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Mature Lopez revives career, gains title shot

A year ago, few people in boxing were talking about Juan Manuel Lopez. He appeared finished in the ring after Mikey Garcia destroyed him inside of four rounds.

The two-division world champion from Caguas, Puerto Rico, appeared to have lost his edge. He had lost two tough fights to Orlando Salido in 2011 and 2012, which seemed to have taken a lot out of him. His performance against Garcia in June 2013 seemed to cement his demise.

But just when everyone was writing him off, Lopez has bounced back. On March 15, he stopped an old adversary — Daniel Ponce De Leon — in the second round of a rematch of their 2008 meeting, which Lopez won by technical knockout.

That earned him a place on the July 12 undercard of the Saul “Canelo” Alvarez vs. Erislandy Lara main event at the MGM Grand Garden, where Lopez (34-3, 31 knockouts) will meet Francisco Vargas (19-0-1, 13 KOs) for the North American Boxing Federation super featherweight title, scheduled for 10 rounds.

“We made a total change,” Lopez said Thursday on a conference call to promote the fight, which will be part of the Showtime Pay Per View telecast. “We have a brand new team, and I’m concentrating a lot on conditioning. But most importantly, I’ve matured. I’m working very hard, and I’m very focused.”

Lopez said the win in March proved to him that he wasn’t finished.

“The way I won gave me that extra push in my career and in my life,” he said. “It gave me confidence that I can win another world title. When I lost to Mikey Garcia, and everybody said I was finished, I didn’t listen to them. I only listened to my team. We knew what we had to do, and we came out with a spectacular victory (vs. Ponce De Leon).”

Lopez hopes a win over Vargas will get him a second chance against Garcia, the World Boxing Organization super featherweight champion.

“My goal is to become world champion again, so this is a very important fight that I know I must win,” Lopez said. “But Fernando Vargas is a tough fighter, and he also wants to win. I expect it to be a great fight.”

■ CANELO-LARA OFFICIALS — Las Vegas’ Robert Byrd has been selected by the Nevada Athletic Commission to referee the Alvarez-Lara fight. The judges for the 12-round junior middleweight nontitle fight will be Dave Moretti and Jerry Roth of Las Vegas and Levi Martinez of New Mexico.

■ HUNTER WINS — Las Vegas heavyweight Michael Hunter improved to 5-0 after defeating Jerry Forrest (7-2) by unanimous decision Saturday in Carson, Calif. Hunter, who fought on the undercard of the Robert Guerrero-Yoshihiro Kamegai main event, won all eight rounds with all three judges.

■ ALVARADO SUSPENDED — Bantamweight Martin Alvarado was suspended for nine months and fined $2,600 by the NAC after testing positive for Boldenone, a banned steroid in Nevada.

Alvarado tested positive after losing a 10-round bout to Rau’Shee Warren on May 2 at the Hard Rock Hotel.

■ ARUM ON MEND — Top Rank chairman Bob Arum is recuperating in Los Angeles after undergoing successful replacement surgery Tuesday on his right knee in Phoenix.

Arum, 82, will miss Saturday’s card in Omaha, Neb., that features WBO lightweight champion Terrence Crawford against Yuriorkis Gamboa in the main event of an HBO-televised card. Arum hopes to attend the July 19 card in Macau featuring world junior featherweight champion Guillermo Rigondeaux.

Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.

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