By Jake Donovan
Two months ago, Josesito Lopez and his handlers joked about keeping their plans open for September 15. What he didn’t realize at the time was that he’d become a central figure in the evening’s action.
At the time, Victor Ortiz was already announced as the September 15 opponent for Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Golden Boy Promotions not only made the announcement but held a conference call to discuss the fight, even with the Lopez fight still more than a week away.
One month later and well into the aftermath of his upset stoppage win over Ortiz, the date, location and A-side opponent are still in place. But it’s once again Lopez playing the role of unexpected co-star.
“This is a huge opportunity against one of the biggest names in the sport today,” Lopez (30-4, 18KO) says of the fight that has him moving up in weight for the second consecutive fight. “I jumped at the chance to take this fight. We agreed the moment it was offered to us.”
That moment took a few weeks to arrive as Golden Boy was stuck for an opponent to face Alvarez the moment Lopez shocked the world. The win still rates as one of the biggest upsets of 2012 thus far, particularly since most expected for the writing to be on the wall heading into the June 23 encounter.
Lopez was moving up in weight, having campaigned largely at 140 lb. and entering the fight lacking a career-defining win. In addition, the opportunity came on short notice, pinch hitting for Andre Berto, who was pulled from the intended rematch with Ortiz after what was ultimately proven as a false positive test result for banned substances during random drug pre-fight drug testing.
Still, Lopez was competitive in each of his four career losses and a round or two in each fight from remaining unbeaten. Ortiz was served an emphatic reminder of Lopez’ uncanny ability to hang with any fighter on the planet on any given night. Despite leading on all three scorecards after nine rounds, the tide had dramatically turned in addition to Ortiz’ jaw being broken to the point of requiring extensive post-fight surgery in being forced to retire in his corner.
The outcome was a far cry from pre-fight expectations. Ortiz was supposed to win with room to spare and march proudly into Mexican Independence Day against the streaking unbeaten 154 lb. titlist.
What few if any outside of Lopez’ camp banked on was for an actual fight to break out – and for Ortiz to eventually break down.
“I understood on paper that people who don’t know me and didn’t see me fight before underestimated me,” Lopez acknowledges as he once again embraces a similar role for his upcoming bout with Alvarez. “I was 140 going up to 147 and Ortiz the big, bad wolf was going to run through me.
“It didn’t bother me then, and it doesn’t bother me now. All I need is the small group who believes in me. We had a complete package in my corner. I went in confident that I was going to win. I’m going into September 15 with the same exact mindset.”
Lopez is also going into the fight at his heaviest weight to date. The exact amount he plans to weigh on fight night is not immediately known, other than that it will be more than the career high 144 ¾ lb. he weighed for the Ortiz fight. The strategy in training camp is a far cry from the struggles previously endured in attempting to melt down his 5’10” frame into the 140 lb. limit.
“We’re not focused on losing weight,” Lopez notes of the biggest difference in camp these days. “Getting down to 140 was a struggle. For this camp, it has been the complete opposite. We’re working as hard as possible to keep up the weight. This is a new weight I’m coming at. If it’s 148, if it’s 152 so be it. Whatever we’re comfortable at is what we will be on fight night.”
It’s fair to assume that Alvarez (40-0-1, 29KO) will weigh as close as possible to the 154 lb divisional limit. The 22-year old rising Mexican superstar has fought at or just under the mark in each of his four alphabet title defenses since winning the best last March. Even his title-winning effort came in a fight where he exceeded the contractually agreed-upon 150 lb. catchweight, instead coming in at 151½ lb. for his March ’11 live HBO debut against Matthew Hatton.
Alvarez boasts the much thicker frame, which was evident during last month’s press conference to officially announce this bout. What was also revealed, however, was that despite venturing into unchartered territories on the scales, Lopez is hardly dwarfed in size.
“A lot of fighters look bigger than they do in person,” Lopez jokes in pointing out the inaccuracy in the scouting report that has the two fighters at the same height. “I’m 5’10” and walk around at a little over 160 lb. when not training for a fight. For me, maintaining the weight shouldn’t be an issue. I’m already 2” (taller than) him.”
The same was discovered when he faced Ortiz, not that physical dimensions had much to do with the final result. Lopez was taller and had the superior reach, though neither played a factor in the outcome.
What ultimately mattered in the end was Lopez preparing to walk through hell in order to secure victory and the opportunity for bigger things to come – and the possibility of his opponent being quite as prepared to travel the same depths.
“I don’t think he was ready for someone to fight him back,” Lopez believes. “I’m assuming he thought he’d run right through me and get me out in a few rounds. He wasn’t expecting a fight.”
Even if there is any significant element of truth to Ortiz being caught off guard, it’s foolish to plan to catch lightning in a bottle in that regard. There’s a difference between being an underdog and just sneaking up on the world.
Lopez already pulled off the latter. For Alvarez to allow history to repeat itself would go against the fighter he is believed to be by his peers, including the man whom he will face next month.
“I think he’s a smarter fighter (than Ortiz),” Lopez believes of Alvarez, preparing for the best available version of the unbeaten titlist. “I don’t think he’s stupid enough to do anything to sacrifice his career. We’re ready for a big fight.”
The fight will be the biggest of Lopez’ career to date, though the same fate he faced heading into the June showdown with Ortiz. That particular bout came on the heels of a nine-month layoff and a controversial loss to Jessie Vargas – on a night (and undercard) when Ortiz suffered a loss of his own at the hands of Floyd Mayweather, Jr.
Neither fighter had won a fight in more than a year prior to their own dance. Nearly 17 full months had passed in between wins for Lopez before having his hand raised at the Staples Center in his Showtime-televised main event. But one big win is all it took to place the world at his fingertips.
“That win opened up doors. It’s only harder for me now,” Lopez admits of his ability to continue to catch the bigger names off-guard. “With a win, bigger fights keep coming. I’m not sure how long I stay at 154. I know can hang in there at 140 or 147. I’m willing to fight anyone. I’m willing to fight the best in the world.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter: @JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected]