Juan Manuel "Juanma" Lopez
Birthplace: Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico
Resides: Caguas, Puerto Rico
Current World Titles Held: WBO Featherweight (126 lbs.)
Former World Titles Held: WBO Super Bantamweight (122 lbs.)
Professional Record: 29-0, 26 KOs
Record in World Title Fights: 8-0, 7 KOs
Record in Fights Going 12 Rounds: 1-0
Record at Featherweight: 5-0
Birthplace: Mexico City, Mexico
Resides: Mexico City, Mexico
Current World Titles Held: None
Former World Titles Held: WBC Super Bantamweight, IBF Bantamweight (118 lbs.)
Professional Record: 39-5, 35 KOs
Record in World Title Fights: 9-2, 7 KOs
Record in Fights Going 12 Rounds: 2-1
Record at Featherweight: 2-0
Take one young champion in search of a career-defining win and put him in against an accomplished veteran looking to prove he can still hang with the young guns. Add in the fact that both men are known for exciting fights and top it with a pair of vocal, passionate fan bases and it sounds like the recipe for something memorable.
At least that's the hope in matching young Puerto Rican star Juan Manuel Lopez with Mexican warrior Rafael Marquez. Given the big stage and both men's propensity for action-packed slugfests, this matchup appears to be as close to guaranteed fireworks as the sport of boxing can get.
Lopez simply outgrew the super bantamweight division where he won his first world title, both physically and in terms of opposition. He's delivered multiple impressive finishes against steadily tougher competition, but he's rarely done so without showing signs of vulnerability—and never against someone with Marquez's resume.
In contrast, "battle-tested" is undoubtedly putting it mildly in describing Marquez, whose four-fight series with Israel Vazquez is the stuff of modern boxing legend. Still, a victory on Saturday would help him gain more recognition without his most famous foe and move him out of the shadow of other current Mexican favorites, including older brother Juan Manuel.
Lopez has shown some signs of defensive improvement as he has matured, and Marquez certainly has world class skills when he chooses to box. But with boisterous fans filling the MGM Grand and urging them on, the biggest upset on Saturday night would be if both men approach the bout in a tactical frame of mind.
In other words, smart money is on this one not going the distance, but providing a heck of a lot of fun for as long as it lasts.
Lopez's Winning Strategy: Come Out Firing
Few fighters give fans as much bang for their buck as Juanma, who can rain down accurate and painful power shots with the best of them. He's also shown a knack for ending bouts quickly, finishing six of his last ten opponents in three rounds or less.
That's a big plus, because his defense has yet to catch up with his offense. Even in victory, it's not uncommon to see Lopez get rocked, and he's had to pick himself off the canvas or ride out rounds on wobbly legs on more than one occasion.
Marquez is nothing if not savvy, and the longer the fight goes, the more likely it is that he'll be able to find some chinks in Juanma's armor. The unknown is how much all of those hard rounds with Lopez have affected him, so it would behoove Lopez to test his chin early to find out.
Juanma is younger, slightly bigger and presumably stronger and faster, and he needs to put those advantages to use right from the opening bell.
Marquez's Winning Strategy: Let Brain Overrule Heart
Putting on a show is what Marquez does best. His first three battles with Vazquez were amazing displays of talent and guts, and the fourth installment was impressive in a different way, as Marquez saw that his old foe wasn't the same and finished him off in clinical fashion.
All four fights had moments that saw Marquez throw his perceived advantage in technical skill out the window in favor of standing and trading. That approach may work this time given Juanma's occasionally shaky chin, but it could just as easily leave Rafael flat on his back—a place he's been before.
There's little question that Marquez is more well-rounded than Lopez, and he has over 70 more rounds of pro experience under his belt. Those will be his biggest assets, and he'd be wise to use them instead of always following his instinct to exchange.
There will be times to box and times to brawl on Saturday, but if Marquez can maximize the former and at least dictate the latter, he'll give himself the best chance to come out on top.