Josesito Lopez knows odds makers have made him a huge underdog against Saul Alvarez.
He’s been an underdog most of his career; he can deal with it.
However, he doesn’t like it when people count him out entirely, even when he’s facing one of Mexico’s most popular fighters – who just happens to be unbeaten and naturally bigger – on Mexican Independence Day weekend.
So when a boxing writer asked Lopez how he felt about the rumor that Alvarez’s promotional company, Golden Boy Promotions, has already secured a Dec. 8 return date for the budding Mexican star, the Riverside, Calif., native admitted that he was a tad irked.
“I find it a little disrespectful,” Lopez (30-4, 18 knockouts) told a small group of media at an open workout in Santa Fe Springs, Calif., on Wednesday. “It’s just like when they made the Alvarez-(Victor) Ortiz fight before I fought Victor.
“Why can’t they wait a week or two until after my fight? But it’s OK because it gives me more motivation and it will make winning the fight even sweeter.”
Lopez’s upset victory over Ortiz on June 23 was the sweetest of his nine-year pro career. He took Ortiz’s spot as Alvarez’s Sept. 15 dance partner by breaking the southpaw puncher’s jaw and forcing the heavy favorite to retire on his stool.
It was boxing’s feel-good story of the summer. Hardcore fans embraced Lopez. They cheered for the skinny kid from Riverside who beat the odds. They loved his grit and fire and couldn’t wait to see him in the ring again.
They just didn’t want to see him fight Alvarez, who they figure is too big, too strong and too well rounded for Lopez to handle. They like Lopez. They’re glad he’s making good money as the B-side to a major headliner at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, but they view the Showtime-televised fight a gross mismatch.
Members of Lopez’s small-but-tight-knit inner circle think the fans are grossly underestimating the underdog.
“People take that little body for granted and think he’s a cake walk,” said Lopez’s cutman “Indian” willie Schunke, who has been with the 28-year-old fighter since his second pro bout. “It doesn’t matter how big or strong or talented the guys he’s fighting are, Josesito gives everybody the hardest fight of their lives.”
Lopez’s trainer Henry Ramirez thinks the harsh skepticism for the Alvarez-Lopez matchup borders on hypocrisy.
“People were interested in the Alvarez-Ortiz fight when it was announced,” he said. “Then Josesito beats Ortiz, breaks his jaw, and gets Canelo and now these same people say the fight is a disgrace. Give me a break.”
Truth be told, most of the fans and media who are dismissing Lopez actually want to give him a break. They’d love to see him beat Alvarez, who they believe is being protected by Golden Boy and overhyped by the HBO and Showtime.
However, they can’t get over the fact that until the Ortiz fight – which took place at welterweight – most of Lopez’s significant bouts were at junior welterweight (and lightweight). They don’t see how a guy who lost to Jessie Vargas and Edgar Santana at junior welterweight can beat the reigning WBC 154-pound beltholder.
Ramirez says fans shouldn’t think of Lopez as a junior welterweight.
“After Ortiz, I realized that we probably kept him at 140 pounds at least one fight too long,” Ramirez said. “He had energy throughout the camp for Ortiz. His energy level was up and his sparring was intense right until he was ready to fight.
“It wasn’t like that when he had to make 140 pounds. He would slow down towards the end of camp, and he would slow down towards the end of those fights.”
Many observers thought Lopez did enough to beat both Santana, who he put down twice en route to losing a majority decision in 2008, and Vargas, who he dropped a split decision to last September. However, Ramirez never complained about those decisions because his fighter took his foot off the gas pedal in the late rounds.
Now he knows that Lopez probably had no gas to burn late in those junior welterweight bouts.
If Lopez didn’t know it then, he certainly does now because he can feel the difference.
“Having to make 140 pounds is a struggle for a guy my height,” said Lopez, who stands around 5-foot-11. “There were times when it was tough to make and I couldn’t give 100 percent in those fights.
“But I felt completely different in the Ortiz fight, especially in the middle and late rounds. I didn’t have to take any rounds off. I feel even stronger for this fight.”
Ramirez says Lopez is testing his newfound strength and stamina with quality sparring partners that include DonYil Livingston (8-1-1, 4 KOs), a strong and cagey middleweight; Joshua Conley (3-0, 3 KOs), a hard-punching junior middleweight prospect; and rugged journeyman Alberto Herrera (8-7-1, 5 KOs).
Lopez, who has maintained 160 to 162 pounds for the past two weeks and expects to weigh that much on fight night (even though he’ll probably weigh-in around 150 pounds the day before), has not allowed his aggressive sparring partners outmuscle, overpower or pressure him.
That isn’t a surprise to anyone who has followed his career. Lopez can box but he’s a fighter at heart. He beat Ortiz with his iron will as much as he did with his fists.
Lopez says fans can expect him to fight just as hard – and effectively – against Alvarez.
“Battle, war,” is what Lopez replied when someone asked his prediction of the Sept. 15 showdown.
“I got to do what I do,” he continued. “I can’t let him do what he does because he’s good at it. But the fighters he’s faced have helped him look good.
“They all talked about putting on a good show before they fought Canelo. Forget the show! Just fight him! I’m a natural fighter. Fighting back is what I do, and thankfully, my style is one that fans want to see.”