When Josesito Lopez (30-4, 18 KOs) broke Victor Ortiz's jaw and stopped him after nine rounds last June 23, WBC junior middleweight champion Saul Alvarez (40-0-1, 29 KOs) and Golden Boy promotions were left scrambling.
Ortiz had already been scheduled in as Alvarez's September 15 opponent, a replacement for the tragically injured Paul Williams, who had been paralyzed by a motorcycle accident. While Ortiz was coming off from a loss, it had been a controversial knockout at the hands of pound-for-pound king, Floyd Mayweather.
Prior to that Ortiz had bested Andre Berto for the WBC welterweight strap in a thrilling war that was widely viewed as the 2011 Fight of the Year. Ortiz's fight last June was originally supposed to be a rematch between the two, but when Berto tested positive for PEDs, Lopez was brought in as a replacement opponent.
Once Ortiz was announced as Alvarez's opponent for September, Lopez became an afterthought to many boxing fans and writers. The 29-year-old was moving up in weight class and, it was thought, in caliber of competition. He was a tough, well-respected fighter, but a large percentage of observers viewed him as a stay-busy fight for Ortiz.
Instead he fought a gritty and intelligent fight from the opening bell. He tasted Ortiz's famed power early and wasn't intimidated by it. He absorbed a brutal, illegal rabbit punch to the back of his head and just fought harder.
Ultimately he busted Ortiz's grill and made him quit after nine.
That left Golden Boy with no ideal option for Alvarez's next fight. In an attempt to make the best of a bad situation, they offered the shot to Lopez. Despite having spent his entire career before his last fight at 140 pounds, he jumped at the opportunity to challenge for the WBC 154 pound belt.
And again this weekend, Lopez is something of an afterthought. When Lopez meets Alvarez Saturday night at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, the majority of the boxing world will have their eyes focused across the strip, where middleweights Sergio Martinez and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr will do battle at the Thomas and Mack Center.
It's understandable. Martinez is viewed by pretty much everybody as the clear-cut number one middleweight in the world, a pound-for-pound top-five guy. Chavez is the undefeated son of one of the sport's biggest legends, making a dramatic step up in competition.
Alvarez, a wildly popular rising star at 22, is regarded as fighting an opponent who is too small to seriously challenge him. Vegas has him as a -1600 favorite.
That Lopez is an underdog is entirely reasonable. Not only has he fought almost his entire career at 140 pounds, but for his welterweight tilt with Ortiz he only came in at 144.5 pounds, almost a full ten pounds below the junior middleweight limit.
But if I were in Vegas, I'd be very tempted to drop a little something on Lopez, at least at those odds. A nine year professional, Lopez is a workmanlike boxer-brawler, tough as nails and dripping with ring savvy.
My feeling is that he's no easy out for anybody.
Don't let the record mislead you, either. Lopez lost a four-round unanimous decision in his third fight, back in 2003. Since then he has never clearly lost a fight; he has two split decision losses and a majority decision.
This is a guy who has gotten better and better as his career has advanced. His only loss since 2008 was by split decision to the highly regarded, undefeated prospect Jesse Vargas, on the undercard of the Floyd Mayweather-Victor Ortiz pay-per-view a year ago.
Vargas is likely a future world champion himself. Against Lopez he was extremely lucky to escape with his perfect record in tact. My own score card was 95-94 Lopez. I had it five rounds a piece, with Lopez winning due to the point deduction for a low blow in round eight.
Moreover, Lopez was the far more impressive fighter in that bout. Of the five rounds I gave him, three were decisive. All five I gave to Vargas were close, with the undefeated prospect earning the nod based merely on throwing more punches.
During the Showtime All Access show promoting this fight, Lopez commented that he felt making the 140 pound limit had been weakening him, making it hard for him to maintain his pace from bell to bell. To be sure, he looked sluggish in the ninth and tenth against Vargas.
And he looked magnificent against Ortiz when he moved up last June. In a close fight, he was pulling away late.
There's no question that Alvarez is going to be a stiffer test. The undefeated 22-year-old prospect looked outstanding against future Hall of Famer Shane Mosley last spring. He is a talented young fighter hungry to achieve what he seems to sincerely view as his destiny: immortality in the boxing ring.
And Lopez is a rugged, stalking brawler of a fighter. That will not be an easy game plan to impose upon a bigger man. To beat Alvarez, he will have to introduce some new wrinkles on Saturday.
But this is the opportunity of a lifetime for Lopez, and the second one he has been handed this summer. Last time out he made good on it, and in dramatic fashion.
Even if he loses, there should be a big upside for Lopez coming out of this weekend. So long as he acquits himself well, he can move back down to welterweight and find any number of big-time fights waiting for him.
But there is no question he isn't thinking about any of that right now. Come Saturday he will have one goal only: leave with a world title in a weight class that is two above the class in which he has spent almost his entire career.
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