Boxers Saul 'Canelo' Alvarez, left, and Josesito Lopez stare… (Mario Guzman / EPA )
On Sept. 15, Josesito Lopez will be the lost boy of Las Vegas.
He will have a boxing match against unbeaten, 22-year-old, groomed-to-be-a-megastar Canelo Alvarez. That will be at the MGM Grand Garden. Down the street about a mile, at the Thomas & Mack Center, two more large-name fighters, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and Sergio Martinez, will square off.
There is a lot of buzz about Alvarez, the redheaded Mexican. Same for Chavez, who has been carrying forth his father's famous name and reputation with a bit more distinction in recent fights, and Martinez, the highly regarded Argentine.
That leaves Lopez, whose first name means "Little Jose."
That's not exactly one of those boxing names, like Boom Boom or Smokin' Joe, that strikes fear in the hearts of opponents and sells tickets. But Little Jose could turn out to be the biggest story of a high-profile boxing night that will showcase four boxers and the clashing egos and depth of dislike for each other of two competing promoters.
Certainly, neither Bob Arum of Top Rank nor Richard Schaefer of Golden Boy, who have decided to go one on one in a business decision that could affect the image and viability of the sport, is thinking much about Lopez. He is in Schaefer's fight, and is basically there to provide another notch in Alvarez's belt. In fight terms, Lopez is an "opponent." Or, more harshly, a "punching bag."
Lopez is also there, however, because "Little Jose" had a Rocky moment, as in Rocky Balboa.
On June 23, as a fill-in opponent going against Victor Ortiz, another Golden Boy marquee boxer, Lopez stunned the fight world by winning. When it came time for the 10th round, Ortiz remained in his corner. He had a jaw, broken in two places, that would require immediate surgery. Ortiz told handlers he thought it broke as early as the fifth round. Lopez says, "If I had to guess, it was one of the last punches in the last round."
The "when" didn't matter. Lopez had won the right to run up some steps with his arms held high, or maybe punch sides of beef.
"We shocked the world," he says.
More shocked, certainly, were Ortiz, Schaefer and Oscar De La Hoya, after whom Golden Boy Promotions is named. Just before the fight, it was revealed that Ortiz had already signed for a Sept. 15 fight against Alvarez. That's how certain Golden Boy was.
Lopez says the premature contract signing "disrespected me." His trainer, Henry Ramirez, says, "It added a chip on his shoulder."
Soon, the disrespecting Golden Boy group returned to Lopez and his consulting manager, Al Haymon, and Lopez became the fourth wheel in Las Vegas' Sept. 15 boxing carnival.
If nothing else, that allows his story to be told.
Lopez is one of six children and lives in Riverside with his mother and a brother and sister. He started boxing when he was 11 but took an untraditional route to his current success. He was a star cross-country runner at Rubidoux High School and was the captain of his team when it won the state Division II title in 2002.
"When I started as a freshman," Lopez says, "there were about 40 on the team, and I was about fourth from the bottom. By senior year, I was team captain."
Couple that athletic success with a 3.3 grade-point average and a course load that included calculus, and you had scholarship offers from schools such as the University of San Diego.
But Lopez had grown weary of the 50-mile-a-week cross-country grind. He had continued to box, although missing development time because of cross-country, and won a major amateur boxing title, the Blue and Gold, when he was 17.
His father, Jose, surprised him by buying him a car to celebrate that title.
About a year later, after Lopez had four pro fights, his father, a construction worker who his son says put in 40- to 50-hour weeks, surprised him again. He called his son aside and told him he had made a mistake and would be going away for a long time. The elder Jose Lopez has served all but about five months of a 10-year prison term in a drug transportation case.
"I talk to him nearly every day," Josesito says. "When he came to me, he told me I'd have to be his substitute at home. I'm still there."
The home stay may be even longer. When the elder Lopez gets out of jail, he must deal with likely deportation, since he never became a U.S. citizen.
"We're working on that," his son says. "We are finding lawyers we can trust."
Lopez's record is 30-4-1, with 18 knockouts. He has been knocked down only once. The 28-year-old's career probably either blasts off or fizzles, depending on how he deals with Alvarez.
His mother, Delfina, will be in the crowd, mostly closing her eyes. So will little brother Victor, 13, nicknamed "The Last Hope." Victor is a boxer too.
But other than friends and supporters from Riverside, Josesito Lopez will be on his own, a fourth fiddle, an afterthought on a night that will either knock boxing on its ear or punch it up a bit. Lopez knows one way to achieve the latter.
"We just need to shock the world again," he says.