Josesito Lopez Returns to Center Stage, Playing his Favorite Role

Josesito Lopez relishes being the underdog. He’s got nothing to lose and everything to gain against Keith Thurman Saturday night on PBC on FOX.

Josesito Lopez has been in this position before. He knows what it’s like to be dismissed before the opening bell—and what it takes to flip the script.

The stage is set for Lopez to do that tomorrow night, when he faces WBA world welterweight titlist Keith Thurman at Brooklyn’s Barclay’s Center (FOX, 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT).

A victory against “One Time” would be the finest of Lopez’s 16-year pro career. Thurman sat atop the welterweight division after unifying the WBA and WBC titles versus Danny Garcia in March 2017. He hasn’t fought since. Multiple injuries delayed his ring return and caused him to lose the WBC belt.

Thurman, 28-0 (22 KOs), will end his 22-month layoff on Saturday night versus the upset-minded Lopez, a durable, skilled veteran.

“People are overlooking me,” Lopez said. “It's shown. I don't mind it. Does it bother me? Not at all, really. It motivates me. It has motivated me. I'm definitely ready. And to whoever it may be a surprise to – I'm taking the championship belt this Saturday.”

Lopez, 34, knows this may be his last chance at a world title. The Riverside, California, native is familiar with the role of reserved B-side, expected to leave just as quietly as he came.

In June 2012, Victor Ortiz was supposed to walk through Lopez en route to bigger and better. Instead, he got his jaw and resolve broken in a back-and-forth that ended with Lopez’s arm raised after nine grueling rounds.

The momentum was short-lived. Three months later, Lopez moved up to 154-pounds and was stopped by Saul “Canelo” Alvarez.  In June 2013, he returned to welterweight and suffered a TKO loss to Marcos Maidana.

“Those were great battles,” Lopez says of those defeats. “I had a big disadvantage against Canelo weight-wise. But I showed my true grit and my will. And Maidana was a very tough opponent, caught me with a good punch, and I was stopped early.”

Lopez won three straight afterward, earning a March 2015 shot at the WBA interim 147-pound title, against Andre Berto. The “Riverside Rocky” was competitive but ultimately succumbed in six heated rounds.

 

People are overlooking me. It's shown. I don't mind it. Does it bother me? Not at all, really. It motivates me. Welterweight contender, Josesito Lopez

The loss prompted Lopez to assess his career path. When he returned to the ring after a 21-month long layoff, he had a new face in his corner: respected trainer Robert Garcia.

Lopez has won three straight under Garcia’s tutelage, including an impressive unanimous decision win over the previously-undefeated Miguel Cruz last April. He credits his resurgence to his new trainer—and to lessons learned in defeat.

“You know what? I've had several great battles against some warriors, some very good champions,” Lopez said. “But I think what I bring to the table now is adding a little more intelligence and skill to that will that I've showed in previous past fights.”

Lopez hasn’t left the gym since the Cruz win.

“I've had great preparation,” he said. “I've been training in the training camp, actually the same training camp that [four-division world champion] Mikey Garcia trains in for his fights. Everything has gone great, went perfect, so I can't complain about training camp.

“I've sparred absolutely everybody in the camp. I'm sparring guys as heavy as fighting at middleweight. I really can't name them all, absolutely everyone from 140 to 160 that Robert Garcia has in Riverside Training Camp. I sparred them all. They've all helped me.”

The talented and accomplished Thurman may be the betting favorite, but there are some variables that could benefit Lopez. Questions remain over whether Thurman is fully healed from procedures to his right elbow and left hand—and if he’s lost any hunger.  

Lopez, 36-7 (19 KOs), says he’s prepared for the best version of Thurman but is quick to point out that person may no longer exist.

“I think it's not easy coming back from a layoff. I know that myself, because I was myself in a two-year layoff about two and a half years ago. So, I know the feeling. I know the obstacles that you have to go through physically and mentally.”

If Thurman has lost a step, mentally or physically, he could find himself in a war against a battled-tested warrior with nothing to lose.

"I'm confident in my abilities. Talk is cheap to me,” Lopez said. “What other people say makes no difference to me. I've come here to do a job and I'm going to do it.

“But either way – no matter what – he chose the wrong opponent to come back to. And I'm going to prove that.”

For a closer look at Thurman vs Lopez, check out our fight page. 

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