Unbeatens Juan Manuel Lopez and Yuriorkis Gamboa stayed on a collision course Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.
As the co-featured stars in HBO's Boxing After Dark doubleheader, Lopez (28-0, 25 KOs) and Gamboa (17-0, 15 KOs) each won in impressive, abbreviated fashion to clear the way for a potential featherweight title unification showdown later this year.
Lopez, the WBO junior featherweight champion from Puerto Rico, moved up in weight and closed the show with his arms raised in victory after dethroning WBO featherweight champion Steven Luevano (37-2-1, 15 KOs) with a technical knockout at :44 of the seventh round.
"It's my dream to be world champion in four divisions and this is the second one,'' said a jubilant Lopez. "I'm very, very happy that I showed this crowd a great fight."
Gamboa, the WBA featherweight champion, got things started and made a powerful statement by defeating Tanzanian-born Roger Mtagwa (26-14-2) to retain his title on a TKO at 2:35 of the second round.
"I was hoping to get to the fourth round to show all that I had," said Gamboa, disappointed the fight didn't last longer but pleased with his dominance against a fighter who previously gave Lopez all he could handle.
"I've been trying to improve all my deficiencies,'' said Gamboa, who knocked down Mtagwa three times -- once in the first round and twice in the second round before referee Steve Smoker stopped the carnage.
Mtagwa, who fights out of Philadelphia, had elevated his stature when he took Lopez the full distance and very nearly scored an upset in his most recent fight.
Although Gamboa dominated Mtagwa by comparison Saturday night, the champion from Cuba didn't think the ease of his victory made any statement about how he would fare against Lopez.
"Two different boxers, two different categories,'' Gamboa said. "You can't compare."
If Gamboa's show-stopping performance had any residual effect, it might have put added pressure on Lopez to look just as impressive against Luevano.
"It didn't matter what Gamboa did in his fight,'' Lopez disagreed. "I prepped hard for Luevano. It was a tough fight because he's an intelligent fighter."
Luevano was making the sixth defense of his title, but Lopez managed to systematically break down the deposed champion from La Puente, Calif., stopping him for the first time in his career.
Both Lopez and Gamboa anticipate a showdown is on the verge of happening, but the details still need to be ironed out.
"It's in the hands of the promoters,'' Gamboa said. "I'm ready to fight anybody they put in front of me."
"We'll discuss things in the next few days,'' Lopez said. "Whether it's Gamboa or whatever my team wants, it doesn't matter."