(Victor Ortiz, left; Josesito Lopez, right. Photo credit: Showtime)
There aren't many giving Riverside, Calif.'s Josesito Lopez much of a chance to overturn the already set table of his June 23 opponent Victor Ortiz at the Staples Center in Los Angeles in the Showtime Championship Boxing main event.
Among those is Ortiz's promoter Golden Boy Promotions, who has a tentative date set in September for Ortiz to move up to junior middleweight and take on one of boxing's few box-office beaus Saul “Canelo” Alvarez in a pay-per-view attraction set for the weekend of Mexican Independence Day.
This isn't the first time Ortiz has been setup to win at the Staples Center. Almost three years to the day, featherweights Chris John and Rocky Juarez were set to rematch atop a bill that featured Ortiz against the largely unknown Marcos Maidana in the co-feature. John-Juarez II fell out and Ortiz found himself headlining at perhaps the biggest venue in California. Ortiz was being hailed as one of the sport's future stars by all the important outlets.
Maidana overcame three knockdowns to bamboozle Ortiz into submission in the 6th round, and it took almost two years for Ortiz to regain the status he had once been handed without really earning. Lopez is hoping to send Ortiz back to the minors with a big upset, and those who aren't giving him a shot to do so should really reconsider.
For one, Lopez and longtime trainer Henry Ramirez have received some additional tips from a reliable source.
“When this fight came about, I immediately started picking Eduardo Garcia's brain, the father of Robert, who has been at our gym for two and a half years now,” Ramirez told TQBR Monday afternoon. Eduardo Garcia is a one-time mentor of Ortiz, while Robert Garcia is his former trainer, with Ortiz the subject of a historical blood feud between Robert and brother Danny over Danny becoming Ortiz' trainer.
“He trains Mikey at our gym, they live right outside of Riverside," Ramirez said of Eduardo and featheweight Mikey Garcia, another member of the family. "And he told me that some of the things about Victor that came during the Maidana fight, they had already seen before in the gym in sparring. That if you should put pressure, and the kind of guys who would give Victor problems are guys like Jose, guys with balls. Because as they said it, out of their own mouth, Victor doesn't have the biggest heart in the world.”
“Eduardo has helped me, told me things I should work on,” said Lopez. “I'm not going to elaborate on them, but I'm looking forward to working on the things he has told me to. And I think you shall see on June 23rd. He has given me advice, talked to me. I know he pretty much started Victor Ortiz and I've had the chance to talk to him, and I'm excited to get in there already and use it.”
Though he isn't yet known as one of the sport's top trainers, Ramirez has shown his worth in refocusing Lopez and helping prepare him for this position. Just talking to Henry, you get the immediate thought that he knows more about training fighters than anyone is giving him credit for.
“I'm not getting 16-0, 18-0 fighters dropped into my lap, that's the main difference,” explained Ramirez on why he is still a bit overlooked. “All of the guys I work with, I've pretty much taken from the beginning.”
Along with heavyweight contender Chris Arreola and bantamweight prospect Jonathan Arellano, Ramirez can claim quite a big part in Lopez's career.
“Henry has been part of my training for several years," said Ramirez. "He was an assistant for my head trainer who passed away a few years ago. He's been with me since pretty much I was 16, about twelve years ago. He's always been part of my training camp and took on head trainer about six years ago. He's been part of my camp for quite some time and everything has gone pretty well.”
For fighter AND trainer, it is an opportunity to make an impression on the big stage. The last time Ramirez trained a main event fighter at the Staples Center, Arreola got beat up over 11 rounds in a game effort against Vitali Klitschko.
Though Lopez has one fewer professional bout than Ortiz, he is two years his opponent's senior and has traveled a much more difficult path.
“You know I've had somewhat of a rough ride, a tough career you could say. I've managed to stick in there and still work hard,” said Lopez. “I think that shows a lot that I still want it just as bad as I wanted it before, and a lot more. I'm going in there to win. I know there isn't a lot of people thinking I can pull off the upset.
“We've taken the hard way up," he continued. "No big time manager or the big time promoter that babied me to a world title. I've had to fight some fighters, and I've had to fight some of them in their backyard.”
In his pro debut, Lopez knocked out Allen Litzau in one round. After losing his third pro fight, Lopez wouldn't lose again until he found himself on the wrong side of a split decision against Wes Ferguson on the undercard of Floyd Mayweather, Jr. against Zab Judah. Ferguson was a protege of Mayweather.
Lopez would win six bouts before meeting Puerto Rican prospect Edgar Santana in a ShoBox main event in Florida. Despite dropping his opponent twice in the 8th round, Lopez would lose another unpopular split decision.
Since then, Lopez has gained valuable experience taking tough fights, including a stoppage of a then-unbeaten Mike Dallas Jr. last January. Dallas ironically fights the day before Lopez just a few hours away in San Jacinto in the ESPN main event against Javier Castro.
One thing Lopez has not done is headline on the big stage the way Ortiz has a number of times. For some, that could be considered tough additional pressure.
“At the end of the day, whether you're fighting in front of 15,000 or 1,500, a fight is still a fight,” said Ramirez.
“I'm excited about the event, but I won't let that get to me. I'm going in there to do a job,” added Lopez.
Lopez has never fought about 144 pounds in his entire career and the jump from junior welterweight to welterweight is one of the biggest on the climb up the scales. Ortiz has shown he can carry the power, having dropped Andre Berto en route to a unanimous decision in their Fight of the Year encounter last April, but has also shown a susceptible chin in being dropped by Berto and stopped by Mayweather.
Though the Mayweather stoppage came when Ortiz's guard was down and he was cold-cocked, Ortiz fights in a way that should be quite open for some of his opponent's attacks. The question is whether either will be able to handle each other's oncoming fire.
“I'm not too worried because Victor isn't a guy who has been at 147 his whole career,” said Ramirez. “I would be more worried if we were fighting someone who had been at 147 his whole career.”
Lopez concurs that he doesn't expect much issue with dishing it out or taking it.
“I really feel real strong," he said. "I can say that I think I am going to punch just as hard as Victor Ortiz and I know he is a strong fighter. We can box, we can bang, we are going in there fighting the way Josesito Lopez fights and we're well prepared if it goes twelve rounds.”
In fact, Lopez has made the declaration that the weight could even be beneficial to his challenge.
“I think it'll help make myself better, I know Ortiz is a more natural 147, but I think I'm the taller junior welterweight, I'm 5'10”, it can be a little of a struggle to get down to 140," he said. "Having those extra few pounds of energy really, I feel a lot better throughout camp, there isn't really a big weight cut to do right before the fight. I'm going to feel a lot better in the ring.”
There is an interesting side plot. Can Lopez win the crowd? His opponent carries the much bigger name, but many ringside in Carson a few weeks ago for their quadrupleheader recalled that Ortiz, who attended the fight, was soundly booed by the capacity crowd. Some feel that his persona is a bit forced and phony, and while Lopez hasn't been as visible to the casual fan, his style always has bred good fights.
If Lopez is the one bringing the fight on Saturday, it wouldn't be a big surprise to hear the crowd get behind him. Riverside and the surrounding area is known for hardcore fight fans, largely thanks to the consistent promotion of club fights like the cards that Lopez came up on.
Ortiz knows what it is like to taste the top money, having tangled with Mayweather for a career payday. There is a chance to catch him off-guard in a letdown situation, and given how much this opportunity means to Lopez, you can only expect his best game.
“This opportunity means a lot to me, for my family, all the hard work and dedication I've put in. I was a late bloomer, I feel really that I am just barely moving into my body, dedicating myself like I should have," Lopez said. "I'm treating myself like a real professional boxer should have and I think this is barely the beginning, really. I've had quite a bit of fights already but I feel fresh, I feel good. I feel like my career is barely starting and barely getting off. I feel like I am getting better every single fight.”
At 27, this doesn't mean the end of the road for Lopez if he puts up a solid challenge.
“I definitely feel like that there is pretty much everything against me, and I have nothing to lose,” he said.
That kind of situation can sometimes result in the absolute best version of a fighter showing up on fight night. It may be Josesito Lopez's best chance; let's see if he has it in him.
Mark Ortega can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com and followed via Twitter at www.twitter.com/MarkEOrtega. Mark also contributes to renowned boxing publications RING Magazine and Boxing Monthly, and is a member of the Boxing Writer's Association of America and RING Ratings Advisory Panel.
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