By Thomas Gerbasi
June 24th usually would have been the first day on the mind of Josesito Lopez, considering that’s his mother’s birthday. But this time around, the only thing the Riverside, California boxer thinks about is June 23rd. As far as he’s concerned, that’s the day the world stops, and he’s going to go out swinging against Victor Ortiz at STAPLES Center to celebrate.
“It’s exciting,” Lopez told BoxingScene. “But I don’t know if it’s my maturity or what, but I don’t want to let the excitement get the best of me. I’m so focused on the fight that I absolutely have no plans, not even one hour after the fight. My focus is just on the fight. My mom’s birthday is the following day and I have no idea what the heck I’m gonna do for her birthday. (Laughs) The only thing I’m thinking about is Victor Ortiz that night.”
And for good reason. Despite being a talented 27-year old with the skills and grit to become a star and a champion in his chosen profession, his career thus far has been marked by a series of starts and stops, bad decisions going against him, and a consistent theme of being the B side in fights against higher profile opponents.
This Saturday’s main event is no different, as Lopez was brought in on a month’s notice to face former world champion Ortiz after original opponent Andre Berto was pulled from the bout due to a failed pre-fight performance enhancing drug test. Lopez isn’t complaining about this turn of good fortune, especially after a June 22 fight with Kendall Holt was scrapped, but when the promoter of the event, Golden Boy Promotions, announced a September 15th matchup between Ortiz and junior middleweight champion Saul “Canelo” Alvarez before Saturday’s result was determined in the ring, that development hit him right between the eyes.
“It obviously bothered me a little bit, but my focus is completely there, and I’m ready,” said Lopez. “This just adds a little bit motivation.”
By now, Lopez has probably heard that question regarding Ortiz-Alvarez 50 times a day in the month since he got the fight. Of course, it has to be asked, but when you ask the fighter if he’s tired of hearing it, he lets out a hearty laugh before responding.
“You know what, yes, I am,” he said, still laughing. “I’m tired of the question, but I’m excited about the fight, and I’m excited to spoil the show.”
Over the course of his nine year pro career, that’s been his specialty, and it’s why he’s a live underdog against Ortiz despite making his first start at welterweight, a division he feels will fit him just right.
“I think I’ll be more energetic and stronger, and I can’t wait to show it,” said Lopez.
But back to that spoiler role, one he’s practiced since his 2003 debut, when he needed just 53 seconds to stop then-highly touted Allen Litzau. In 2006 he gave Floyd Mayweather protégé Wes Ferguson hell, only to lose a disputed split decision, and two knockdowns of Edgar Santana in 2008 weren’t enough to overcome a controversial nod in favor of the New Yorker. 15-1 Patrick Lopez and 21-1-1 Marvin Cordova Jr. couldn’t figure Lopez out though, and in January of 2011, he handed Mike Dallas Jr. his first pro loss via seventh round knockout.
“I just know I have to do it the hard way,” he said. “I’ve never gotten through my career or my life the easy way, so I know it’s gonna have to be done the hard way, but that’s the way I plan on doing it and that brings that much more excitement to a victory.”
Last September, it was another close loss to another hot prospect in Jessie Vargas, who won a split decision over Vargas, but Lopez’ performance put him on the world radar, and probably earned him this shot against Ortiz. Yet while some see this as a showcase for Ortiz, Lopez feels like he’s right on time for the upset.
“I’m learning,” he said. “I’m a late bloomer, I feel like this is the beginning, and I expect more from myself every time. I feel like I haven’t quite reached where I want to be, and I know I can be better, so I’m pushing myself harder every day and doing my homework every day, and I think it will show June 23rd.”
If he pulls it off, it will be one of those great stories that only boxing can produce. Despite headlining the arena that the Los Angeles Lakers call home, just an hour away from his home, Lopez still works a day job, teaching boxing at the gym to make ends meet.
“A lot of people don’t see that, and that’s the tough part of trying to make it in boxing,” he said. “Most of the time, most fighters have to work while trying to come up in the ranks, and that’s been me. So hopefully boxing can pay well and I can live off of it because I love it and I want to be paid the right way, and I think my fighting style is exciting for anybody, so I hope everything pays off.”
Oddly enough, it may be the fact that he has to punch the clock every day before punching the mitts and his sparring partners that separates him from his peers. Lopez is a blue collar worker in the ring, not flashy, but effective, with a wide array of tools to break down his opponents. Key in his arsenal may be the attitude that he’s tougher than you are, something he is more than willing to prove in the midst of a dig down deep kind of fight.
“I think that’s when your true heart really shows and when it shows what you’re all about,” said Lopez. “In a moment of weakness is when it really shows.”
He hasn’t had many of those moments. Even when he’s been victimized by the judges, he’s held his head high, confident that eventually right will prevail over wrong. It’s what keeps him moving forward; that, and the knowledge that his future success may rely on him simply leaving no doubt in any fight that he’s the superior boxer. To do that, he’s had to change the way he approaches the game.
“I was never really into viewing tapes and studying a whole lot, even with my opponents, but recently I have been studying a lot more,” he said. “I know it does help and I’ve basically been doing my homework. I’m treating myself like a professional boxer, I’ve been a lot more dedicated to the sport, and I’m doing anything that can give me even just the slightest advantage in a fight. I think that’s what the difference from Jose now as opposed to two years ago.”
Two years ago, Lopez was doing the boxing version of treading water, waiting for a fight, any fight, after being off for nearly a year. On Saturday night, he can change his life in the space of 45 minutes. That would probably be enough of a Sunday birthday gift for his mother, but maybe tickets for a fight in September involving Mr. Josesito Lopez would be even better.
“I’ll be available in September,” he laughs. “Mama said knock Victor Ortiz out, so I’m hoping to give her her birthday wish.”