By Jake Donovan
The good news for Josesito Lopez is that his two-fight losing streak has come to an end. The bad news is that the manner in which he returned to the win column will come with much debate.
An accidental headbutt brought about an anti-climactic ending to an intriguing main event at Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio, California. Mike Arnaoutis overcame a hostile crowd to push the house fighter to the brink, only for Lopez to prevail by way of technical decision after eight rounds of action.
Scores were 76-75 and 77-74 (twice) for Lopez, though it can easily be argued that the judges weren't quite on their A-game with those tallies.
Neither was Lopez for that matter, and by his own admission.
"I wasn't myself tonight," Lopez said after the FoxSports 1-televised bout, in perhaps the most fitting comment of the evening.
The action began slow, with both fighters trying to figure out the other. Lopez fought mainly behind his jab, though also without a true power shot in the fight as most of his right hands were arm punches carrying little impact.
Conversely, Arnaoutis was more aggressive at several points in this fight than he has been in several years. The 34-year old former 140 lb. contender treated the night at his last shot at relevance, the type of sense of urgency that didn't seem to hit Lopez until late in the fight.
By then, the local favorite had already suffered a shock knockdown and was - to the naked eye - in danger of landing on the wrong end of one of the year's biggest upsets. A stiff right jab from Arnaoutis buckled Lopez' knees and put him on the canvas for the lone knockdown of the night.
Lopez shook off the blow, but still took a few rounds to wake up and punch his way back into the fight. That moment didn't come until late in the fifth round, when a series of power shots caused a now-confident Arnaoutis to back off for the first time in the fight.
However, momentum continued to sway over the second half of the contest. Arnaoutis grew bolder with each passing round, while Lopez struggled to find answers.
The lone point in the fight in which Arnaoutis found himself under siege was late in the seventh round. Lopez put a little more behind his punches, trapping Arnaoutis on the ropes and targeting the body.
The Californian carried the energy over into the eighth round, one of his best of the fight but also a round that led towards an anti-climactic result. An accidental headbutt left Arnaoutis with a deep, gushing cut over his left eye. The wound was examined by the ringside physician, but appeared as if the fighter himself opted out of the fight, thus putting his fate in the hands of three judges while on his opponent's home turf.
Suffice to say, he leaves California a losing fighter for the third straight time. If there was ever such a thing as a moral victory to be gained, though, it was on this night.
"I don't know what happened, to be honest," Arnaoutis (24-10-2, 11KO) said after the fight. "I would like chance to fight Lopez again."
For the first time in years, he earned the right to return to the contender level rather than just show up as an opponent for hire.
Lopez (31-6, 18KO) wins for the first time since his upset stoppage win over Victor Ortiz in June '12, though in a bout in which he was trailing on the cards. Ortiz was forced to quit on his stool due to a severely broken jaw. Two straight knockout losses have followed, losing in one-sided fashion to Saul Alvarez last September and then suffering a 6th round stoppage in a Fight of the Year-level brawl with Marcos Maidana this past June.
Friday evening produced a return to the win column, though in a performance that raises even more questions.
Francisco Vargas (18-0-1, 13KO) was forced to go the distance for the second straight time, but was dominant in a 10-round pasting of Jerry Belmontes (18-3, 5KO) in their televised co-feature.
Scores were 100-89 across the board in favor of Vargas.
Jermall Charlo returned to the site of his biggest win to date, when he blasted out Antwone Smith in two rounds earlier this summer. His appearance at Fantasy Springs Casino on Friday was just as explosive, going a little deeper before getting rid of Joseph de los Santos (17-12-3, 9KO) inside of five rounds.
The bout was never competitive (a common theme throughout the card), as Charlo was on the attack early. de los Santos hit the deck in round two, and again for good in round five. A double-right hand put the Domini-Rican down on the deck hard, at which point the referee immediately waved off the contest.
The official time was 0:23 of round five.
Charlo cruises to 17-0 (13KO), having now scored 11 straight knockouts. His short-term goal remains to catch up to his twin brother Jermell Charlo, who is unbeaten through 22 fights as a pro and scheduled to face Gabriel Rosado next January in his biggest test to date.
This weekend marks one full year in the pro ranks for Joseph Diaz Jr, who celebrated his anniversary with a 7th round stoppage of a determined Carlos Rodriguez in the second televised bout of the evening.
Diaz Jr. unloaded the entire arsenal, determined to deliver an emphatic ending to the partisan crowd in his home state of California. Rodriguez never stopped absorbing, somehow staying on his feet despite taking an enormous amount of punishment.
The fight finally came to a halt when referee Raul Caiz Jr. decided Rodriguez had taken enough punishment and was no longer in a position to remain competitive.
The official time was 1:13 of round seven.
Diaz Jr. improves to 8-0 (6KO). His pro debut came 52 weeks ago, in supporting capacity to Leo Santa Cruz' win over Alberto Guevara on CBS as part of the network's first live televised card since 1997,
Rodriguez drops to 18-13-4 (10KO), ending a two fight win streak in the process.
Errol Spence resumed his knockout ways, blasting out Pipino Cuevas Jr. in just three minutes of action.
A body shot produced the bout's lone knockdown, coming towards the end of the opening round. Cuevas Jr. reacted oddly to the blow, attempting to adjust his belt while nearly taking the full ten-count.
The second generation boxer - whose father Pipino Cuevas Sr. was a welterweight champ and feared knockout artist some 30 years ago - barely beat the count and survived the round, but the only advice given by his corner was that he wasn't going back out to fight.
The official time was 3:00 of round one.
Spence cruises to 10-0 (8KO). The last man standing for Team USA during the 2012 London Olympics, Spence has now body-punched his way to five first-round knockouts.
Cuevas Jr. falls to 17-11 (15KO) with the loss. Much like his far more famous father, it's been feast or famine throughout his career - either scoring knockouts or getting knocked out.
Hot junior featherweight prospect Diego De La Hoya (2-0, 2KOs) keeps the family name going with a first round stoppage of Abraham Rubio, (3-3-1, 1 KO).
In grueling battle, junior middleweight contender Hugo “The Boss” Centeno Jr. (20-0, 11 KOs) got off the deck in round seven to stop the game Angel Osuna (11-4-1, 7 KOs) in the tenth.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of the Transnational Boxing Ratings Board, Yahoo Boxing Ratings Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox