Saturday night concluded a fascinating two-week stretch in boxing, during which four highly-touted undefeated boxers all suffered their first loss in fights they were all supposed to win.
Juan Manuel Lopez and Andre Berto last night were the two highest-profile fighters to fall, but just a week prior, 25-0 Canadian middleweight David Lemieux and 27-0 James Kirkland also experienced a crooked letter in the loss column for the first time.
We live in a time in boxing where a single loss, even to a top-level opponent, can set a fighter back several years. Just ask Paul Williams, Chad Dawson or Fernando Montiel. When Marvelous Marvin Hagler lost his first major fight—to Sugar Ray Leonard in 1987 —it was enough to send him into retirement. Will any of these fighters suffer the same fate, or will they go down the path of Amir Khan and Victor Ortiz and rise back to stardom?
Four all four fighters, I think the future still holds many opportunities, but their career recoveries will probably take very different trajectories. An analysis of all four.
Juan Manuel Lopez
Lopez and Berto are undoubtedly the two highest-profile fighters to lose in the past two weeks, and the 30-0 featherweight lost to the most credible opponent. Orlando Salido was ranked No. 4 featherweight by Ring magazine prior to his fight with Lopez, and had taken Yuriorkis Gamboa to a close 12-round decision, including a knockout of Gamboa.
Lopez, being the highest-profile, most-proven of these fighters, will probably bounce back the quickest. There is still a long line of guys who want to face him, and I think a rematch with Lopez would be the best fight for Salido too. In spite of the fact that Salido is now ranked No. 1 featherweight on Boxrec (Ring will likely put him at No. 2 behind Gamboa), he still has something to prove.
Lopez also has the comfort of a few reasonable justifications for his first loss. For one, he was experiencing a lot of out-of-ring distractions with a messy divorce that prevented him from being able to see his children for a while. There's also the issue of the stoppage, which many people (including me in last night's live blog) thought was a bit premature because Lopez was still throwing punches. Lopez was clearly hurt (and admitted it himself), but it's a generally accepted rule to not stop fights if the losing fighter is still throwing punches. When that fighter is still landing some punches and has the reputation that Lopez does, stopping a fight opens the floodgates of public disapproval.
On the other hand, though, Lopez wasn't at his best last night, and Salido's powerful enough to hurt anybody. If he was going to lose, this kind of stoppage is probably the best way for Lopez to do it. He can explain away his loss as a questionable stoppage, and he avoided serious injury. All in all, even though Lopez will lose his spot as No. 9 pound-for-pound fighter, he still has a bright future among Puerto Rico and global boxing fans.
The other huge-name fighter to be upset last night, Berto was ranked No. 3 welterweight, behind only Pacquiao and Mayweather. But like many things in Berto's career, he seemed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Victor Ortiz was still a dangerous fighter, but a shaky performance against Marcos Maidana and some poorly-chosen post-fight comments had marginalized his reputation as a fighter. Since it was Ortiz's first fight as a welterweight, people expected the talented Berto to win the fight by a considerable margin.
It was not to be, though. Ortiz had something to prove, and proved it. Berto didn't look bad, but Ortiz looked exceptional and did tremendous things for his career.
Berto has had a string of bad luck. First, it was the fight against Shane Mosley, which had to be canceled after the earthquakes in Haiti threatened Berto's extended family. Mosley would go on to lose his next fight to Mayweather, and it isn't hard to see Berto having slain a legend and moving on to bigger things. Then he was floated as a possible Pacquiao opponent before being passed over for the more-marketable Mosley. And now this.
Berto has impressive talent, but his invincibility and potential for greatness both took a hit last night when it was found that Berto couldn't take Ortiz's hits as well as some expected.
But it didn't damage his career irreparably—not by any stretch of the imagination. The fight was a clear fight of the year candidate, and a rematch with Ortiz would be a popular choice. Some fights—Gatti-Ward, Hagler-Hearns, Pacquiao-Marquez—end up helping the career of both fighters, and fortunately for Berto, there's a chance that his loss to Ortiz could do just that. He's got some things to work on in the gym, but I think Berto would be well-advised to take on some more high-profile fights and right the wave of publicity. He's still a dangerous opponent for anyone.
Of all the fighters on this list, Kirkland may be the one who is most negatively affected by his loss. Ishida wasn't very highly-regarded prior to their fight, and Kirkland hadn't really taken on anyone really credible since his return from the prison system.
Even Kirkland, who was dropped three times in the first round, can say his stoppage was premature, though. Joe Cortez—now undoubtedly my least favorite ref in boxing—immediately stopped Kirkland after his third knockdown, even though Kirkland was going to get up after a one- or two-count. In fact, to some observers, it looked like Cortez pushed Kirkland back down.
But for Kirkland, there are too many question marks that have been raised. A loss to Ishida was a stunning surprise, and Kirkland did not look good in the process. He showed a questionable chin, questionable athleticism and indeed made us question why he was so well-regarded in the first place.
On the other hand, he could just be a victim of "The Kellerman Curse"—a term that I've coined to describe the ongoing trend of Max Kellerman's favorite prospects taking a big credibility hit soon after being declared "the guy to watch." It happened to Jose Linares, who lost by first-round KO a few years ago and is still trying to climb back to the top. Then there was Devon Alexander, who looked underwhelming against Tim Bradley and impressed nobody with his calls to have the fight stopped after a headbutt. And now Kirkland, whom Kellerman predicted would fight Sergio Martinez within a year and promptly got stopped in Round 1 just a month later.
James Kirkland now has a lot to prove, and it remains to be seen if he'll be able to do so. He won't have as easy a time rejuvenating his career as Lopez or Berto.
He was (and still is) a popular, 22-year-old Canadian middleweight, with impressive power (24 KO in 25 fights) and a growing following after his three successful fights on ESPN 2's Friday Night Fights. However, his fourth FNF appearance wasn't like his first three, as he took a tough loss.
I think we all saw what happened, though, and like Kirkland and Lopez, this stoppage may have been premature. I have a lot of respect for Lemieux's trainer Russ Anber, but it just seemed like he hadn't seen his fighter in a difficult spot and became a bit overly protective. Lemieux still definitely had a chance to win and was doing the right thing by ducking, weaving, throwing some punches and trying to avoid getting hit again.
Like all prospects who get defeated by mid-level foes, though, it might take a while for Lemieux to regain his reputation. He should keep doing what he has been doing, though, and at age 22, the sky is still the limit for him. He has no trouble getting fans to come to his fights, and didn't even look that bad before the stoppage.
All four of these fighters have a silver lining to take away from their first career losses. For Lopez, Kirkland and Lemieux, it's the fact that the stoppages all seemed a bit controversial. For Berto, it's the fact that he was in a top-level fight that could easily have gained him some fans and may earn him a fight of the year award. Micky Ward, Arturo Gatti and many other fighters lost a Fight of the Year, but had their career advance very quickly afterward, and Berto could be the same.
Lopez will lose his spot on the P4P top 10, but will have more big fights, and probably a Salido rematch, in the near future. Berto needs to take on more quality guys, but at least his recent fight is being talked about, which is something he had trouble doing against Luis Collazo and Freddy Hernandez.
Kirkland has the hardest uphill climb, and may have been irreparably exposed unless he finds a way to address some of the weaknesses he displayed against Ishida. And as for David Lemieux, he's still a top-tier prospect on the cusp of stardom, and the Montreal fans won't abandon him over this.
But nonetheless, it's been a crazy two weeks of boxing, and upsets like these are the reason we watch the sport. I hope you've enjoyed it as much as I have.