By Jake Donovan
In a year filled with controversy and disappointment, Josesito Lopez did his part to free the sport of bad news and conflicts all in one shot.
For the second time in as many tries, Victor Ortiz failed to find a way to win inside the Staples Center in Los Angeles. The latest setback came in huge upset fashion, as Ortiz informed referee Jack Reiss at the end of nine rounds that he was unable to continue due to a broken jaw.
Flushed down the drain are plans for Ortiz to face Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez on September 15, a goal Lopez had from the moment the fight was prematurely announced less than two weeks ago. Lopez felt disrespected by the announcement, as if he were being overlooked in Saturday’s fight.
The career gatekeeper had a chance to do something about it and handled his business in a big way.
“I told everyone I was going to shock the world,” Lopez stated in the aftermath of the biggest win of an otherwise hard luck career. “Today is my day!”
Lopez knew going in that he would have to offer the fight of his life in order to secure victory. The final scorecards confirmed pre-fight suspicions that a knockout was the only way to go in a bout that provided non-stop entertainment for the 7,865 enthusiastic fans in attendance.
Lopez made his presence felt from the opening bell, though Ortiz was more than willing to stand and trade, landing the more telling blows in round two. Both fighters continued to have their moments through the third and fourth rounds, though Lopez appeared to be cosmetically worse for the wear as he was forced to contend with a left eye that was rapidly swelling shut.
Things grew interesting in round five, eerily drawing flashbacks of the last time Ortiz stepped foot in the ring. Neither fighter had fought since appearing on the same pay-per-view show last September. Ortiz’ part in the evening was his headlining bout with Floyd Mayweather, a fight in which the southpaw flirted with disqualification after deliberately headbutting the pound-for-pound king.
On that particular evening, Ortiz was aloof to his immediate surroundings and wound up getting knocked out in a fight he never knew had even resumed action. Fast forward to round five on Saturday evening; Ortiz was once again on the delivering end of a vicious foul, catching Lopez on the back of his neck and drilling him to the canvas.
Referee Jack Reiss did a tremendous job in keeping control of the action throughout the evening. However, the veteran official used incredibly poor judgment in this particular instance as he was overheard telling ringside officials that the foul was ‘a glancing blow.’ Lopez was examined by the ringside physician and given up to five minutes to recover.
Prior to action resuming, the referee warned Ortiz – who was in a neutral corner – to not wait to touch gloves, to just fight once he signaled time in. Once action resumed, it was Lopez who made his presence felt in a big way, drilling Ortiz with clean power shots upstairs.
Momentum swayed back and forth as the bout approached what should have been the second half of the evening. Ortiz came back strong even in a relatively close sixth round, but could never impose his will on the naturally smaller fighter moving up in weight. Lopez stood his ground and threw hellacious bombs in the seventh, forcing Ortiz to retreat for much of the round.
As the war of attrition carried on, Ortiz’ body language became eerily similar to that of the closing moments in his meltdown against Marcos Maidana, nearly three years ago to the day in the very same building. Ortiz floored Maidana three times that night but suffered three knockdowns of his own before quitting in the sixth round.
History ultimately repeated itself, though it was understandable as to why Ortiz would seek the exit this time around. Retrospective evidence suggests that it was in this round when the former titlist suffered a broken jaw. Ortiz and head trainer Danny Garcia held a brief exchange at extremely close quarters in between rounds, possibly related to the injury though the Showtime audio couldn't pick up the conversation.
After a give and take eighth round, Ortiz was clipped on the jaw early in the ninth round, and never physically recovered. The southpaw tried his hardest to fight through his pain but no longer had enough to keep Lopez at bay.
The crowd was stunned with disbelief when the fight ended in between rounds, as Ortiz informed the referee that his jaw was broken and that he could no longer continue. Referee Jack Reiss sought confirmation, to which Ortiz repeated the nature of his injury, prompting the third man to stop the fight on the spot.
The official time was 3:00 of round nine. Ortiz was up on all three scorecards at the time of the stoppage, by scores of 86-85, 87-84 and 88-83.
The scores indicate that Lopez saved the sport of any further embarrassment in what has already been a tough year for boxing fans.
The sport is still receiving negative press over the controversy from Manny Pacquiao’s loss to Tim Bradley. One day prior to Saturday's show, Antonio Tarver becoming the third major fighter in less than two months to get popped for banned substances showing up in pre-fight drug tests.
Lopez was on his way to losing a decision in a fight that appeared to be no worse than even or within a round either way at the time of the stoppage. Thanks to an undying will to win, the Riverside (CA) product saved the sport from further scandal, while taking his career to new heights in the process.
“I didn't know I broke his jaw, but knew the longer the fight lasted that I had him,” Lopez said in the aftermath of the biggest win of his career as he advances to 30-4 (18KO). The win is his first in well over a year, entering this fight on the heels of a disputed points loss to Jessie Vargas last September.
Ortiz suffers his second straight loss as he falls to 29-4-2 (22KO). This defeat could be the most damaging of his career, even in disregarding the short term ramifications.
A win would have set up a night of dueling pay-per-views in Las Vegas, as his planned showdown with Alvarez was scheduled to go head-to-head with Julio Cesar Chavez Jr’s lineal middleweight title challenge against Sergio Martinez. While initial plans still have Alvarez fighting on September 15, Ortiz obviously will not be the opponent – nor would he have been even if he finished and won this fight.
“I broke my jaw. I wanted to keep going, but I got cut inside my mouth,” Ortiz revealed immediately after the fight. I broke it in the (beginning) of the 9th round.”
The end result is one of the most shocking moments of 2012. Though unexpected by most, the chance of Lopez pulling off the upset wasn’t completely lost on Ortiz.
“I knew he was good,” the wounded fighter simply stated before leaving the ring for his dressing room, where all he sought was momentary isolation before showering and heading for the hospital.
While Ortiz sat with his head buried in his arms, Alvarez – who was in attendance – and his handlers began the search for yet another contingency plan to a September 15 card that has been doomed from the start. Ortiz was the third option for the unbeaten Mexican star, who has already seen bouts with James Kirkland and Paul Williams fall through for entirely different reasons.
Where Lopez goes from here isn’t immediately known, though the world is his for the moment.
A hard-luck contender for much of his career, Lopez received the opportunity of a lifetime against Ortiz only after Andre Berto tested positive last month for traces of nandrolone in his system. The dirty test result forced the former welterweight titlist to withdraw from his twice-scheduled rematch with Ortiz, paving the way for Lopez to jump in on short notice, moving up in weight in the process.
What the Californian would love more than anything else is a big fight where he can enjoy a full training camp to prepare, no matter who against.
“As long as I'm ready, I'll take anybody,” Lopez insists, even if it means another dance with Ortiz. “They got a rematch clause, let's do it.”
MATTHYSSE GRINDS DOWN, OVERWHELMS SOTO
The co-feature battle only added to what was a memorable evening of boxing for a change. Lucas Matthysse is now one step closer towards an elusive title shot thanks to a fifth round stoppage of Humberto Soto in a 140 lb. bout that was a war from beginning to end.
Scores were all over the place by the end of the fifth round, but rightfully so as the first three rounds were nip-and-tuck, with little separating the two fighters. Soto began strong, but appeared to be playing into Matthysse’s hands by not creating much space. The toe-to-toe warfare greatly benefited Matthysse, who overcame some rough early moments to begin pressing in round three.
“I began a little slow and was a little nervous. But then I picked up the pace and took over,” Matthysse admitted afterward.
Soto continued to trade before attempting to play the role of boxer in the fourth. It proved to be too late, as Matthysse was already confident that he could get to his opponent. The Argentine puncher did just that late in the fifth, rocking Soto with a right hand to put him on his heels, with a follow up right hand flooring the Mexican for the first time in a career spanning 15 years and 69 fights.
While Soto managed to beat the count, his zombie-like walk back to the corner was as clear an indication as any that he was in no condition to continue. His corner recognized as such, first informing the fighter that they were going to stop the fight and then passing along that very news to referee Raul Caiz, whose overzealous officiating throughout was thankfully overshadowed by the non-stop action prior to the stoppage.
The official time of the bout was 3:00 of round five.
Matthysse advances to 31-2 (29KO) and puts himself in prime position for a shot at a 140 lb. title.
“Besides Zab Judah and Devon Alexander, I think this was my best fight because it didn’t go to the judges,” Matthysse stated, noting controversial points losses in the backyards of each of the aforementioned fighters. “I just want an opportunity against anyone.”
Soto’s dreams of becoming a three-division champion are flushed, as the veteran falls to 58-8-2. Also gone is a 15-fight win streak, which included a 135 lb. title defense against Urbano Antillon in a fight hailed by many as 2010’s Fight of the Year.
This bout appeared to be well on its way to receiving similar accolades, but Soto just couldn’t handle the size and strength advantage enjoyed by Matthysse.
Both fights aired live on Showtime.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter: @JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected]