himself in the exchanges.

    Vargas is not a knockout artist, but he can bang. If Lopez fires away, leaving himself wide-open, he's likely to catch some big shots and suffer a fate similar to what he did in his two fights with Orlando Salido.

    I think Lopez should look to play a little bit of "catch and return" with Vargas. When Vargas moves into range and throws his punches, Lopez should look to cover up and then pop Vargas with his big right hook when the undefeated contender comes back up after changing levels.

    The punch is the last thing to go on a boxer. Even at 130 pounds, I think Lopez will still have the power to end things in a hurry if he can catch Vargas with a solid shot.

     

Francisco Vargas Will Win If...

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Francisco Vargas is the bigger, younger man in this fight. But Juan Manuel Lopez is a harder puncher than he's ever faced.

    Vargas is going to have to stay relaxed but alert in the pocket against Lopez. Pressure fighting is his game, but he's going to need to use some intelligent angles to stay out of trouble against the explosive southpaw.

    Vargas needs to keep himself out of position for Lopez's straight left, but he really needs to avoid Lopez's dangerous right hook. He'll be most vulnerable to that punch coming over the top of his own straight right. So he'll need to be careful to return his right to good defensive position.

    He should also look to lower his level after throwing the straight right, putting himself underneath the counter hook. But when he ducks he should step around to the right and bang Lopez in the body, instead of popping right back up and allowing Lopez the opportunity to time him.

    Vargas should look to hammer Lopez in the body all night. He's the larger man and should make the fight ugly and physical, which will wear down Lopez's conditioning and also take away some of the room he needs to unload his power.

     

     

Prediction

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    Josh Hedges/Getty Images

    Juan Manuel Lopez's TKO of Daniel Ponce De Leon last March was an impressive win. Lopez showed tremendous heart when he climbed off the canvas to put away a former world champion and tough veteran. 

    He proved JuanMa was still an exciting fighter and that his power remains dangerous. But it also showed that some of the same weaknesses that caused disasters for Lopez in the past remain a problem. 

    Lopez remains a hittable fighter. Ponce De Leon was just more hittable. 

    Francisco Vargas is a hittable fighter, too though far less so than Ponce De Leon. If Lopez can catch Vargas with a right hook he never saw coming, the former champion will stay in the win column.

    But that's not what I'm predicting. I think Vargas will fight an intelligent but aggressive fight and pound away at Lopez before finishing him in Round 10.

    The one gamble I think I'm taking in picking Vargas is betting that he can take a decent shot. Lopez is going to manage to hit him with some punches. I just don't think he'll land a monster punch that Vargas isn't ready for.  

    This should be an exciting fight and if Vargas can win, it will elevate his stock and put him in the mix for a title shot at super featherweight.  

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