Saul "Canelo" Alvarez, left, and Josesito Lopez face off as… (Nick Ut / Associated Press )
When word came that the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas was open Friday, Sept. 14, as well as the next night, speculation stirred.
With boxing’s two most powerful promoters heading to conflicting cards on the night of Sept. 15 with main events headlined by Mexico’s two most popular fighters on Mexican Independence Day weekend, maybe someone would blink.
That would be a no.
Richard Schaefer, the chief executive of Los Angeles-based Golden Boy Promotions, says he is keeping his Sept. 15 date at MGM for his four-fight “Knockout Kings” card televised by Showtime that will feature Mexico’s super-welterweight world champion Saul “Canelo” Alvarez against smaller Riverside challenger Josesito Lopez.
“Big-time boxing events are not on Friday nights,” Schaefer said. “High rollers don’t come into Vegas on Friday.
“So, we’ll have a big-time boxing card on a Saturday night, and ours is free, not on pay-per-view.”
The fight between the 21-year-old Alvarez (40-0-1, 29 knockouts) and Lopez (30-4, 18 KOs) isn’t regarded by most boxing fans as equal in quality to the other Sept. 15 fight.
At nearby Thomas and Mack Center, World Boxing Council middleweight champion Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. will confront his greatest challenge yet against stripped middleweight champion and 2010 fighter of the year Sergio Martinez.
Golden Boy and Chavez-Martinez promoter Top Rank argue that they each secured first rights to the popular Sept. 15 date.
The promoters’ feuding is nothing new, dating to Golden Boy founder Oscar De La Hoya’s split from Top Rank’s Bob Arum as a fighter and their inability to find the common ground it takes to stage the bout that fight fans clamor for, Manny Pacquiao vs. Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Originally, after Alvarez’s victory over Shane Mosley on May 5, Alvarez’s Sept. 15 date was to be a pay-per-view, as well, but first opponent Paul Williams was left paralyzed in a motorcycle crash.
Second opponent James Kirkland pulled out over discomfort with his pay and his ability to recover in time from arthroscopic shoulder surgery.
And then Lopez upset third opponent Victor Ortiz on June 23 at Staples Center, fracturing the former welterweight champion’s jaw in the ninth round, with Ortiz declining to fight on.
So Golden Boy and Showtime opted for the “free” fight on premium cable, adding a world featherweight title bout between Jhonny Gonzalez and the Southland’s Daniel Ponce De Leon, and a welterweight slugfest between Marcos Maidana and Jesus Soto-Karass.
Asked if the move off pay-per-view was his counter punch to Top Rank’s veteran promoter Bob Arum's official June 16 announcement of Chavez-Martinez, Golden Boy’s Schaefer said, “I really don’t care anymore what the old man is doing or saying. This is a fight card for the fans, not the ballrooms.
“In Mexico, ‘Canelo’s' ratings are three times what Chavez’s are. He’s still getting a lot of money for this fight,” a total Schaefer declined to disclose, “and he’ll have millions of people watching his fight versus the 200,000 to 300,000 that will watch Chavez.
“To put a young, emerging superstar live on a card that all eyeballs can see, to continue growing the interest in him … it’s in the fighter’s best interest, when you can afford it, to do a non-pay-per-view.”
Showtime Sports executive Stephen Espinoza, also appearing at a Tuesday news conference in Los Angeles, said he has not inquired about a possible shift to Sept. 14, and says he has no plans to.
That leaves a fight between the hard-punching Alvarez and the iron-chinned Lopez, who has never been knocked down and tests his mettle by sparring in his Riverside gym against heavyweight Chris Arreola.
Lopez only fought above 140 pounds once, moving up in weight for Ortiz. His spirited effort as a replacement foe for steroid-positive world champion Andre Berto brought Staples Center fans to their feet, as Lopez not only took Ortiz’s best punches, but urged him on and landed his own power shots.
The performance earned Lopez his career-high $325,000 purse to fight Alvarez.
“I’m not as small as people think,” Lopez said. “I walk around at 160, 165 pounds, and I have two full months to prepare.”
Lopez said he’s working with a strength and conditioning coach to “maintain my weight and get stronger … I’ll double up on the protein but train … and keep my body lean.”
Does the strong-willed Lopez know he can take the 154-pound champion Alvarez’s best punches?
“It’s yet to be seen if I can take ‘Canelo’s' best punches, but I spar with bigger guys – I’m used to getting hit hard in there,” Lopez said. “It has to do with being in shape.”
Alvarez could collect a $100,000 bonus by knocking out Lopez. Alvarez was ringside at Staples for the June 23 fight, inspecting Lopez’s resilience.
Can he knock this guy out?
“I’ll train specifically for him, I’ll be ready,” Alvarez said. “I’m not worried about it. I’ll be ready for anything. I’ll be working on everything, and one thing I feel great about is how I’m punching.”
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