Lopez, Gamboa on collision course
NEW YORK -- This is the blueprint for building toward a big fight. It's a blueprint that Top Rank promoter Bob Arum knows very well after 40 years in boxing.
It's slow and steady and in the not too distant future he figures -- and he's probably right -- that fight fans will be begging to see a featherweight showdown between titleholders Juan Manuel Lopez and Yuriorkis Gamboa.
After the performances that they each turned in on Saturday night, Arum can probably already hear the cash register humming because both looked sensational blowing out their legitimate opponents.
Lopez, a junior featherweight titleholder, moved up in weight and blitzed Steven Luevano for a one-sided seventh-round knockout to capture his second world title.
"I dream of being a world champion in four divisions. This is the second one," he said. "I'm very happy I gave the crowd a great fight."
And in the co-feature, Gamboa crushed Rogers Mtagwa in two lopsided rounds in defense of his 126-pound belt before an enthusiastic near-sellout crowd of 5,142 at the Theater at Madison Square Garden.
"I've got two horses and I want them to wipe out everybody in the featherweight division and when they finally meet, people will go crazy," Arum said.
Arum is as savvy as anyone. He has no intention of putting them together right away. He'll milk it, tend to it, grow it and do his best to make it into a blockbuster fight in which everyone gets paid a lot of money.
"From what I've seen tonight, I want these guys to go against every great featherweight out there," Arum said.
The first stop on the ride to the showdown he hopes will be a summer HBO card from two sites featuring Lopez defending his title at home in Puerto Rico and Gamboa defending his belt in his adopted hometown of Miami.
"We'll have just cleaned up all the featherweights and then when everyone is panting about seeing these guys fight each other, I'll do a big, big blowout kind of show," Arum said. "I promote both of them. I owe it to both of them to make them the biggest amount of money they can make. I'm not going to rush it. I can build it like a son of a gun. Then in the summer of 2011, with all the Cubans and all the Puerto Ricans, we'll talk to [New York Giants owner] Steve Tisch about putting it in the new Meadowlands Stadium.
"It's a great fight, but it's got to be the kind of fight where, even though they are only 126 pounders, they will make a s---load of money."
Arum said he would be willing to match either of them with the likes of featherweight titleholder Chris John, junior featherweight titlist Celestino Caballero and the winner of the Feb. 13 Mario Santiago-Bernabe Concepcion fight.
"Don't I owe it to my two guys to build this into the biggest fight I can? It will be a huge, huge fight, but not right now," Arum said.
It was the second consecutive card that Lopez and Gamboa have fought on together. They did so in October, when Gamboa looked terrific in a knockout victory, but Lopez was in a life-and-death battle with Mtagwa, nearly getting knocked out in the 11th and 12th rounds.
That sure wasn't the case on Saturday, when Lopez dispatched Luevano (37-2-1, 15 KOs) with surprising ease.
With the heavily Puerto Rican crowd on his side, Lopez was pitching a shutout on two scorecards going into the seventh and had lost only one round on the third card.
"I knew I had to do better than I did last time here. I had to be smart," Lopez said. "The four pounds was a big difference, moving up to 126. I knew I had to be smart and be patient, and that's what I was."
Lopez (28-0, 25 KOs), 26, had swelled up Luevano's left eye and bloodied his nose with pinpoint right hooks and uppercuts before finishing him with a series of shots.
Luevano, 28, who was making his sixth defense, collapsed in the corner and was very wobbly getting to his feet. When he stumbled taking a step forward, referee Benji Esteves called it off at 44 seconds.
Gamboa (17-0, 15 KOs) had an even easier time with Mtagwa (26-14-2, 18 KOs) and made a big statement about how the proposed future fight with Lopez might go, especially after Lopez struggled so severely with Mtagwa last fall.
Gamboa, the electrifying 28-year-old former Olympic gold medalist and Cuban defector, was not tested in the slightest. Making his second defense, Gamboa's speed was overwhelming and obvious immediately, and in the first round every punch Gamboa landed seemed to rock Mtagwa.
A left hand on top of the head knocked Mtagwa down with about 10 seconds left in the round.
It got no better for Mtagwa, 30, the rugged Philadelphia brawler originally from Tanzania.
Gamboa, who showed more patience and a tighter defense than he has in recent fights, was landing flush shots with both hands and then knocked Mtagwa down on the end of a left hand with about a minute to go in the round.
Mtagwa survived but Gamboa launched another assault and dropped him again, forcing referee Steve Smoger to call it off without a count.
"We knew he was fast but we felt we would try to get through three rounds and battle, but he just caught real bad, really early," said Joe Parella, Mtagwa's manager.
Although Mtagwa had lost to Lopez last year, he earned rave reviews for his gritty performance and the shot at Gamboa. Gamboa, however, didn't want to compare himself to Lopez.
"I hope that with this performance that nobody compares me to Juanma. He's Juanma. I am Yuriorkis Gamboa," he said. "We are two different boxers. You can't compare. I am here to demonstrate my skills. I am here to face anyone and beat anyone in my division.
"You have to look and see that we were in different weight divisions when each fought Mtagwa. I don't think you can get anything from seeing me and Mtagwa and him and Mtagawa."
When asked if he wanted to fight Lopez, Gamboa was noncommittal.
"It's in the hands of promoters," he said. "I am ready for whatever boxers they put in front of me."
"This is business. If it makes sense, fine with me," he said of the possible future showdown. "If it makes sense now, we'll do it. If it doesn't, we'll wait. Whatever the company [Top Rank] wants. But I know eventually I'll fight him."
And if Arum has his way, we'll all be panting for it.
Duddy blows out Astorga
Middleweight John Duddy (28-1, 18 KOs) made quick work of Juan Astorga (14-4-1, 9 KOs), dropping him twice and stopping him at 1 minute, 55 seconds of the first round.
Duddy, 30, the New York-based Ireland native, had a large contingent of fans in the crowd and they were excited when he dropped Astorga, 31, of Texas, early in the round with a right hand high on his head.
Astorga did not appear hurt from the knockdown but he didn't last much longer as Duddy landed a left to the body that dropped him again as referee Wayne Kelly called it off.
Duddy will next fight March 13 on the Manny Pacquiao-Joshua Clottey undercard at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. If he wins that fight, Duddy will be back on June 12 on the undercard of the almost-finalized Yuri Foreman-Miguel Cotto fight at Madison Square Garden. Arum mentioned former "Contender" star Jimmy Lange as a possible opponent for the June fight; Lange isn't available for March.
Duddy, once considered as a challenger for middleweight champ Kelly Pavlik, was rebuilding from a surprising split-decision loss in April 2008 to Billy Lyell, who, coincidentally, landed a title shot on Saturday as a late replacement to face Sebastian Sylvester in Germany next week.
Duddy rebounded from the loss to outpoint Michi Munoz at the Garden Theater in October on another card featuring Lopez and Gamboa.
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.
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