Josesito Lopez has his hands wrapped by “Indian” Willie Schunke at a private gym on the cutman’s property before the final sparring session of his camp for Marcos Maidana
RIVERSIDE, Calif. – Josesito Lopez was beaming as he entered the gym for his final day of sparring last Friday.
With only eight days to go and seven pounds to shed for his welterweight fight with Marcos Maidana, Lopez carried that special brand of confidence that a young veteran only gets from having a good training camp.
He also embodied a fiery enthusiasm only born sluggers have when they know they’ve got a real fight on their hands.
Lopez is aware – like the hardcore fans who will watch the Showtime-televised card from the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. – that he’s in for a grueling battle of attrition. He’s OK with that. Those are the kind of fights Lopez relishes. Those are the type of scraps he usually wins.
However, Maidana, a rugged Argentine veteran who has scored 30 knockouts in his 33 victories, is not your “usual” opponent.
The big question going into to Saturday’s showdown: Can Lopez be victorious fighting with his usual abandon against one of the best punchers in boxing? Maybe he can, but he’s coming off a brutal fifth-round stoppage loss to junior middleweight champ Saul Alvarez, so his trainer, Henry Ramirez, would rather not find out.
This doesn’t mean Ramirez, who has trained Lopez since his amateur days, wants his fighter to try to avoid the inevitable. He just doesn’t want Lopez to get carried away.
“He’s got to resist an all-out war,” Ramirez said. “It’s OK to slug it out, but it has to be in spots. He can’t stand there all night. He has to be like Mike Alvarado in the rematch with Brandon Rios. Mike boxed when he had to and he fought when he had to.”
It seems like a simple goal: Don’t get sucked into a shootout. But it’s easier said than done. Lopez (30-5, 18 knockouts) isn’t a safety first prize fighter.
He could be. Lopez has the intelligence, athletic ability and technique to be a very competent boxer. He just lacks the fear of getting hit and hurt that most of us have. As laid back and friendly as Lopez is outside of the ring, the 28-year-old Riverside native’s mentality inside the ropes isn’t one that leans toward the “hit-and-not-get-hit” concept – especially when he’s in good shape.
“I’m excited about this fight,” Lopez said after sparring four rounds with Alberto Herrera at the private gym on promoter/cornerman “Indian” Willie Schunke’s property.
“Camp was good and I feel like I stepped it up for this fight. I trained a little longer, a little harder. I put in a few more miles per week than usual. I know Maidana has been working on his technique with Robert Garcia, but I don’t see any drastic changes in his style. We both have that dog in us. We both fight when it gets heated in the ring. As a boxing fan, I’m excited because I know it’s going to be a hell of a fight.”
That last comment – and the mindset behind it – is why Lopez is a slugger and not a boxer. He wins fights by taking the other guy’s heart. His zeal to engage and his ability to absorb punishment as well as he dishes it out is what makes him successful – and worth watching.
The book on Lopez is pretty simple: if you don’t have the power to hold him off, as then-unbeaten Mike Dallas Jr. lacked when they fought in January 2011; or if you can’t match his willingness to exchange punches, like poor Victor Ortiz discovered during their fight last June, he will gradually overwhelm you.
Both Dallas and Ortiz failed to last the distance with Lopez.
However, Maidana has more than enough power to hold off Lopez. And anyone who’s seen Maidana’s battles with Ortiz, Amir Khan or Jesus Soto Karass knows that the 29-year-old puncher has a warrior’s heart.
Alvarez, who Lopez fought last September, was too big, too strong and technically sharp. But Maidana (33-2, 30 KOs), who, like Lopez, is a former junior welterweight, isn’t a giant – and he’s not the most polished fighter out there.
Saturday’s fight is an even matchup, and the kind of style clash – slugger vs. puncher – that always delivers drama and excitement. Ramirez loves Lopez’s chances to win if his fighter can contain his battle lust.
That controlled aggression was on display during the sparring session with Herrera, the younger brother of junior welterweight fringe contender Mauricio Herrera.
Alberto isn’t as accomplished or technically sound as Mauricio – in fact, he’s a bona-fide journeyman (although a respected “opponent”) – but he was better suited as a sparring partner for this particular camp because he’s a big, physical welterweight who wings his power punches in manner similar to Maidana.
Herrera looked to land sweeping hooks to the head of Lopez, who carefully worked his jab before dropping a two-or-three-punch combination and pivoting out of the way, during much of the first round.
Ramirez liked was what he saw, but asked for more body shots with about a minute left in the round
Lopez gave him (actually, Herrera, to be accurate) more body work and pressed forward for the first time during the final 20 seconds.
In the second round, Lopez mixed lead rights in with his stiff jab as he moved in and out of Herrera’s range. When a right hand moved Herrera to the ropes, Lopez quickly advanced and worked the body with both hands. He swung a little too wide while whacking Herrera’s sides and the 31-year-old Riverside resident answered back by timing a few hooks over Lopez’s right hands.
The landed punches sparked more aggression in Lopez, who started the third round faster than the previous two. Ramirez noticed this and reminded him to continue working his jab as he stalked forward, looking to mix it up. Herrera planted his feet and obliged Lopez’s advances, lobbing hooks and right haymakers over hard body shots.
The tempo of the session went up a few notches in the third round and the faster pace seemed to suit Lopez, who moved his head more and snapped crisper jabs and lead rights.
By the start of the fourth round, Lopez’ reflexes and timing were “fighting” sharp. He added counter punches to his offense. His movements were more fluid.
Ramirez, satisfied with the work that was put in and the form that Lopez exhibited, cut the scheduled five-round session to four.
“He went 12 (rounds) last Friday,” Ramirez said, “eight to nine on Monday, six on Wednesday and now four on the last day (of sparring).
“On Monday he’ll train here, just work mitts and do bag work. Then later that day he’ll throw the ceremonial first pitch at the Dodger game, even though he’s an Angels fan.”
Ramirez chuckled after the Angels quip, but his tone became serious when discussing the Maidana fight.
“He’s coming off a high-profile loss; I’m coming off a high-profile loss with Chris,” he said, referencing the unanimous decision his heavyweight Chris Arreola lost to Bermane Stiverne in April. “There’s pressure on both of us.
“This is a hard fight but I really like our chances. Josesito has put the hard work in. I was looking at his energy level in that last sparring session and it was good. I wanted him to be sure to pop a good jab and to change it up with the right hand, and he did.
“It was OK to bang a little bit but I wanted him to be smart and not hang around too much. I wanted him to utilize good head movement. Sometimes he doesn’t move his head at all when he comes straight in.”
Ramirez knows the straight-ahead slugger approach might make for a great fight, but it’s also likely to get his fighter beat – or just beat up.
“This guy gets a little dirty,” Ramirez said of Maidana. “I noticed that in his last fight (against Jesus Soto Karass), he hit Soto Karass late – after the bell – two times. He also hit Soto Karass low during a clinch.
“I expect this to be a fun fight, but maybe a foul-filled fight because Josesito ain’t gonna complain to the ref if he gets hit low or after the bell, he’s gonna punch back.”
And that’s fine with Ramirez as long as Lopez doesn’t stand around after landing his shots.
Photos / Doug Fischer, Jeff Gross-Golden Boy, Nick Laham-Golden Boy
Fischer can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @dougiefischer