THE list of Mexicans who have won world featherweight honours is a lengthy one and includes Salvador Sanchez, Marco Antonio Barrera, Juan Manuel Marquez and, most recently, Luis Alberto Lopez.
Lopez, an eccentric puncher well known to British and Irish fans for his wins over Isaac Lowe, Josh Warrington and Michael Conlan, makes his second defence of the IBF title at the American Bank Center in Corpus Christi, Texas, on Friday night (September 15).
Lopez, ranked number one in the division, meets Joet Gonzalez, a 29-year-old American Mexican making his third bid for world honours, on Mexican Independence Day Weekend.
Top Rank promote a fight that has all the ingredients of a fan-friendly battle.
Gonzalez, 26-3 (15), has featured in all-action fight-of-the-year contenders against Emanuel Navarrete and last time out, Enrique Vivas. Gonzalez and Vivas threw a total of 1,576 punches at each other in a real phonebooth fight in April that Gonzalez won by 98-92 (twice) and 99-91. That secured his shot at Lopez, who’s coming off a one-punch knockout win over Michael Conlan in Belfast in May. The finishing punch was a right uppercut that Lopez had looked for from the opening bell and shaken Conlan with in the third.
Lopez, 28-2 (16), trained with Kay Koroma for two months and strength and conditioning coach Memo Heredia in Las Vegas in the build-up, but his style is his own, as was the case with Jorge Paez, another 126lbs titlist from Mexicali and a former circus acrobat.
Against Conlan, Lopez was fidgety and often smiled to himself, always giving the impression that he was unbothered by Conlan and that, sooner or later, he would figure the Irishman out and chin him.
The finish was emphatic when it came, Lopez landing a right uppercut after missing with a left hook. The 30-year-old is the sort who is capable of jumping in with a knockout punch from nowhere at any time.
Conlan and Lowe both showed he can be outboxed but he knocked both of them out. Lopez had Lowe down after only 12 seconds at the York Hall in December, 2021, with a leaping lead left hook, again in the second and just when it seemed Lowe was boxing his way back into it, Lopez found a body shot in the seventh that knocked everything out of him.
That set up his challenge for Josh Warrington’s belt and Lopez started strongly and then came through an 11th round wobble to win on points. Lopez was cut (left eye) in the second after heads clashed and has also been cut against Ruben Villa (left eye) and Andy Vences (right eye).
Gonzalez will be two inches taller, has a longer reach and is better schooled, but sometimes he fights the wrong fight and he’s the lost the big ones in his career – hence why he’s not currently ranked in the world top 10.
In world title challenges, he’s been outpointed by Shakur Stevenson and Navarrete. Against, Navarrete, Gonzalez fought with his right eye damaged from the second and still gave the Mexican one of his harder nights.
Gonzalez took 272 punches that night.
On another big night, he was outlasted by Isaac Dogboe on a split points vote before reigniting his career with that points win over Vivas in Oklahoma in April.
Gonzalez, a 2012 US amateur champion, boxed and fought his way to a hard-earned victory, using his long levers at times, but mostly trading on the inside and finding the openings. Vivas stood in front of Gonzalez and didn’t move his head an awful lot, but Lopez is going to be harder to locate.
He’s relaxed, loose around the shoulders and launches punches from everywhere. Lopez has predicted he will become the first to stop Gonzalez this weekend, but we fancy he will have to go the full 12 rounds to keep his belt.
The undercard features a 154lbs matchup between Puerto Rican prodigy Xander Zayas, 16-0 (10), and Roberto Valenzuela Jnr, 21-4 (20), over 10 rounds. This should also be fiercely contested. There’s a long rivalry between Puerto Rico and Mexico in the ring.
Boxing 10 days after his 21st birthday, Zayas is matched over 10 for the first time against Valenzuela, who’s lost two of his last four, to Souleymane Cissokho and Bakhram Murtazaliev.
Valenzuela and Cissokho swapped knockdowns in the fourth.
Valenzuela will be lifted by the occasion on Friday night, but Zayas looks very polished and may force a stoppage in the later rounds.
THE VERDICT: Lopez is one of the most watchable elite fighters around today.