“This IS my ‘ROCKY’ moment!” Says New WBC Champ
Photos by Maria Hedrick
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It wasn’t supposed to be this way. The underdog was not supposed to win.
Riverside’s Josesito Lopez (30-4, 18 KOs) was deemed a “B-level” fighter given the chance of a lifetime facing A-list superstar “Vicious” Victor Ortiz (29-4-2, 22 KOs) in a scheduled 12-rounder for the vacant WBC Silver Welterweight title Saturday at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. What most of the oddsmakers, pundits, and the majority of fight fans expected was that the lighter and unheralded Lopez would give Victor a good effort before an Ortiz victory took place, thus paving the way for the already-planned Victor Ortiz-Canelo Alvarez showdown at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
But the unexpected occurred on Saturday night. The boxing world was shocked by the underdog.
And Josesito fit the bill of the “underdog” to a T. Coming up in weight, a last-minute replacement and not familiar with the world-wide stage like his foe Ortiz was, Lopez and his team knew full well that they were not the favorite to win in the main event of this Golden Boy Promotions and Showtime card. But this so-called B-level fighter brought his “A-game” on Saturday evening, making good on his promise to “shock the world.” But first, he had to shock Victor Ortiz. Behind on all three official scorecards (88-83, 87-84 and 86-85), Lopez really needed to send shockwaves to pull off a victory.
There was no love lost between the pair and this truly became a war of attrition. What transpired in their 27 minutes of brute force was a war of wills that had everyone in awe. While Victor unveiled a stiff jab, pure aggression, power and strength as he battered Lopez against the ropes and center ring, Josesito stayed in the game using left hooks, swift combinations and punishing uppercuts, especially later in the fight, to keep the bout a non-stop adrenaline fest.
Refusing to quit after his left eye was swelling and after a behind-the-head “glancing blow” by Ortiz had knocked him down in Round 5, Lopez took the punishment while somehow coming back for more. Pounding away, Victor kept up the offense as Lopez ate a lot of hard shots. And the Oxnard southpaw looked strong in the ring. With his broad shoulders, power punching and come forward assault, Ortiz rocked Lopez from pillar to post. Well-regarded official Jack Reiss had his work cut out for him during this brawl for the WBC silver hardware.
But Lopez, an ex-NABF Light Welterweight, just wouldn’t go down. He refused to fall. Before the fight ever took place, Josesito was a self-declared “poor skinny Mexican kid from Riverside.” Perhaps in his own form of an “anti-bullying” statement, he began to stalk the heavily-favored Victor Ortiz and connect with his own arsenal.
In one furious exchange in a memorable Round 7, Lopez showed the world that sometimes heart and will can prevail over the odds and skill. As Victor continued to unload leather on his challenger who was backed into the ropes, Jose just wouldn’t fold, always fighting back. Finally, Lopez held his fists at his waist and shook them toward his nemesis in a gesture that relayed: “I’ve taken ALL you’ve given me–and I’m still standing!” It was a watershed moment. And after the slightest of pause, the two gladiators continued to engage in war. Blood and guts. PUROS CHINGASOS.
And as the momentum shifted, the fans began to chant for Lopez, this 2012 version of a real-life Rocky Balboa in a good old-fashioned upset to come. “I hate losing more than I like winning,” Jose had said before the night of his life.
Lopez really was the feel-good cliché come to life. While he may have began this bout as the “Little Engine That Could,” whom many said was “lucky” to get such a big-ticket opportunity like this, Jose, his corner of trainer Henry Ramirez, cutman “Indian” Willie Schunke and Ralph Lopez was about to shock Team Lopez and derail Victor’s much-heralded Canelo match. With a father in prison and his family scraping by, this underdog boxer had the deck stacked against him.
And beyond anyone’s expectations, the “Little Engine That Could” somehow stopped the power-punching freight-train known as “Vicious” Victor Ortiz. Sustaining a “busted jaw” and bleeding from the mouth, Victor and his corner did not continue while suffering a reported broken jaw.
After Jack Reiss officially waved off the bout with Victor on his stool, I doubt anyone would’ve guessed what Jimmy Lennon Jr. would announce to the almost 8,000 fans at Staples Center and the tens of thousands watching live on Showtime: “Josesito Lopez is the victor ‘by TKO after Ortiz retires in the corner in a stunning upset.’”
As trainer Danny Garcia tended to the injured Ortiz, Lopez and his Thompson Boxing Promotions and Goossen Tutor Promotions team first looked stunned before their expression turned to pure joy and elation as they began to celebrate. Hoisting the Riverside hero onto the ring post, Jose lifted his arms up to the crowd, at first shaking his head in triumphant disbelief at beating the odds. As he made the sign of the cross and kissed his glove, he then put up a triumphant fist as the new champion soaked up the roar of the crowd.
HE DID IT.
This “poor skinny Mexican kid from Riverside” upset the popular Oxnard slugger, who rose to fame when fans heard Victor’s life story as an orphaned boy growing up in Kansas. The likable Ortiz had won over a legion of fans after his Andre Berto clash, overcoming his Marcos Maidana controversy. With this Lopez bout, everyone assumed Victor would bounce back after his Floyd Mayweather loss.
But Josesito Lopez has rewritten history in his own fairy-tale ending. Boxing fans got to bear witness to an early candidate for “Upset of the Year,” “Round of the Year,” and “Fight of the Year.” And when he was awarded the green and gold WBC strap, his expression was priceless. Lopez looked at the belt with a response of “Oh, that’s right…I get a belt too!”
To get that belt meant Lopez had to survive a war. These nine rounds between these two Mexican warriors was something special. In the current headlines of the Lamont Peterson, Andre Berto and Antonio Tarver steroid/banned substances scandals and judging uproar over Manny Pacquiao-Tim Bradley, boxing fans, arguably, welcomed this fresh face in this shocking upset. And with the sad news of Johnny Tapia’s passing and Paul Williams’ partial paralysis from a motorcycle accident, perhaps Lopez gives fans something to believe in…that sometimes expect the unexpected.
In this age of multi-million dollar contracts, inflated egos, unscrupulous promoters and tainted decisions, the fans were declaring that “boxing was dead.”
Maybe this collision between the Inland Empire’s Lopez and Ventura County’s Ortiz may restore some of the faith of the fans.
“This IS my ‘Rocky’ moment!” said the new WBC champ at the post-fight press conference. With his bruised eyes protected by dark shades, an emotional Jose Lopez shared his joy with the media in the packed room.
And the humble new champ also gives respect for his foe: “Victor Ortiz hits HARD! When you’re coming in, he’s a strong fighter.”
But Lopez also quickly adds that he had no plans of backing down or quitting: “I never thought of quitting. There’s no quit in me.”
“My punch output wasn’t as much as him but I know my punches that I did land were connecting. I felt good in there and in later rounds I was feeling a little bit better and Thank God things went our way,” he also said during his time at the podium.
It’s not too often the underdog wins.
Team Lopez knows this all too well. In pre-fight events, they took to wearing “It Smells Like an Upset” T-shirts when they felt disrespected and dismissed after the Ortiz-Alvarez September match was announced.
“We dug in deep and we pulled it off,” Jose commented about the improbable upset. “And like I said, this IS my ‘Rocky’ moment and I wasn’t gonna let it go!”
Chuckling a bit, he added, “This really is my ‘Rocky’ moment! I’m somewhat in shock; I’m just in the moment–WE DID IT!”
Josesito’s co-promoters also shared in his joy. Thompson Boxing Promotions’ President Ken Thompson and General Manager/Matchmaker Alex Camponovo said Lopez was their very first fighter ever signed to their promotional company back in 2004. The Southland promoters remarked, “What a great fight; what a great night from the beginning to the end. He overcame the size difference to win. No one comes with more heart than Josesito!”
And after the bout co-promoter Goossen Tutor’s Craig Goossen told me that this is definitely in the running for “Fight of the Year.”
To their credit, Victor Ortiz’s manager and promoter congratulated Team Lopez and spoke of future plans for the Canelo match. “It was a valiant effort and one hell of a fight,” Arellano spoke. Victor, himself, was not at the press conference as he, understandably, was taken to the hospital to tend to his injured jaw. While Lopez seemingly can’t go up in weight to take on Canelo, Golden Boy’s Richard Schaefer said there are “three names” they are considering for September 15 and an announcement will be made soon.
While Josesito “The Jaw Breaker” Lopez will no doubt continue to relish in his shocking upset, he says he won’t rest on his laurels. “I might take two days off before I’m back in the gym!” Whether he will fight at 140 or 147 will be decided in the future.
After the victory, I ran into the brand new champ and his team outside at LA Live, across from Staples Center. Everyone loves a winner and Jose and his growing entourage and new crop of fans made a splash outside of ESPN Zone. “Jose, Jose, Jose!” came the squeals from the masses of people that quickly gathered around the boxer. Feet were stepped on, people pushed and the circle expanded as everyone wanted a glimpse of this brand new champion who received the rock star treatment from the fans.
While he posed with friends, family and his fans, Lopez didn’t have time to chat with everyone as he just kept smiling–and smiling–through the crush of the masses.
His camp were still wearing their TEAM LOPEZ and “It Smells Like an Upset” T-shirts but after this huge upset win, Josesito is definitely enjoying the sweet taste of victory.
And the underdog and new champ is probably still smiling.
Photos by Maria Hedrick/MariaHedrick.com
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