"I have to work to get to 126 but 122 was beginning to be real hard and difficult," Lopez says. "I think at 126 I'll be bigger and stronger."
Should Luevano decide to slug it out, Dunkin realizes chances are he'll get pummeled from here to tomorrow. "This fight Steven knows he has got to box and be very careful of that right hook," Dunkin says. "You can't get hit with that right hook. If he boxes it will be a really competitive fight. And if he can figure Lopez out, he can beat him."
Luevano may have to do it in a hostile environment, as well. The Jan. 23d fight on "Boxing After Dark" takes place in the WaMu Theater at Madison Square Garden – a venue known to fly a lot of Puerto Rican flags for fighters like Juanma. But it won't be the first time that Luevano has gone into the lion's den.
In 2007 Luevano crossed the pond to England to face then-unbeaten featherweight champion Nicky Cook. Not only was the British crowd against him, but the promoter didn't think enough of Luevano to put his face on the pre-fight poster. By the 11th round, the Brits had a pretty good idea of what Luevano looked like. He was the one on his feet staring down at the canvas where Cook spent four different visits before the bout ended with a body shot just 29 seconds into the 11th round. Luevano took home a souvenir poster and Cook's title, and hasn't relinquished it since.
Lopez gave up his own belt when he moved from super bantamweight to featherweight, a division loaded with good fights. Lopez has no doubt he can carry his power with him. "It's going to be a lot easier to make 126 than 122," Lopez says. "I have to work to get to 126 but 122 was beginning to be real hard and difficult. I think at 126 I'll be bigger and stronger."
Even if he is, he will still have to solve the tricky style of Luevano, a southpaw who works off a very good jab. "I've seen Steven really right and sharp and he takes guys who people think will kill him and he tears them up," said Dunkin, who manages three other current champions in Kelly Pavlik, Timothy Bradley and Nonito Donaire.
Luevano won't be the first crafty veteran Lopez has faced. In April he took on former two-time champion Gerry Penalosa, who'd never been stopped in 62 fights. Lopez was dominating him on all three scorecards before Penalosa quit on his stool after the 10th round. That victory may not have been a true indicator, however, of Lopez's ability to deal with a highly-skilled boxer.
Penalosa's strategy was hopelessly flawed. Because Lopez had virtually no experience going deep into a fight, Penalosa decided to stand in the middle of the ring and trade, hoping his strong chin would let him tire Lopez out and take over the fight in the later rounds. Luevano isn't likely to make the same mistake.
In an intriguing co-feature, unbeaten Cuban sensation Yuriorkis Gamboa (16-0, 14 KOs) takes on the same fighter who nearly broke down Lopez, Mtagwa (26-13-2, 18 KOs). Both Lopez and Gamboa fight under the Top Rank banner, and the plan is to pit the two against each other later this year in a super fight -- provided each passes this formidable test.