Originally written on The Queensbury Rules  |  Last updated 10/14/14
For a fight so beloved -- and it's a genuinely good fight, so it deserves all the fawning and swooning -- Orlando Salido-Juan Manuel Lopez II Saturday on Showtime has an air of "race to the bottom" about it. The first fight was really just expected to be a ho-hum affair with a tint of foul odor, a bout where Lopez appeared to be avoiding a hotly-anticipated featherweight showdown with Yuriorkis Gamboa by taking on a man Gamboa had already beaten. That it turned into such a good fight wasn't so unexpected, but Salido pulling out the win was part of a streak of dramatic upsets in 2011.

Since, Salido has been taking his own token fights, each apparently designed to capitalize on his newfound popularity for striking another blow in the Mexico-Puerto Rico boxing war -- but with the merest fraction of a risk. And he damn near got knocked out in the last one. You get the impression he's doing this rematch now after putting it off for a while because he realizes he could get his clock cleaned at any time, so he might as well take a little extra risk for a lot of extra money and see how it goes. And Lopez, in his last fight while waiting for Salido to give him a rematch, looked like he hadn't changed a damn thing about his sloppy, sluggy self after a Salido loss that should've been a wake-up call.

However precariously, though, these are two of the best featherweights in the world right now. Salido is Ring's #3 man in the division, and Lopez is at #4. More importantly, it's just kind of a can't-miss fight for its entertainment quotient. The first one was a straight-up brawl, really, where the slightly better technician was Salido, which says something because Salido wasn't far removed from his days as a journeyman. But he's a legit contender now, having graduated from a journeyman's mere competence to the ability to beat or at least severely trouble pound-for-pound types like Gamboa or Lopez. He's got just enough skill to go with his grit to make him a formidable foe, even against a faster and more powerful opponent. If Lopez is a little better than last time (he says he didn't spend as much time being a fattie this go around as he did before the last go-round) and if Salido's reflexes are a little duller than last time (never quick, he looked a bit slower than usual in his last fight), then we could have an even better bout than the first one.

One could argue that Salido's win over Robert Guerrero put an end to his journeyman status -- he beat a world-class talent. But of course, the steroid test coming back positive on that one sent him back from whence he came. He has 11 losses in his career, some not to world-class talents, such as fellow journeyman-turned-contender Cristobal Cruz. But he avenged that loss, and then gave Gamboa a rough night, and emerged with a career-best win last year against Lopez.

The Salido package starts with his ability to take a licking and continue ticking. He can take pretty massive shots without noticing. He'll hit the deck sometimes, like he did against Gamboa, but he is resilient. As surprising as it was that someone like his last opponent, little-acclaimed Weng Haya, put him on the deck in the 3rd and 4th rounds, you can see that resilience resurface in the back half of the 4th round, the moment when Salido re-took control of the fight. And he came back and stopped Haya.

That doesn't mean it wasn't concerning that Salido was on the deck. Granted, he got a little reckless going for the stoppage and got hit with a great counter left. But I thought he looked slower than usual in that fight. He appeared to adjust to Haya's speed later on, but Salido is 51 fights into a career that began at a very young age. Maybe he was showing signs of that ring wear. Anyway, he has at least some of his trademark grit left. And he's got an overhand right that is tricky as all get-out. You know it's coming, but he mixes up his arsenal enough -- body shots, lead left hooks, whatever -- that opponents rarely see it. And he doesn't have to take a ton of punches because he's actually halfway decent on defense, too; he moves his legs pretty well and rolls with what shots do land. He also has acknowledged he got reckless against Haya, and will fight smarter against Lopez than he did against Haya.

Lopez, meanwhile, has most definitely gotten worse as a boxer. It's stunning to look at the wild slugger of recent fights and remember that he rolled onto the national boxing scene by throwing a short, crisp counter that put Daniel Ponce De Leon on queer street. And it's not just about conditioning -- although that didn't help in his last fight, being so fat for so long en route to the bout itself. And it's not just about personal strife -- although going through a divorce prior to his last fight didn't help, either. Lopez said he's solved both problems: He and his ex-wife are on good terms, and she's even helped prepare meals for him prior to this bout, as opposed to how she was absent for his last camp.

No, Lopez is just a sloppy mess in his last several fights. He always was hittable, but he's gotten even more hittable. He's fallen in love with his power, and technique has gone right out the window. Usually his chin, while vulnerable, has withstood fire in the end; he always knew he could count on it. It abandoned him during the Salido fight. You'd think a fighter like that would come into his next bout -- against Mike Oliver -- focused on improving. He wasn't improved at all. He says now he wasn't adequately motivated for that fight, which he still won with ease. It's ominous.

My gut says that Salido pulls it off against Lopez again. But looking at each of their last fights, I have deep concerns about Salido's ring wear. And Lopez in better condition has a better chance of withstanding Salido's shots. Then I default to thinking Lopez is still the stronger, faster guy. So I'm going with Lopez, fighting on his home soil in Puerto Rico, to narrowly edge Salido in a killer slugfest.

I don't believe in either of these guys right now. But I bet I'll enjoy watching them race to the bottom.
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