Breaths escaped as epitaphs when Lopez crumpled to the canvas. He would rise, perhaps on Promethean defiance alone, before the count reached ten. Beating the count would be his final fight however, as referee Robert Ramirez wisely waved off the proceedings. Orlando Salido had again brought a premature end to JuanMa Lopez’ evening.
The outcome however, was secondary to that which produced it. Salido and Lopez had engaged in beautiful violence for nearly ten rounds. It was a contrapuntal dialogue rich in punctuating blows and heated exchanges, with Salido bowing Lopez with a final fistic utterance that permitted no rejoinder. Ledgers—and perhaps bodies—were permanently altered. Despite the damage dignity persisted, seemingly cast in bronze by the forgers at work between the ropes. Lopez would tarnish his performance however, when the scavenging Jim Grey set upon him in the post-fight interview.
Lopez launched into a tirade against referee Robert Ramirez, slandering the man as a gambler and insinuating that this personal indulgence somehow precipitated a premature stoppage. In doing so Lopez dispensed with the comportment that had so admirably distinguished him during the fight, and he was justifiably criticized for his poor form. His conduct however, is understandable for a couple of reasons. To the extent that his conduct is understandable, it is also defensible.
Lopez responded to the culminating salvo of Salido like someone concussed. Even if the damage accrued wasn’t concussive, he was suffering from having his bell so forcefully rung. Such a mind isn’t the most reliable source of information. By insinuating some corruption might be at play Lopez became a participant in a tradition of vanquished fighters, men forced to comment on the heartbreaking, on the unthinkable, without sufficient time for reflection. This particular brand of testimony should be weighed within the context in which it’s collected. The somnambulist isn’t a reliable eye-witness. This explanation assumes that what Lopez said was patently false, but that assumption requires further investigation.
Even if he was speaking in a concussed state, it’s possible that Lopez’ comments were based in truth. Lopez can be assumed to have some knowledge of Ramirez, given that they both move within the boxing fraternity of Puerto Rico. This isn’t to say that Ramirez gambled on the fight, or that he was guilty of any corruption whatsoever: there’s been no evidence produced to that effect, and Lopez has—via his public relations team, mind you—issued an apology. But if Lopez were aware of Ramirez’ gambling practices—practices that are ubiquitous in Puerto Rico—his allegations were founded on more than shifting sand. Of course, this doesn’t justify Lopez’ allegations. The point isn’t to justify Lopez however, but to explain why he might resort to such a seemingly ridiculous explanation for the stoppage. It’s possible that Lopez was filling in the gaps of a rather devastating narrative with whatever knowledge best supported his desire to continue. In doing so he lashed out at Ramirez by using facts (like Ramirez laying the odd bet) to false ends (Ramirez’ gambling prompting a stoppage). Lopez was wrong, yes, but the process of reasoning he employed seems hard-wired into our cognition. It’s important to remember that Lopez just had his cognition bounced forcibly off his shoulder.
What underlies both explanations is Lopez’ inexorable desire to starch Salido. When his game plan shifted to one of headlong attrition Lopez fought as if the only possible outcome was a knockout. He fought to decapitate Salido—he was going for broke. It’s unlikely that Lopez was going to get over against a fighter as well-versed in hurt as Salido—but this only makes Lopez’ impassioned final onslaught more beautiful. Like his desperate strategy, his unbecoming post-fight interview was the product of a sanguinary pursuit, of his being denied that pursuit. This commitment to violence too often is lacking in fighters who look to steal rounds or do just enough to bank a victory. Lopez left it all in the ring, left it all on display, both his fistic virtues and his flaws.
Lopez then, is a paradox: his poor comportment after the fight was an extension of his fighting spirit and in this respect was actually complimentary. This doesn’t excuse his post-fight conduct, but the purpose here was to better understand him, not exonerate him. Lopez could have conducted himself better, that’s true. But were his performance to speak for itself, it would say that Juan Manuel Lopez is an imperfect fighter in word and deed, but a fighter above all else.