By Thomas Gerbasi
There are seemingly endless reasons to love the sport of boxing. 99 percent of them focus on the sport, and not the business, which can usually account for 99 percent of the reasons not to love it.
But when the sport and the business come together, perhaps the biggest reason why the fight game is so compelling is that one good night can alter a career and a life forever. Sure, a Super Bowl ring is a one night victory that can do big things for an athlete, and an Olympic Gold medal is the key to untold riches for those earning them, but at that level, everyone is among the elite.
In boxing, the kid with a 3-10 record can upset the hot prospect and turn his world upside down while propelling himself into a rematch or an even bigger fight not just for more money, but for the opportunity to get his career on track to where he always thought it would be. Let’s face it, for all the “opponents” in the world of boxing, very few assumed when they first laced on the gloves that they would end up being the “b” side forever.
Josesito Lopez certainly didn’t think so, not after approximately 70 amateur fights and a solid reputation in his native southern California. But there he was in his pro debut against 1-0 Allen Litzau on February 8, 2003, expected to lose to the older half of the heavily hyped brother duo “The American Boys” in Las Vegas.
53 seconds later, it was Litzau on the losing end of a first round TKO and Lopez with his hands raised in victory. Upsets like these usually then get filed into a certain category of ‘what could have beens’, as those beating the favorite either get cocky and lose their next fight, or, after a brief injection of confidence, they eventually fall back into bad habits and settle back into the role of opponent. In this case, it was Litzau who never truly recovered, and his record currently sits at 13-7 after his most recent loss last November against Johnny Lewus.
As for Lopez, he never considered himself a stepping stone. The way he saw it, he was the hot prospect, and he trained and fought accordingly. The boxing world didn’t necessarily agree, so he got put in with 16-2-1 Gilberto Sanchez Leon (he won), once-beaten Floyd Mayweather protégé Wes Ferguson (he lost a controversial split decision), and New York prospect Edgar Santana (he dropped Santana twice but still lost a majority decision), all fights in which the odds were stacked against him before the bell even rang.
“Slowly you learn about the business side,” he told me last year. “I’ve had to work my way up the tough way, the old fashioned way. I’ve always had to fight tough fighters and up and comers. My first fight, I was supposed to lose fighting against one of the American Boys (Litzau). I’d like to have somebody who would have my back and support me, that would be nice, but whether I have it or not, I’m still gonna fight my way through and fight my way up to the top.”
Determination can do wonders for a fighter, whether young or old, and while Lopez was young, he had plenty of old-school moves and philosophies when it came to the fight game. He didn’t have a high-powered manager or promoter in his corner, but he soon realized that he did have his fists, and if they were put into action at the right place and the right time, he could conceivably control his own destiny.
And following the nationally-televised loss to Santana in April of 2008, the tide began to turn. He was still considered an ultra-tough, well-schooled competitor who was going to give hot prospects a test and some rounds, but along the way, he began to become an even stiffer test as he started to take more and more rounds.
Patrick Lopez (15-1), Anthony Mora (15-3), and Marvin Cordova (21-1-1) all suffered defeats to the resurgent native of Riverside, California, but when Lopez knocked out unbeaten Mike Dallas Jr. in seven rounds in January of 2011, it was his biggest win to date and a statement fight because of the way he won. He went into the trenches against an ultra-talented opponent and simply willed his way to victory with gritty tactics that brought to mind the best of Bernard Hopkins’ body of work.
It’s almost as if that was the night Lopez figured out the kind of fighter he was. He may not be the most talented guy in the ring on any given night, but he wasn’t going to be outworked or outfought. If you were going to beat him, you would have to fight to do it. Not box, but fight. And not everyone who steps in the ring is willing to take that task on.
The win over Dallas earned him a Pay-Per-View slot on the Floyd Mayweather-Victor Ortiz card last September against Jessie Vargas, and the unbeaten Las Vegan pounded out a close split decision win that did nothing to lower Lopez’ stock. If anything, he revealed to casual fans what hardcore fight aficionados knew all along – he was going to fight and entertain every time out.
So why not put him in with highly-touted former world champion Victor Ortiz in June of this year? He would give the hard-punching fan favorite some good rounds, and if Ortiz could be the first man to stop Lopez, it would be the perfect segue into “Vicious Victor”s already scheduled September 15th bout with Saul “Canelo” Alvarez.
The only problem was that Lopez didn’t think he would lose. I’ve had the pleasure of talking to him a number of times over the last couple years, and while he was always confident, his attitude before the Ortiz fight at STAPLES Center took things to another level. He wasn’t trash talking, he wasn’t boasting of what he was going to do on fight night, but you could hear it in his voice that every proclamation that he was going to win came from a place of truth, and not pre-fight fiction. After a while in this game, you can tell who’s saying things for the sake of good copy and who really believes it. Lopez really believed that he was going to beat Victor Ortiz.
And then he went and did it, shocking the boxing world with a jaw-breaking ninth round stoppage. Yet the funny thing is, Ortiz’ broken jaw may have ended the bout officially, but it looked like he was broken mentally a few rounds prior. Lopez ate Ortiz’ bombs, shook them off, and kept coming. It was a methodical attack, but one that looked more and more effective with each passing minute. If Ortiz didn’t get his jaw broken, he still might have been stopped before the final bell rang.
So now there’s Alvarez.
After Ortiz, Paul Williams, and James Kirkland went by the wayside as opponents for the unbeaten Mexican star, it fell on Lopez’ shoulders to step up on Mexican Independence Day weekend and climb the mountain once again. Yes, he beat Victor Ortiz and in the process became boxing’s Rocky story and compelling copy for boxing writers around the globe. But who is really giving the former lightweight and junior welterweight a legitimate chance against Alvarez, a big, strong 154-pounder who will use those physical advantages to the hilt on Saturday night at the MGM Grand?
I know that on paper, Alvarez wins this fight in every way possible. He’s talented, he hits harder, he’s bigger, he’s stronger, and it doesn’t hurt that he’s Golden Boy’s new Golden Boy, and that every Mexican fan in the building will cheer every move he makes against his Mexican-American foe, making it very easy for the judges to assume he’s doing more than he may actually be doing. I get it.
But in a career filled with career-altering fights, Lopez has delivered more often than not, and the bigger the reward, the higher he’s risen. And while his story of battling through the obstacles he’s faced in the ring and in the boxing business is inspiring enough, I can’t help but refer to the scene in Showtime’s recent All Access show when Lopez celebrated his brother’s 13th birthday just after they had visited their father in prison. At the tail end of a sentence for drug trafficking, Lopez’ father has been out of the family’s life for nine years. That means 13-year old Victor Lopez hasn’t had his dad around the house since he was four, making his older brother his de facto father for nearly a decade. When Victor broke down after blowing out the candles on his cake, the first person to console him with a hug was Josesito.
It’s hard to get a scene like that out of your head, knowing what some people are really fighting for. Glory’s always nice, a plaque in the Hall of Fame is too, but when you look at a fighter like Lopez, he’s fighting for reasons that always come back to his family. Before the Ortiz bout, he told me of still working a day job in order to make ends meet, and his biggest concern on his mind on fight week may not have been Ortiz but that he didn’t know what he was doing for his mother’s birthday the next day. He also has a younger brother to guide and a father he wants to keep from getting deported after the prison sentence is up.
So Lopez’ fight isn’t to get a bigger fight, it’s to get a bigger life. Alvarez is a tough kid who has battled through struggles of his own, and no one gets to 40-0-1 by accident. He also has a bright future in this sport no matter what happens on Saturday night, and I’ve got the feeling we can say the same thing about Josesito Lopez. But if the Riverside product does pull off yet another upset, it’s very likely that he will no longer be the B-side.
Not now, not ever. Now that’s something to fight for.