Saturday, September 16, 2023

Lopez-Gonzalez Thoughts

 Mexican Independence Day weekend has traditionally been one of the marquee dates on the Boxing calendar ever year routinely featuring some of the biggest fights in the history of the sport. The 2023 Mexican Independence Day weekend featured a bout for the IBF Featherweight championship of the world between defending champion Luis Lopez and two-time world title challenger Joet Gonzalez, who was getting his third opportunity to win a world championship. A fight that took place at the American Bank Center in Corpus Christi, TX on September 15th. While many of the previous battles that have taken place during Mexican Independence Day weekend have featured fighters regarded as the marquee attractions in the sport facing off against each other, this fight may not have been regarded as being in that category by some, but it was a solid encounter between two world-class fighters and featured a world champion in Lopez, who’s star has been on the rise.

It was also a fight that featured a sub-plot of whether Joet Gonzalez, a solid top contender could finally get across the finish line to become a world champion after falling short in his previous two attempts. Although some may be critical of the structure in the sport that seemingly makes the path to a world championship easier in the eyes of some, it is still a task that can prove easier said than done, and for some fighters proves to be an ever elusive goal. One thing that Gonzalez did have going for him entering this fight was that he gave a good account of himself in fights against Shakur Stevenson and Emanuel Navvarrete. He had also never been stopped in his career. This would prove to be a test for a world champion in Lopez, who by all accounts seemed to be riding high after scoring a majority decision over Josh Warrington in December of last year to win the IBF world championship and then scoring an impressive knockout win of top contender Michael Conlan earlier this year. Two fights where Lopez fought both men in each’s backyard of the United Kingdom. 

In his second title defense it was interesting to see if Lopez could continue to build on his momentum. What occurred when the two fighters got into the ring could best be described as a tactical Boxing match between two fighters who could do a bit of everything with each fighter having their share of moments in many of the same rounds throughout the twelve round world championship fight. Such a scenario presents a difficult task for those scoring a fight to determine which fighter got the upper hand. 

What stood out to this observer early on was the pressure that Gonzalez put on Lopez in trying to force him back against the ropes. While a consistent pressure attack when executed right can often lead to success for the fighter applying said pressure as a fight progresses, this was a fight where even though Gonzalez was successful in applying the pressure, he had trouble maintaining the champion on the ropes due to Lopez’ ability to move, throw punches at odd angles, and be elusive. Despite having sixteen knockouts in his twenty-eight career wins prior to this fight, Lopez has never struck me as the type of fighter that can end a fight with one punch, but rather one that because of his ability to throw and land punches at varying angles, could stop opponents either by catching them with punches they do not see as they press forward or by gradually administering what would be defined as an accumulation of punishment that eventually breaks his opponents down. In some ways, Lopez’ unorthodox style reminds yours truly of another great Featherweight champion Prince Naseem Hamed, who had one of the most awkward styles I had ever seen, but one that proved to be extremely effective throughout his career. While I would argue that Hamed had more punching power than Lopez, the similarities between the two styles is hard to ignore and much like Hamed, Lopez’ style works well for him. So well that in this fight, there were periods where, despite being pressured constantly by Gonzalez, Lopez would find ways to evade, land combinations, and then try to tie Gonzalez up when he was able to get close.

As the fight progressed into the second half however, it seemed that it was Gonzalez landing the harder punches of the two, despite his face gradually becoming cut and busted up over the course of the bout as a result of punishment dished out by Lopez. Although the fight remained close in my eyes, it was the pressure as well as the hard shots Gonzalez was able to land, particularly with his right hand and also his left hook, that seemed to push him ahead slightly as the fight entered the championship rounds. Entering rounds eleven and twelve, I felt the fight could go either way and I also felt that a decision would be closely scored due again to both fighters having periods of success in the same rounds as well as nether fighter being able to score knockdowns throughout. 

Much as had been the case throughout the entire fight, the last two rounds were closely fought and it become a question of what does one prefer in how they score a fight to determine who would ultimately get the nod. Would it be the consistent pressure and hard punches of Gonzalez over the second half of the fight, or would it be the elusiveness and ability to catch Gonzalez as he came forward, as well as periodically being able to make him miss that Lopez was able to accomplish that would determine who would win the fight?

After a lifetime watching the sport and almost as long covering it, I can say in all truth and honesty that there is not much that surprises me anymore when it comes to scoring of a fight on any level of the sport because, a judge’s criteria in how they score is truly unique based on clean punching, effective aggressiveness, ring generalship, and defense. It is also worth noting that even though a decision may prove to be unanimous in favor of one fighter, each judge has their own viewpoint/criteria based on the aforementioned standard in which Boxing is scored. What I can say is that at the conclusion of twelve rounds, I felt that Joet Gonzalez had done enough to win the fight seven rounds to five or 115-113 in points. While I do stand by my scoring in feeling that Gonzalez’ pressure and harder punches were enough to eek out a decision over the second half of the fight, I also felt that, despite my view, Gonzalez probably would not get the nod from the three official judges, based on how effective Lopez was able to execute his fight plan over the first six rounds. Whether one would call it a “Gut Feeling” or the intuition of a seasoned Boxing scribe, the instinct that even though I felt Gonzalez had done enough to win the fight, but would not get the decision, proved to be accurate as all three judges scored the fight in favor of Lopez giving the champion a successful second defense of his IBF world championship. 

A point of contention that some will perhaps point to however, is that the three judges scored the fight by wide margins in favor of Lopez. 118-110, (Ten rounds to two) 117-111, (Nine rounds to three) and 116-112. (Eight rounds to four) While these scores do not reflect the close action that occurred in the ring between Lopez and Gonzalez, it does boil down to what a judge prefers in their own criteria as well as where they are positioned at ringside that can play a role in how a fight is scored. A;though I felt Gonzalez won this fight by a close margin, I do not feel that the outcome of this bout was controverisal because Lopez did have moments throughout the fight and a fighter’s ability to defend and evade punches is something that also should be taken into consideration in how a fight is ultimately scored. What I will say however, is the stock of Joet Gonzalez in the 126lb. Featherweight division has risen and even though Luis Lopez successfully retained his world championship, there will be some who might feel that it is Gonzaelz who comes out of this fight looking better than the champion. What the outcome of this fight and perhaps the perception of some fans leads to going forward for both fighters remains to be seen. 

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

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