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JuanMa Lopez, Yuriorkis Gamboa featured in featherweight title doubleheader tonight!

New York, New York, it's a wonderful town once again tonight.  In what is the first big fight card of the new year and decade, HBO Boxing After Dark will televise a featherweight championship doubleheader, featuring two of the sport's fastest rising undefeated stars, WBA champion Yuriorkis Gamboa and WBO super bantamweight Juan Manuel Lopez. 

Most of the knowledgable fans and experts in the world of boxing regard Indonesia's Chris John as the universally recognized featherweight champion of the world.  In a division that was most notably populated the previous decade by stars such as Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales, Prince Naseem Hamed, Juan Manuel Marquez, and Manny Pacquiao, the four young contestants on tonight's card are eager to establish their own respective legacies in the featherweight division, as they squared off at the Mecca of Boxing, Madison Square Garden in New York City.

Gamboa will defend his title against Rogers Mtagwa, who was last seen giving Lopez all he could handle in a spirited challenge for his title last October.  Lopez is moving up from super bantamweight to featherweight to challenge WBO titlist Steve Luevano in the main event.  HBO would like to match Lopez and Gamboa against one another later this year, but as we learned this past week when Scott Brown upset Martha Coakley for the US Senate seat in Massachusetts, sometimes the best laid plans can be derailed.  Both undefeated stars are matched pretty tough tonight. 

Lopez exploded on the scene in June of 2008, when he scored a devastating first round KO of defending champion Ponce DeLeon to win the WBO super bantamweight champion.  He's made a number of defenses, including the win over Mtagwa, as well as a 10th round TKO over Gerry Penalosa in his native Puerto Rico in April of 2009.  Reminiscent of a young Mike Tyson, Lopez can be extremely dangerous early and his professional record proves just that.  In his 27 fight career, the 26 year old residing in Caguas, Puerto Rico has scored a total of 10 first round knockouts. Where Lopez has looked particularly vulnerable is when he's taken into the late rounds.  We could very well see that vulnerability tonight, as Luevano is a durable guy who can take a punch and has never been stopped.

Luevano won the vacant title with an eleventh round knockout of Nicky Cook in July of 2007.  He has been relatively inactive with only one fight in 2009, that being a 7th round DQ win over Bernard Concepcion. A skilled technician whose only loss was a 10 round decision to Martin Honorio in November of 2005, Luevano has been in his own share of exciting fights, including a twelve round war with Mario Santiago in June of 2008, which ended in a draw. In his next fight in October of 2008, Luevano outclassed Billy Dib to retain his title.

Perhaps it is Gamboa who is the most gifted fighter on tonight's card. A native of Cuba who won the 2006 World Cup Championship, and is also a four time national champion, Gamboa is a talented young fighter with fast hands and feet. After scoring a 10th round TKO over Jose Rojas in April to win the interim title, Gamboa became the full-time titleholder following a 4th round TKO of Whyber Garcia in his last outting this past October. Having been knocked down couple of times, Gamboa does have a questionable chin and probably gets hit just a little too much for the liking of his immediate backers. 

Mtagwa, who is challenging Gamboa in the preliminary bout, survived the early rounds of his fight against the hard punching Lopez and managed to hurt a tiring Lopez in the closing rounds of their title fight this past fall.  Mtagwa ran out of time and rounds, as Lopez held on to win a unanimous decision. 

What we have here is two outstanding match ups; the main event could exceed expectations especially if it goes into the late rounds. As I stated earlier, Luevano was in a barnburner against Santiago on the Pacquiao vs. Diaz undercard. Put Lopez, a guy who's not afraid to take punches in order to deliver,  into the ring with Luevano and things could get exciting.  This commentator believes Luevano is a live underdog and is actually leaning towards him to pull off the upset.  Gamboa should get past Mtagwa, after some rocky moments and perhaps even suffering a knockdown. 

Wouldn't it be something, though, if the year kicked off with two upsets??



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