By Thomas Gerbasi
When it was announced that Josesito Lopez’ first fight back after back-to-back losses to Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and Marcos Maidana would be against former contender Mike Arnaoutis, loser of two straight in his own right, the boxing world screamed that it was a ‘keep busy’ fight for the “Riverside Rocky.”
And it may very well be just that, but don’t tell that to Lopez.
“It’s a tough fight that I’m in and I’m not taking Arnaoutis lightly at all,” he said of Friday’s FOX Sports 1 bout at Fantasy Springs in Indio, California. “He’s tough, he’s a hard warrior, and he always comes to fight, so I’m definitely well prepared for this fight, but I also want to get back onto the big stage. I’ve regrouped and I’ve trained a lot harder and I pushed myself and I want to show everybody that I belong on the big stage.”
In his losses to Alvarez and Maidana, as well as his 2012 stoppage of Victor Ortiz, Lopez proved that he belonged with the big boys on that big stage, but a losing streak does require a bit of rehabilitation in the form of a solid win or two. Enter Arnaoutis, a slick customer who is past his prime, having lost six of his last eight, but also a tough nut to crack, with his only KO losses coming against Ortiz and junior welterweight champ Danny Garcia. So this bout is an opportunity for Lopez to get back into the win column and also make a statement if he can become just the third man to halt the native of Greece.
That’s not exactly the way the Riverside native sees it though, and his reason for taking Arnaoutis so seriously is because he’s been on the B-side before. He’s been the fighter expected to lose, to make the favorite look good.
“It’s always a plus, an added fire,” said Lopez. “You always want to spoil things. If people assume I’m gonna blow right through Arnaoutis, that might not be the fact. Arnaoutis is a tough guy and he comes to fight, and we won’t know until we get in the ring.”
And though he admits that he doesn’t know how Arnaoutis is feeling right now, he does say that being the underdog has “helped me in the past and I think it can help anybody else. It didn’t matter to me when I was coming up, and it’s all on the fighter himself and how he takes it. It can work for you or against you.”
For much of his nearly 11 year pro career, it’s worked for Lopez, even when it seemed like it didn’t on paper. From his first win over unbeaten and highly touted Allen Litzau, to the controversial decisions he lost to hot prospects Wes Ferguson and Edgar Santana, to the wins he got over favored up and comers like Patrick Lopez, Marvin Cordova Jr., and Mike Dallas Jr., Lopez put together an old-school resume that earned him the respect of diehard fight fans and his peers. So even when he was outgunned by the more powerful Alvarez and Maidana, his stock didn’t plummet; it rose due to his gutsy effort in both fights. And since the win over Ortiz, fans got to know the man behind the fighter, a development which has taken some getting used to for the 29-year-old.
“It’s been a little wild,” Lopez said of all the attention he’s received recently. “I would consider myself somewhat of a private guy and I never let too many people into my life to know much about me. And now it seems like I walk down the street and people ask me how my little brother’s doing. (Laughs) People know a lot about me that I never knew they did. But I’m grateful and thankful because it brought a lot of fans closer to me. A lot of people see what I’ve been through and how I got to this point, and they feel like they can relate as well.”
They can relate to Lopez because he’s everyman, a blue collar worker whose surrender button is in the permanent locked position, and one who truly came up the hard way. And Lopez gives that love right back to his fans.
“I’m very thankful for the fans and the boxing world that supports me and loves to watch me fight,” he said. “I’m appreciative of the position that I’m in, and I give it all in the ring, and I think that’s what people love.”
The people also love that Lopez lets his fists do the talking, a rarity these days. So when he hears Ortiz running his mouth about their fight and how the man who broke his jaw isn’t in his league, Lopez just laughs it off.
“Just when I think I’ve heard it all, he comes up with something new,” said Lopez. “All I can do is laugh about it. It’s funny to me, but hey, he’s in the past, and if we ever get to meet each other again, I think it will be just as exciting as the first one.”
That may be the big fight Lopez could use to propel himself back into the title hunt, and it’s one no one would complain about seeing a second time. Of course Lopez has to beat Arnaoutis on Friday and Ortiz will have to get by Luis Collazo in their January 30 bout to even keep hopes of an immediate showdown alive. So will Lopez be cheering extra hard for his rival next month?
“I cheer for everyone,” he laughs. “I don’t dislike any fighter, but he makes it a little tough to root for him. We’re both into our own careers, I have a path to follow, and who knows, we may end up meeting again.”
But first there’s Mighty Mike Arnaoutis, a fighter who knows that one win can change everything for him. Unfortunately, he’s meeting someone in Josesito Lopez who’s mastered the art of the underdog and made a career out of being the spoiler. So don’t expect this apprentice to sneak up on the master.