When Josesito Lopez got the big opportunity he had always been looking for last year, he took full advantage of it.
As a late substitute for Andre Berto, who had been dropped from the fight because of a failed random prefight drug test, Lopez duked it out with heavily favored Victor Ortiz last June and had what he would later call his "Rocky moment."
It was a career-altering victory for the Riverside, Calif., fighter, who had moved up from the junior welterweight division to welterweight to face Ortiz, a former welterweight titleholder who was trying to bounce back from his knockout loss to Floyd Mayweather Jr. nine months earlier. After the victory, Lopez was suddenly being mentioned as a potential opponent for multiple fights, and it was hard not to get caught up in the joy of his upset. As bad as some might have felt for Ortiz, it was easy to be happy for Lopez and his feel-good story.
He parlayed the victory into another significant fight, but this one was far more daunting than the Ortiz bout appeared even when it was made. Lopez agreed to move up yet another weight class to challenge junior middleweight titlist Canelo Alvarez in September on Mexican Independence Day weekend in Las Vegas. Alvarez had seen one opponent after another drop out during the lead-up, culminating with Ortiz blowing their scheduled fight after Lopez did a number on him.
Once again, Lopez was a huge underdog. This time, it was obvious from the opening bell that the size difference was going to be too much for him to overcome. Although Lopez kept winging punches and getting up from knockdowns, Alvarez steamrolled him. He dropped Lopez three times, battered him and stopped him in the fifth round of the one-sided mismatch that most had considered it to be when the contracts were signed.
But Lopez took his licking, and now he's ready to come back for a fairer fight.
He has returned to welterweight, where he belongs, and will take on powerful puncher Marcos Maidana on Saturday night (Showtime, 10 ET; preliminary bouts on Showtime Extreme begin at 8 ET) at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.
"I'm ready to go at a weight where I feel the most comfortable at and against one of the toughest fighters in my weight division," Lopez said. "I'm definitely excited as a fighter and as a boxing fan for this next fight."
Also on the tripleheader: Junior middleweight contenders Erislandy Lara (17-1-2, 11 KOs), a Cuban defector living in Houston, and Los Angeles-based Mexican Alfredo "Perro" Angulo (22-2, 18 KOs) will square off for a vacant interim title, and in the opening bout, Houston junior middleweight prospect Jermell Charlo (20-0, 10 KOs) will step up his competition level against Demetrius Hopkins (33-2-1, 13 KOs), of Philadelphia, in a scheduled 12-round bout.
"I wouldn't say the move to 154 was a great decision, but I have no regrets on taking that fight," Lopez said. "I fought one of the best fighters out there. I lost, but it helped me. I think that moving up to 154 has probably helped me mold a little bit better to 147, so now I feel a little bit better and feel more comfortable at 147."
Said Henry Ramirez, Lopez's trainer: "The return to 147 pounds will do him a lot of good. I think the time off [since September] will do him a lot of good too, but we didn't really plan to be off this long."
Maidana (33-3, 30 KOs), a former junior welterweight titlist from Argentina who also owns a knockout win against Ortiz, agrees that Lopez -- who fought from 2003, when he turned pro, until 2008 as a junior lightweight and lightweight -- was back in the correct division. He says he isn't taking anything for granted against Lopez just because Alvarez blitzed him.
"I feel it's going to be a tough fight," Maidana said through translator Eric Gomez, who is one of promoter Golden Boy's matchmakers. "He went up to fight Canelo. He had no business in that division, so I think that at 147 it's more his weight class and it's going to be a tough fight. I know he's a very good fighter.
"He's going to be stronger at his weight class, so I have a very, very difficult fight. But I'm going to do whatever it takes to win, and I've been preparing myself to win. I've got to look good, and I've got to win."
Whatever the weight is, Lopez (30-5, 18 KOs), 28, figures to be in for a tough battle against Maidana, 29, who has been in a number of hard-hitting and competitive fights, such as against Jesus Soto Karass (on the Alvarez-Lopez undercard), Amir Khan, Ortiz and Erik Morales.
"He's a proven strong puncher, so you've always got to be aware of that," Lopez said. "I think I have a pretty good chin, and you know what? I can take as hard as I can give it."
Maidana, who is working with 2012 ESPN.com trainer of the year Robert Garcia for a third fight and has been training at Garcia's base in Oxnard, Calif., rather than in Argentina, should be sharp.
Although Maidana's major fights have been in the United States in recent years, he has fought three of his past seven fights in Argentina in order to remain active. He took a lesser fight in December and knocked out Angel Martinez in the third round at famed Luna Park in Buenos Aires.
"It's helped me stay sharp and conditioned," Maidana said, "and that's exactly the reason why I do [take fights in Argentina]."
Mayweather will still have up to four fights left on his Showtime/CBS contract after the Alvarez fight and probably will return to welterweight. Like everybody else in the division, Lopez and Maidana want to at least be in the conversation for the big one.
"[A victory over Maidana] would absolutely mean I'm near the top of the division," Lopez said. "I think we're two of the toughest fighters at 147, so definitely a victory here would put us near the top and get us in line to fight some of the best fighters in the world. So who wins is very important."
Said Maidana: "I've fought some big names in the past, but this is what's in front of me. This is the next fight, and I have to get past this to be considered for bigger fights and to keep moving up the ladder."