- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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Golden Boy Promotions and Showtime made official on Wednesday one of boxing's worst-kept secrets -- junior middleweight titlist Saul "Canelo" Alvarez will defend his belt against Josesito Lopez, who is coming off a major upset of Victor Ortiz, on Sept. 15, at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
Alvarez, one of Mexico's most popular sports stars, will be fighting on Mexican Independence Day weekend, a traditional date for a major card headlined by a Mexican fighter. However, the card will go head-to-head with rival promoter Top Rank's HBO PPV card that features one of the most anticipated fights in boxing, a long-discussed showdown between lineal middleweight champion Sergio Martinez and titleholder Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., another of Mexico's major stars. That fight will take place about a mile away at the Thomas & Mack Center.
In the Alvarez-Lopez co-feature, featherweight titlist Jhonny Gonzalez (52-7, 45 KOs) will face former junior featherweight titlist Daniel Ponce De Leon (43-4, 35 KOs) in an all-Mexican fight.
The Showtime telecast will include four fights, although the other two bouts have not been announced. Showtime also announced that it will produce a new edition of its "All Access" documentary series in conjunction with the fight promotion.
"We know the exceptional talent we have in Mexican superstar Canelo, and certainly Josesito Lopez deserves the opportunity to face him after his stunning upset victory over Victor Ortiz on June 23," Golden Boy president Oscar De La Hoya said. "It is going to be another prideful Mexican Independence Day weekend for Mexican and Mexican-American fans having their most celebrated fighter, Canelo, fighting that night along with Jhonny Gonzalez and Daniel Ponce De Leon, who are going to deliver their own electrifying championship battle."
Lopez's rise to this level of fight is nothing short of stunning. Two months ago he was a virtual unknown, a former lightweight and second-tier junior welterweight contender preparing to face former titlist Kendall Holt on ESPN2 on June 22.
However, Holt withdrew from their bout, leaving Lopez without anything scheduled. But when former welterweight titlist Andre Berto tested positive for a steroid a few weeks before he was supposed to face former titleholder Victor Ortiz on June 23 in a rematch of their 2011 barnburner, Berto was dropped from the fight.
Lopez (30-4, 18 KOs), 27, of Riverside, Calif., accepted an offer to take Berto's place and went on to pull the big upset. Trailing on all three scorecards, he broke Ortiz's jaw in two places and forced him to quit on the stool after the ninth round. The shocking outcome ruined Golden Boy's already-set plans for an Alvarez-Ortiz Showtime PPV fight on Sept. 15.
Lopez is Alvarez's fourth opponent for the date. He was originally supposed to face Paul Williams on pay-per-view, but Williams was in a career-ending motorcycle accident that left him paralyzed a few days after the fight was made. Then James Kirkland dropped out because he was still recovering from shoulder surgery and realized he would not be able to fully train, plus he was in a dispute with Golden Boy over his purse. Then Ortiz took Kirkland's place and got injured in a loss, opening the door for Lopez, whose fight was moved from pay-per-view to regular Showtime.
"If there is anyone who deserves a shot at Canelo, it's Josesito because he showed that heart and will can determine the outcome of any fight. I've never seen a fighter show that," Golden Boy chief executive Richard Schaefer said.
Alvarez (40-0-1, 29 KOs), who turns 22 on July 18, is making the jump from HBO to fight on Showtime for the first time -- like many of Golden Boy's fighters have been doing. He was ringside as Lopez defeated Ortiz, and said he was impressed by his performance.
"I am happy to be fighting Josesito Lopez on Mexican Independence Day weekend and to give all of our fans a tremendous battle," Alvarez said. "I was ringside for his fight against Victor Ortiz and saw the talent he possesses. It will be very competitive, but nothing can take away my desire to be the best in the sport. I am also excited to be fighting for the Mexican people and Mexican-American fans on Mexican Independence Day weekend. I look forward to showing so many people who will be watching me across the United States that I love being a champion. I want them to think of me as one of the greatest fighters ever."
After Lopez defeated Ortiz most thought he would not get the fight with Alvarez because of the significant weight disparity. Alvarez has a title in the 154-pound division. Lopez fought most of his career in the 130s and then moved up to the 140-pound junior welterweight division in 2008. He fought Ortiz at a career-heavy 144 pounds and now will be facing a man 10 pounds heavier than his heaviest weight.
"Josesito Lopez may not be as well-known as Canelo, but he has already shown that it would be a mistake for any opponent to overlook Josesito Lopez," Showtime Sports chief Stephen Espinoza said. "Many counted him out in his last fight against Victor Ortiz, but he stunned the Showtime audience and boxing fans worldwide with his gutsy performance and earned his shot at Canelo."
Whatever the weight, Lopez is just psyched to have another big opportunity.
"I am so happy to have the chance to continue my career fighting another great champion in Canelo Alvarez, especially on such a big weekend like Mexican Independence Day," Lopez said. "I know they put me in the ring with Victor Ortiz to have me beat and now they are doing the same thing with Canelo. I was a big underdog with Ortiz and now I'm a bigger underdog with Canelo, but I'm up for the challenge."
The Gonzalez-Ponce De Leon co-feature is a fight that has been discussed for years.
"This is a fight I have been wanting for a long time, and now to have the opportunity to do it for my Mexican people is so great," Gonzalez said. "That is a big weekend for everyone, and I am going to show the world why I am still the best in the division."
Added Ponce De Leon: "Gonzalez is a very good fighter, but I have the experience and ability to beat him and take his title from him. The Mexican fans will all be watching and there is going to be tremendous pressure on all of us to win our bouts and look great doing it. I will become the new champion that night, and my career will move up to a new level."