'Little Jose' pulls upset as big as any

Top upset of 2012? Josesito Lopez might have also delivered fight of the year

Updated: June 24, 2012, 2:12 AM ET
By Arash Markazi | ESPNLosAngeles.com

LOS ANGELES -- Josesito Lopez is used to being overlooked. He has had to deal with it his entire life. But never before was his perceived unimportance and insignificance shoved in his face as publicly as it was last week.

While Lopez prepared for the fight of his life against Victor Ortiz, it was announced that Ortiz would face Saul "Canelo" Alvarez on Sept. 15, headlining a pay-per-view-card at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

Of course, the fight was contingent on Ortiz's beating Lopez on Saturday night at Staples Center, but that seemed like a foregone conclusion to Oscar De La Hoya and the crew at Golden Boy Promotions, who represent both Ortiz and Alvarez, as they patted themselves on the back for setting up such a great fight.

"I felt disrespected," Lopez said. "I wanted to mess up their plans."

On Saturday night, Lopez not only messed up their plans, he shattered them with the same force he used to shatter Ortiz's jaw and pull off the upset of the year to end the fight of the year.

In the end, Ortiz, who had gotten into Lopez's face at Friday's weigh-in and spoke of destroying Lopez at Thursday's news conference, simply quit. He said he broke his jaw in the fifth round, and by the end of the ninth round he couldn't physically continue. Narrowly leading on all of the judges' cards, Ortiz was seemingly urged by his corner to continue when he got up and called the fight himself.

"I'm a man, and I'm not intimidated by anything," Lopez said. "I have a big heart. He tried to intimidate me, but it didn't work. Victor has no heart."

Lopez had hinted at this notion to those around him ever since he was a late substitute to face Ortiz, after Andre Berto tested positive last month for a performance-enhancing drug. Since the Ortiz-Berto fight had already been pushed back once because of an injury to Berto, Ortiz opted to keep the date and face a substitute instead. Lopez, however, wasn't just any substitute.

"I know I can frustrate him," Lopez said before the fight. "I can take his will."

Lopez did more than that during an epic back-and-forth fight with more ebbs and flows than a Hollywood drama. He took away the WBC silver welterweight title and a seven-figure payday against Alvarez. As much as Ortiz claimed he wasn't focused on Alvarez before the fight, it was hard to ignore Canelo as he sat ringside next to De La Hoya during the fight. It was also hard to ignore the stunned faces of both De La Hoya and Alvarez when the fight was over.

"I couldn't close my mouth," Ortiz said in the ring before being taken to a hospital. "My corner wanted me to continue, but I just couldn't."

Lopez grew up in poverty in Riverside, Calif., and still calls the city his home. He watched his father, Jose Sr., get sent to a Texas prison nearly nine years ago in a drug transportation case and said he found solace in the boxing gym. Boxing, however, hasn't always been kind to Lopez. He has suffered three narrow defeats by decision since 2006 and was able to land the Ortiz fight only after his scheduled bout against Kendall Holt on the same day was canceled.

It seems the cards have always been stacked against Lopez, which is a position he was more than comfortable with coming into Saturday's fight.

"There's a reason why they call me Josesito," Lopez said. "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 that."

After the fight, as he walked the bowels of Staples Center to the news conference, Lopez was still stunned by the championship belt that was draped over his right shoulder. He had never fought for a world title before, and a month ago he was looking to face anybody, anywhere after his fight got canceled. Now, here he was, suddenly, unbelievably, a world champion.

"This was my Rocky moment, and I wasn't going to let it go," Lopez said. "This is my Rocky moment. I didn't plan ahead. I didn't plan a single hour after the fight. I didn't bring clothes to wear. I didn't know what was going to go on after the fight. My plan was to get in here and go from there. I'm still in somewhat of a shock. We did it. We did it."

Even during his news conference after the fight, he was quickly ushered off the dais after addressing the media for about five minutes, as Alvarez was brought up to promote his Sept. 15 fight against an opponent to be named later. While Lopez tried to answer reporters' questions off to the side, they were asked to be quiet before eventually being told to move to the hallway while Alvarez spoke.

It was almost a fitting end to an unbelievable night for Lopez.

"I did it," Lopez said. "This poor, skinny Mexican from Riverside did it."

Arash Markazi

ESPNLosAngeles.com