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Josesito Lopez: Fortune Favors The Brave

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005 Lopez victory IMG 1175After nine rounds of his fight with Victor Ortiz on Saturday, Josesito Lopez stood motionless in his corner. His bruised face was expressionless in disbelief as he watched referee Jack Reiss signal the end of the contest. Lopez would soon come to the realization that fortune favors the brave.

***

It’s November 2008 and boxing trainer Henry Ramirez is standing at the foot of a staircase. “Jose!” he shouts. “Come down here.”

Two writers have come to the house in Big Bear, California to interview heavyweight contender Chris Arreola, but Ramirez wants to make sure they also meet his other fighter, Josesito Lopez. “Jose’s probably sleeping,” says Ramirez to the writers. “He loves to sleep.”

A minute later Lopez comes bounding down the stairs. With a wide smile and an unblemished face, he looks much younger than his 24-years. His cheery personality belies that of a prizefighter coming off the third loss of his career and struggling to make an impact in the most unforgiving of professions.

“I don’t worry about it, I just need some luck,” he says. “With hard work and a bit of luck, everything will be come together someday.” With that, he sits down on the couch and picks up a video game controller and turns on the console, ready to step into a world in which it is easier to determine his fate.

***

Lopez’ luck finally began to turn last month when a sequence of coincidental events led to him standing opposite Ortiz at LA’s Staples Center on the Showtime main event. The cancellation of a proposed fight with Kendall Holt freed up Lopez to fill a void created by Andre Berto’s withdrawal due to a positive steroid test. The catch was that Lopez would have to fight the former world titlist Ortiz at the 147 pound welterweight limit, something that the naturally smaller Riverside, CA native had never done before.

The size discrepancy was obvious as the first bell rang on Saturday and for nine rounds Lopez absorbed heavy blows from a man who was considerably stronger and punched with more power than Lopez had ever felt in his life. Ortiz’ superior talent saw him continually land jarring shots that rocked the normally aggressive Lopez into retreat. Few would have questioned Lopez if he went down from the assaults, but through grim determination he fired back at his foe, willingly taking two punches to land one of his own.

His wild hooks and uppercuts initially appeared to have little impact on Ortiz, but Lopez never became despondent; he’s accustomed to things not going his way. He kept swinging and swinging. At some point in the ninth Lopez landed a left hook that damaged Ortiz’ jaw, convincing the Ventura fighter, who was ahead on all three scorecards, to stay on his stool at the round’s end. The unlikely outcome is the biggest upset of the year and goes a small way to lessening the bad taste left by the Timothy Bradley-Manny Pacquiao scoring controversy earlier this month.

“There's a reason why they call me Josesito,” said Lopez after the fight, both eyes swollen and a welt under his cheek. “I'm 'Little Jose' for a reason. I've always been the skinny guy fighting the bigger guy, or the smallest Jose on the block. I'm used to it.”

Lopez’ hooks carried extra significance as they shattered the plans of Golden Boy Promotions as badly as they did his opponent’s jaw. Two weeks ago the promoters had the temerity to announce that Ortiz would meet Saul Alvarez in a multi-million dollar pay-per-view event on September 15th.

“I found it very disrespectful,” said Lopez, 27. “They couldn't wait to announce the fight after our fight was over? It was arrogant and disrespectful, to me and the sport.”

Lopez’ involvement in professional fighting goes back to his 18th birthday when he looked for a way to earn some money. He admits he wasn’t particularly talented at anything, including boxing. But the sentencing of his father to prison for drug trafficking soon after gave Lopez the impetus to make a career from the sport. Things didn’t get any easier when Lopez’ long-time trainer died a year later, resulting in Ramirez moving up from his assistant role.

In all, Lopez has now amassed a 30-4 (18) record, with many of his fights staged at remote venues such as the Doubletree Hotel in Ontario, CA and all four losses coming from close decisions, something not helped by his lack of connections to a major powerbroker.

Going into Saturday’s fight Lopez admitted that he has gone for long periods without a car and has taken a second job teaching fitness classes to help support his family. Such thoughts surely played on his mind in the fifth round during the several minutes of recovery time he was afforded when an illegal blow to the back of the head sent him to the canvas, leaving him visibly shaken.

“I was hurt,” acknowledged Lopez. “But there’s no way I could ever quit. This opportunity was too big for me. This was my Rocky moment and I wasn’t letting it go.”

That defiant attitude also led Lopez to question Ortiz’ withdrawal from the fight, even with a broken jaw.

“I have a big heart; Victor has no heart,” stated Lopez.

Lopez can be forgiven for doubting the fighting spirit of a man with an injury that left his bloody mouth fixed agape. Years of misfortune and toiling on the fringes can harden a fighter’s resolve to the point where it exceeds the normal reaches of human valor. Lopez is unable to put himself in the position of Ortiz; injuries take on greater consequence when one has already achieved so much.

Tellingly, Ortiz said earlier this week regarding criticism of last year’s loss to Floyd Mayweather: “I’m very confident in myself. I’ve done a lot in this sport. I don't need to prove anything to anyone.”

Lopez has never earned $2.5 million for a fight as Ortiz did for his showdown with Mayweather. He doesn’t know what it’s like to have tasted the glory of a world championship. He can’t imagine the sport’s two dominant promoters, Top Rank and Golden Boy, competing for his signature. He has never had a renowned boxing family tear itself apart for the privilege of training him as the Garcias did when Ortiz chose Danny over his brother Roberto and their father Eduardo.

Even after Saturday’s win, Lopez will have learned that recognition is not instant. At the post-fight press conference he was ushered off the dais after a few minutes so that Saul Alvarez could take the stage.

But perhaps Chris Arreola surmised everything that needs to be known about Lopez’ mindset when he said last week: “Don’t be fooled by Jose. He seems like just a kid but I’m telling you, no matter what he’ll never give up. He’s got balls. Big balls.”

Ronan Keenan can be reached at ronankeenan@yahoo.com

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Canelo vs. BJ Saunders: Predictions and Analyses from the TSS Faculty

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More than 60,000 fight fans are expected to gather at AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys, on Saturday. The turnout for the fight between Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and Billy Joe Saunders represents a turning point in the COVID-19 era. Boxing has been pretty much walled-off to the general public since a sellout crowd of 15,816 witnessed the second encounter between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder on Feb. 20, 2020 in Las Vegas.

Canelo Alvarez (55-1-2, 37 KOs) holds the WBC and WBA world titles at 168 pounds. Billy Joe Saunders (30-0, 14 KOs) owns the WBO belt. However, the hardware is largely immaterial whenever Canelo steps in the ring as he is widely considered the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. In Saunders he is meeting a slick southpaw bidding to become the second member of the Traveling community to hold multiple title belts simultaneously, joining his friend Tyson Fury. The bout headlines a 7-bout card that will air on DAZN in 200+ countries and territories worldwide and on TV Azteca in Mexico.

Whenever a fight of this magnitude comes down the pike, we invite members of our editorial staff to provide a quick analysis of the match and forecast the outcome. Their prognostications appear below with the respondents listed in alphabetical order.

The graphic is by Colorado comic book cover artist ROB AYALA, an honored guest whenever we perform this kind of exercise. Check out more of Rob’s cool illustrations at his web site fight posium.

PICKS and ANALYSIS

No gimme for Canelo here, as Saunders is a southpaw who can box, has a bit of pop in his punch, as well as a knack for making his opponents look not quite as impressive as they normally are. Still, Canelo is at the top of the boxing food chain for a reason. It’s all right for him to win some fights and not be spectacular in doing so. Figure the Mexican icon on scoring a knockdown or two along the way, but he may have to be satisfied with a win on points this time out. – BERNARD FERNANDEZ

I no longer pick against Canelo Alvarez. And certainly not against a boxing basket case like Billy Joe Saunders. There’s a huge difference in the level of maturity between these two fighters and that will be seen in the ring when Canelo becomes the first to corner the fleet-footed Saunders and put him on his back. Canelo KO in 10. – JEFFREY FREEMAN

Canelo by decision. He does everything better than Saunders, who will fight well enough to survive but not win. – THOMAS HAUSER

Billy Joe is formidable. You don’t lock in an Olympic berth at age 18 without natural talent. You don’t run circles around a big puncher like David Lemieux without a high ring IQ. But Saunders, despite his undefeated record, has been inconsistent. Canelo, as Kevin Iole noted in a recent column, doesn’t do one thing great, but he does everything well. How does one formulate a smart game plan for a boxer with no flaws to exploit? Canelo UD. – ARNE LANG

Much has been made by Saunders’ camp this week about the size of the ring that will be used in the fight. While it seems strange and even unruly that there can be such vast disparities in how large the boxing ring is or how spongy the mat can be for any professional fight card in our sport, the truth of the matter is that Saunders probably doesn’t have much hope in beating Alvarez no matter how those other factors play out. They could fight on a basketball court, and I’d still pick Alvarez. The best the cagey UK fighter will be able to muster is trying to go the distance with the Mexican. Callum Smith pulled it off back in December, but Saunders won’t quite get there. CANELO via 9th-round stoppage. – KELSEY McCARSON

There was a time, not that long ago, when I would have favoured Saunders to beat Canelo and stylistically I still feel Saunders holds all the aces. Canelo’s improvements in the last 30 months have astonished, though. He has found a meaningful fourth and fifth punch for his combinations and his strength, for whatever reason, is prestigious at whatever weight he fights. Saunders, something of a persona-non-grata here in his home country after a series of public relations disasters, is very much a man out of time.  Canelo, bodyshots, between the eighth and the tenth. – MATT McGRAIN

There is a case to be made that Canelo Alvarez has not faced a pure boxer on the level of Billy Joe Saunders since his do-si-do with Erislandy Lara in 2014, in a fight that still has some screaming robbery (Alvarez won by split decision). Of course, that was nearly seven years ago, back when Alvarez was still trading on his telenovela bonafides. Since then, he has gone on to distinguish himself as arguably the best boxer in the sport today. The same cannot be said for the erratic and self-sabotaging Saunders, who has squandered his impressive showing against David Lemieux in 2017 with consecutive lackluster outings against mostly middling opposition. The southpaw will find ways to frustrate Alvarez at times, to be sure, but expect Alvarez to slow down the jittery motions of the Brit by punishing him to the body en route to a mostly clear win on the cards. Canelo by majority decision. – SEAN NAM

I see a feeling-out type fight in the first two rounds and then Canelo begins the stalk. Saunders will be more elusive and more savvy than most of Canelo’s opponents, occasionally getting in some sharp counters. However, he will begin to tire late from an accumulation of Canelo’s body work and from backing up. This will allow the Mexican to increase the tempo looking for a way to close the show. The Traveler will survive. But Canelo will win with a dominating UD. – TED SARES

Two names come to mind for me when deciding how this fight will play out. First, Erislandy Lara, who I saw outbox but not outfight Alvarez. Second is Alexander Povetkin, whose horrible performance against Dillian Whyte was reportedly due to coronavirus residue, which Alvarez also claims to have been afflicted by. Can Saunders, another left-hander with a bit more of a reach advantage than Lara, take advantage of a possibly weakened Canelo? Don’t bet on it unless Cinco de Mayo weekend gets cancelled and nobody from Texas or Mexico shows up for the fight. Saunders seems capable of making it interesting, but Alvarez wins by wide decision or late TKO.  – PHIL WOOLEVER

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A Heinous Crime Will Likely Land Felix Verdejo in Prison for the Rest of His Life

Arne K. Lang

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“Felix has a sparkling personality, a flashy fighting style, and he’s good. He’s also f-a-s-t.” The quote is from Thomas Hauser who wrote those words in June of 2015 after Verdejo improved his record to 18-0 with a near-shutout of fellow unbeaten Ivan Nejara on an HBO card from the Theater at Madison Square Garden.

At this juncture it appeared that Verdejo, a former Olympian, was destined to become the next icon of Puerto Rican fight fans, the heir-apparent to Felix Trinidad and Miguel Cotto.

Today, news stories about Verdejo make no reference to his sparkling personality. It’s an attribute inconsistent with the portrait of a monster.

This past Saturday, as hardcore fight fans were glued to the telecast of a show in Manchester, England, it came to light that authorities in San Juan, Puerto Rico, had found the body of a young woman who had been reported missing after failing to turn up at her job at a dog grooming salon on Thursday morning, that the decedent was plainly the victim of foul play, that Verdejo was the primary suspect in her murder, and that he wasn’t cooperating with the authorities.

When the corpse of the missing woman was fished from a lagoon, her body was reportedly so mangled that forensic examiners had to consult dental records to confirm that the decedent was indeed Keishla Marlen Rodriguez Ortiz, the 27-year-old woman they were looking for. The boxer and Ms. Rodriguez had reportedly known each other since middle school. According to Rodriguez’s family members, she was pregnant with Verdejo’s child and the boxer, who was married with a 2-year-old daughter, wasn’t happy about it.

Keishla

Keishla Rodriguez

With each new detail, the story became more sordid.

It is alleged that the victim was thrown off a bridge after being punched in the face and injected with a syringe filled with an unidentified substance. Verdejo and an accomplice – who hasn’t been charged and is identified only as a witness – then tied her hands and feet with wire and weighed the body down with a cinderblock before tossing it into the water. When the body was slow to sink, Verdejo allegedly fired a bullet at it. A shell casing was found on the bridge and the authorities have corroborating evidence from toll booth cameras.

As first reported by veteran boxing writer Jake Donovan, the boxer surrendered to FBI agents yesterday evening (Sunday). He appeared this morning via zoom before federal magistrate Camille Velez Rive who ordered him returned to prison and held without bail.

Many of the headlines in the tabloids say that Verdejo is facing the death penalty. That’s technically true. The three crimes for which he has been charged — carjacking resulting in death, kidnapping resulting in death, and intentionally killing an unborn child – are federal crimes. As a commonwealth of the United States, Puerto Rico is subject to U.S. federal laws. However, Puerto Rico abolished capitol punishment in 1929. The country hasn’t executed anyone since 1927 when a man named Pascual Ramos was hanged for killing his boss.

It’s doubtful that prosecutors would pursue the death penalty unless the trial were moved to the mainland. However, domestic violence has become a hot-button issue in Puerto Rico and the national mood toward crimes of this nature is trending toward harsher retribution. Yesterday, according to the Daily Mail, hundreds of people, mostly women, including Rodriguez’s sister, gathered at the bridge that spans the lagoon to pay their respects and demand justice for the victims of domestic violence.

Felix Verdejo turned pro  at age 19 after representing Puerto Rico in the 2012 London Olympics. He rose to #1 in the WBO lightweight rankings after defeating Oliver Flores in February of 2017, but was demoted for inactivity. There were extenuating circumstances including fights that fell out and a 6-day stay in a hospital following a motorcycle accident.

He returned to the ring after a 13 ½ month absence and suffered his first pro defeat. An unheralded Mexican, Antonio Lozada, stopped him in the final round, the 10th. Verdejo was ahead on two of the scorecards through the nine completed rounds. There were 23 seconds remaining in the contest when the bout was stopped.

Verdejo’s most recent fight came in December of last year. He was stopped in the ninth round by Masayoshi Nakatani at the MGM Bubble in Las Vegas, reducing his pro record to 27-2. As happened against Lozada, Verdejo faded late, squandering a big lead.

Verdejo photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank via Getty Images

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In Boxing, a Quadrilogy is Rare. Going 2-2 Against Butterbean Even More So

Ted Sares

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The late heavyweight Mitch Rose could not translate his Golden Gloves amateur skills to the pro ranks. He retired with an underwhelming 2-11-1 mark, but he did enough quirky things to put his life story in a book and one of the most memorable parts of it involved his being the first fighter to stop Eric “Butterbean” Esch, the legendary knockout machine who was trumpeted as the King of the Four Rounders. Rose did it on an undercard bout at Madison Square Garden on a show with Oscar De La Hoya and Arturo Gatti in the featured bouts.

“… Rose was a tried and true New Yorker. As loud and funny as he was, he never seemed to take himself too seriously. He had a big heart, a lot of dreams, and an emotional honesty that was extremely refreshing.” — Robert Mladinich, NYFIGHTS

As Bernard Fernandez noted, Eric Esch, aka Butterbean, rebounded nicely. “(He) went on to continue his unlikely advance to stardom of sorts as a bald and blubbery blaster.”

Butterbean, who also competed in MMA and in Tough Man competitions, developed a cult following and retired with a boxing record of 77-10-4. But Butterbean’s last three losses as a boxer came between 2009-2013, long after he should have left the boxing scene.

Enter Kenny “The Raven” Craven (here’s a recent picture).

Craven

Craven

 “Wherever you find yourself in time… Please remember to do the right thing.” — Kenny Craven

A soulful and righteous man who believes in equality and walks the walk, Craven, a Mississippian from tiny Ellisville, is a follower of the teachings of Desmond Tutu. He is pro-people and pro-underdog and will not bypass injustice.

“I wrote a post yesterday on Facebook that expanded my view of the power of the people. All of us know we have this power but we have no idea how to use it. Well, we do know how it is used but we make a conscious decision not to. Why? We the people have supreme authority but we give this gift to just a few people who do not even like us.” — Craven

Kenny Craven finished his pro boxing career with a 28-20 record. He won 23 by knockout BUT all of his 20 losses came by knockout and that made him an exciting fighter, if nothing else. Kenny was a fan favorite on the southern circuit and if his opponent didn’t get him, he usually got his opponent and the fans could anticipate with near 100 percent accuracy that someone was getting knocked down.

The other thing about Kenny was that he fought a Who’s Who of elite fighters. They included Henry Akinwande (37-1-1 coming in), Michael Nunn (55-4), Vaughn Bean (41-2 and no relation to Butterbean), Attila Levin (27-1), Albert Sosnowski (33-1), Clifford Etienne (28-2-2), Calvin Brock (25-0), Timur Ibragimov (20-0-1), Oliver McCall (46-8), Vassiliy Jirov (36-3-1), and Ezra Sellers (28-7).

In 1999, “The Raven” was stopped by Butterbean (48-1-2) in the second round on the undercard of the De La Hoya vs Trinidad fight at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. It was Alabama vs Mississippi. However, in the first round, Craven displayed the blueprint on how to beat the ‘King of Four Rounders” by using a stick and run approach.

In 2005, Kenny lasted until the third round before the Bean (then 71-3-4) overwhelmed him.

 But just three months later in Jackson, Mississippi, Kenny finally figured out Esch and utilized the blueprint by jabbing and moving laterally, and won a majority decision over the heavily favored Bean in front of a small but howling and disbelieving crowd. The fact that Tonya Harding was on the undercard added to the circus-like atmosphere.

Then, three months later in Bejing, China, Kenny did it again. Yes, in China!!? This time he had his way with Eric and cruised to an easy win.

In a rare Quadrilogy, Kenny Craven went 2-2 with Eric Esch who never managed to knock Kenny down or even hurt him. No mean feat.

Mitch Rose had his moment. Kenny Craven had two. As Kenny says, “I did the best I could for a guy with three amateur fights and growing up in rural Mississippi. I loved every second, the good and the bad.”

Ted Sares can be reached at tedsares@roadrunner.com

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