Ethnic rivalries are and always have been common in boxing, if not outright exploited. Puerto Rico’s ongoing feud with Mexico is one of the most heated and infamous rivalries in boxing, but it’s not often Puerto Rican fighters make serious enemies of one another in the ring.
On Saturday night in the Coliseo Roberto Clemente in San Juan, former superstar Juan Manuel Lopez wore down Wilfredo Vazquez, Jr. in 11 rounds, earning his first win in over two years. The fight unfolded messily, with both men fighting sloppily and looking weary in spots. To top it off, Lopez exchanged punches with one of Vazquez’s cornermen immediately after the stoppage.
Sadly, there was something uncomfortably satisfying about watching two spent warriors beat the hate out of one another.
Even if genuine hatred between two opponents often doesn’t play out as expected in the ring, there was no love lost between the two, and they slung plenty of mud in the lead up. At the same press conference that almost climaxed with a brawl a few days before the fight, Vazquez told media Lopez “repulsed” him and Lopez angrily complained about Vazquez blowing a kiss at him during their media face-off. Fireworks appeared imminent, even if their combined ages placed the fight firmly in the “guilty pleasure” category.
Instead Lopez fought cautiously as Vazquez tested the bigger man’s chin. Lopez, 35-5 with 32 knockouts, has been stopped in all of his losses, and with increasing brutality it seems. It made sense for Vazquez to gauge whether Lopez was up for a fight, but he simply didn’t wind up getting the ideal response.
Vazquez took advantage of Lopez trudging around with a higher guard than usual by peppering away with offense that certainly scored points even if it wasn’t damaging. At times “JuanMa” looked too shot to get more than one paw on Vazquez, who wasn’t exactly elusive, and at other times he could have been just conserving energy. It wasn’t until a heated exchange in round 4 that Lopez came to life.
Lopez and Vazquez, 33 and 32 respectively, are older in boxing years than their ages would indicate; both have had difficult careers and both have been dinged up and banged around. Few called for this match up at any point in time, much less now, when both men are well past their best. Lopez in particular is positioned toward the tragic end that only boxing can bring — the kind of end that thrills us along the way but creates cognitive dissonance. Do we want this fighter to be safe? Or do we want to be entertained and intrigued?
Because boxing is still around and fighters answer those questions for us, Lopez made things more interesting by wobbling Vazquez with a southpaw right hand in the 5th round. From that point on Lopez mostly waded forward and imposed his size on the smaller man, but a few tricks like a lead southpaw left and walking Vazquez into his hook expedited the process.
A left hook rocked Lopez in round 7, but that was the extent of Vazquez’s success for the remainder of the fight. Lopez’s chin has weakened considerably, yet clean, repeated punches weren’t having much effect on him most of the time.
In the final minute of round 11, Lopez landed a series of left hands that backed Vazquez to the ropes and froze him up, allowing Lopez to fire off enough punches to knock him into the ropes and have the fight waved off at 2:29 of the penultimate round.
And because boxing hates to let moments of glory go unstained, Vazquez’s trainer climbed into the ring and exchanged punches with Lopez, who actually took a few bare knuckle punches to the mush better than one might expect. Bottles and other objects began showering the ring as a cluster of people tussled back and forth over the verdict before order was restored and the two fighters gave surprisingly cordial interviews before Vazquez announced his retirement.
While this fight likely wasn’t worth purchasing, it’s best that it was a Pay-Per-View event and not eating into a pay cable channel’s boxing budget. But another positive is that the fight went about as well as it could from the standpoint of the seemingly more vulnerable one, Lopez, taking a minimal amount of punishment.
The negative, of course, is that Juan Manuel Lopez won and is likely to continue fighting.
Unfortunately neither Lopez nor Vazquez would have much to offer any world class featherweights or super featherweights, so these kinds of match ups really are best case scenarios in that neither man was cannibalized by some younger fighter.
Vazquez, if he’s lucky, will stay retired with a record of 24-7-1 with 19 knockouts.
In the end the fight failed to live up the quality of other all-Boricua match ups like Wilfredo Gomez 1984 decision over Juan LaPorte or Esteban de Jesus’ close 1978 verdict over Edwin Viruet. But it should be enough to keep the island talking until the next all-local rivalry comes along.