BAYAMON, Puerto Rico (AP) — Juan Manuel Lopez stopped Aldimar Silva Santos in the ninth round Saturday night in his first fight following a suspension for accusing a referee of having a gambling problem.
Lopez knocked Santos down with an impressive flurry with 1:04 left, and the Brazilian boxer was unable to continue.
Lopez, a former junior featherweight titleholder, was in the ring for the first time since losing his featherweight belt to Orlando Salido in March 2010, an epic slugfest that saw Salido go down in the fifth round and Lopez knocked down in the 10th round.
It was what happened after the fight that generated controversy, though.
The fight, close on all three scorecards, was appropriately stopped by referee Roberto Ramirez Sr. when Lopez was clearly dazed in the 10th round. Moments later, Lopez was interviewed in the ring by Showtime's Jim Gray and, still appearing confused, accused Ramirez of having a gambling problem.
In a sport with a long history of murky characters and questionable decisions, the accusation was not well received by the Puerto Rican Boxing Professional Boxing Commission. So despite an apology from Lopez and his promoter, Bob Arum, revealing that the fighter had sustained a concussion in the fight, the commission suspended the popular Lopez for a year and fined him $10,000.
Arum called the suspension "outrageous," and it was widely panned for being overly harsh.
The decision ultimately meant Lopez was shelved for a year because most commissions, including those in the United States, generally recognize suspensions handed down by other governing bodies.
Santos proved to be a good opportunity to shake off the rust.
The 31-year-old from Sao Paulo, Brazil, is not considered a hard puncher, which meant Lopez could stand toe-to-toe — the way he prefers to fight — with little risk of getting hit flush. Santos also was one fight removed from a lopsided, second-round stoppage loss to rising star Jesse Magdaleno.
Lopez improved to 32-2 with 29 knockouts, while Santos dropped to 18-4.
The victory should set up a bigger fight later this summer.
One of the names that's been floated by promoter Top Rank is Miguel Angel "Mikey" Garcia, who beat Salido two weeks ago by technical decision to claim the featherweight belt Lopez once owned.
Another possibility is Wilfredo Vazquez Jr., the son of one of Puerto Rico's greatest fighters and the brother of Israel Vasquez. He rebounded from a hard-fought, split-decision loss to Nonito Donaire last February with a solid, seventh-round knockout of Jonathan Oquendo in October.