LAS VEGAS(AP) – Josesito Lopez has risen from near-anonymity to the heights of boxing this summer, fighting his way into a big-money Las Vegas showdown with beloved Mexican champion Saul “Canelo” Alvarez.
So what if their bout at the sold-out MGM Grand Garden on Saturday night is slightly overshadowed by the middleweight title fight going on a few blocks down Tropicana Avenue?
Lopez is enjoying his Rocky moment for as long as it lasts — even if most think it will end against Alvarez, the redheaded Mexican heartthrob who was a 14-to-1 favorite earlier this week.
“I love the position, really,” Lopez said. “The more people don’t believe in me, probably the better for me. I think that that makes victory that much sweeter, motivation that much bigger. I think that’s really what pushes me, and the few believers that I have, I think, are a motivation to me to get bigger and stronger.”
Alvarez (40-0-1, 29 KOs) will defend his WBC 154-pound belt against Lopez (30-4, 18 KOs) atop a loaded Golden Boy card that’s competing with Sergio Martinez’s Top Rank pay-per-view meeting with Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. at the Thomas and Mack Center on Mexican Independence Day weekend.
Crowd-pleasers Marcos Maidana, Daniel Ponce De Leon and Leo Santa Cruz also fight on the Alvarez-Lopez undercard, and Golden Boy is giving a $100,000 bonus to the fighter who lands the most impressive knockout.
While Lopez has the best story, Alvarez is the star of the show. The 22-year-old is headlining a major show in boxing’s capital city for the first time, even selling out Las Vegas’ most popular venue.
Mexican fans don’t seem to mind Canelo is fighting a blown-up welterweight from Riverside, Calif., who has spent most of his career fighting in small-time hotel ballrooms and casinos across Southern California.
“I never think that any fighter is going to be an easy fight,” Alvarez said. “He’s a good fighter, very smart. He’s got very, very good combinations, so I think he’s a very good fighter. And no, I’m never overconfident. I’ve prepared very well.”
Lopez earned this shot after capitalizing on another unlikely opportunity.
When Andre Berto failed a doping test earlier in the year, Lopez stepped up on short notice to fight Victor Ortiz, the former welterweight champion expected to be Alvarez’s next opponent. Nobody gave Lopez much of a chance — right up until the moment he broke Ortiz’s jaw and his will, forcing the former star to quit on his stool in the ninth round.
Lopez wouldn’t have even been available to fill in for Berto if Kendall Holt hadn’t dropped out of a scheduled bout with Lopez just before Berto was banned — just another good break in a summer full of them for Lopez.
Lopez beat Ortiz, but still didn’t get a shot at Canelo until three other opponents — including Ortiz — couldn’t take the bout. Paul Williams accepted the fight shortly before he was left paralyzed in a motorcycle crash, and James Kirkland turned it down, citing a shoulder injury and complaints about his purse.
Lopez had no such qualms — and his trainer, Henry Ramirez, is among the few who believe Lopez can punch through the holes in Alvarez’s still-evolving game.
Alvarez’s superior strength doesn’t bother Lopez, who is about an inch taller than Canelo. As he proved in his tenacious win over Ortiz, Lopez has the toughness to stay in a fight to the later rounds, even when he’s losing, to land a decisive shot.
If he can pull a second upset in his charmed summer, Lopez’s Rocky moment will be over: He’ll be a real world champion.
“Naturally, he’s going to be a bigger fighter,” Lopez said. “He’s going to be a heavier fighter. He’s going to look a lot bigger. So we trained hard. We worked hard. We had big sparring partners in our training camp to get used to that heavier weight. We prepared well. I feel that I’m stronger than ever, and I’m prepared to prove it.”