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“Christmas” has come early for former junior welterweight Josesito Lopez, whose birthday is also TODAY, July 19. The Riverside prizefighter will be taking on redheaded superstar Canelo Alvarez on September 15 in Las Vegas in his biggest career showdown to date. While critics say the new WBC Silver Welterweight Champion will be undersized and overmatched in facing the favored 154-pound Canelo, you can never count this underdog out.
And this is one underdog who wants to give back to the community and spread the message that with hard work you CAN beat the odds. Lopez, who scored a shocking upset over Victor Ortiz on June 23, was the special guest at the Union Rescue Mission’s recent “Christmas in July” festivities for the homeless kids living on Skid Row in downtown L.A.
Held in the gritty ghetto of San Pedro Street, the boxer was invited by the nonprofit organization’s Alex Cornejo for a day in the “snow” that brought smiles to the homeless in the area.
The July festivities brought a bit of relief to the hundreds of impoverished children and their families stretched by these harsh economic times. Cornejo and his band of merry elves transformed the seedy streets of squalor into a winter wonderland for the kiddies. With 20 tons of snow, carnival games, face painting from famed artist Jamie Graden, and gifts from Santa (sporting swim trunks!), the invited guests enjoyed a respite from the heat of over a 100 degrees and a break from the gnarly street life they face each and every day. During the bash, the tots also got to feast on Subway sandwiches, cotton candy, popcorn, snow cones and more. They even got to see a “face off” of Josesito Lopez vs. Ol’ St. Nick.
And then there was also the highly-anticipated snowball fight.
New champ Lopez, 28, had the honor of throwing out the very first snowball (aimed at a Canelo photo provided by Alex Cornejo). Cornejo invited the fighter to inspire the youngsters to “never give up.” Nicknamed the “Riverside Rocky,” the boxer scored a come-from-behind victory against Ortiz at their championship bout at the Staples Center. Lopez told me he grew up skinny, hungry and poor, just like many of the youth he met during this July bash. Josesito knows what it’s like to rise from poverty and wants to encourage the kids. He has now reached the pinnacle of success. Co-promoted by Thompson Boxing Promotions and Goossen Tutor Promotions, the SoCal slugger says he is living proof that hard work pays off and told the crowd to never ever give up on your dreams as the attendees got to see his championship belt up close and personal.
During the outdoor gala sponsored by Subway Restaurants, Jose told me he actually worked at a Subway back in the day. “So before you became a ‘knockout artist’ you were a ‘sandwich artist’?” I asked. “Yes! I worked there for over a year; I love their Subway Melts,” he chuckled. “I also worked at a warehouse for a short time and I teach boxing at a local gym too.”
He may hold a champion’s belt, but this humble boxer does what is needed to make ends meet. Lopez believes in continuing to persevere to make dreams become a reality. Many who met the world titlist were impressed with his work ethic and down-to-earth persona. The URM’s Justin Klein said he relates to the young boxer. Klein was a collegiate athlete (wrestling) and also worked at a Subway restaurant while in school. “Having Josesito here is exactly what the kids need today,” Klein commented.
And Jose has also proven to be a role model for his younger brother, Victor. The soon-to-be 13 year old looks up to this hero in the family. Victor has a blast meeting the kids, testing his skill at the games and also waiting in line at the face painting booth. The youngest Lopez opted for a “tattoo” like boxing heavyweight Mike Tyson. Sporting an ink design like “Iron Mike” on his face, the brothers went on a special tour of the rescue mission’s facilities with Alex Cornejo.
Alex said he invited Jose to be the 2012 celebrity guest because he is the “ultimate underdog” who achieved victory. “I saw the fight live at Staples and I lost my voice screaming when he won!” Cornejo laughed. “He was such a big underdog and I felt he could really inspire all the kids here.”
Cornejo (Manager of the URM Volunteer Department) is also an amateur boxing trainer and works tirelessly with the URM Board of Directors, committees, sponsors and teams of hard-working volunteers. Alex’s daughter Alexia was another who joined the troops of volunteers who offered treats and an afternoon of fun for the homeless families used to scraping by on welfare and food stamps. Many of the babies, kids and teens find temporary shelter at the Union Rescue Mission and sister property Hope Gardens.
While they may face the bleak reality of living on the garbage-lined streets, this one day of pure delight with complimentary food and entertainment provided smiles for all. The rescue mission has been helping the community since 1891 and this annual “Christmas in July” gala was first initiated in 2003, giving the homeless a chance to experience snow for the very first time.
After all, it’s not everyday you get to be in a snowball fight, meet a boxing champion and Santa Claus…especially on Skid Row.
“Don’t EVER give up!” champ Josesito Lopez reminded them as he spoke to the large crowd.
The champ then set aside his green and gold belt as he engaged in a fight (of snowballs) with the kids!
Photos by Michele Chong
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