Measured against the HBO pay-per-view main event the same night, the Showtime main event pitting Saul Canelo Alvarez against Josesito Lopez comes up short. Measured even against one of its undercard fights, Jhonny Gonzalez-Daniel Ponce De Leon, it is also stubbier. And measured as a replacement fight for the various would-be Canelo opponents, it is significantly shorter than Paul Williams or James Kirkland, too.
But as time has gone on, Alvarez-Lopez has grown on me, when considering it in a vacuum. Lopez’s real growth has contributed to it: Two fights ago, he was a junior welterweight, and one fight ago, an undersized welterweight. Preparing to move up yet again, to junior middleweight, Lopez recently was recorded at a higher pre-fight weight than the man he’s moving up to face, for whatever those traditionally unreliable figure are worth. So, too, have Lopez’s upsets gotten bigger and bigger. Three of his last four wins are upsets, and the one he lost was an upset most think he earned but that the judges took away from him.
It’s getting hard to count out Lopez, no matter the odds. They are long against Alvarez, a wildly popular Mexican whose promoter Golden Boy is unwisely thrusting Alvarez into an unwinable crosstown Las Vegas duel for attention against the other most popular Mexican pug, Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr.,who is in a far better match-up. Alvarez is, at least, the favorite in the ring against his opponent, unlike Chavez — he’s the historically bigger man and the more acclaimed talent, even if to this day opinions are strongly divided about whether Alvarez has a high ceiling or a low one.
And there’s another appetizing element: Alvarez could be up against Miguel Cotto next, a bout placing two of the sport’s biggest stars in the ring. That’s got dual appeal, in that Alvarez-Cotto is a hell of an action fight, and Lopez played spoiler the last time he was overlooked, when he beat Victor Ortiz over the summer, just as Ortiz was being lined up for… Alvarez.
I wouldn’t make the case that Lopez is the best opponent Alvarez has confronted. But the more I compare, the more I think he’s in the ballpark with Kermit Cintron or Ryan Rhodes, anyway — about the most live opponents Alvarez has beaten.
Alvarez has also beaten a faded Shane Mosley and Alfonso Gomez, as well as an undersized Matthew Hatton, and that’s the extent of his “big” wins. But some people see a fighter with a world of potential. I do like his combination punching. He lacks speed, but makes up for it with tight, short shots. Technically his offense is very sharp; he’s got a crisp jab, for instance. And he’s pretty good on D, too. He’s no knockout puncher, per se, but he lands so much and so accurately that he can beat up and stop people.
But speed remains an issue. So, too, will doubters continue to raise the fact that he was once authentically hurt by blown-up lightweight Jose Cotto, although it was a good sign about his willpower that he was able to regain his composure and eventually stop the smaller man.
Lopez is probably as slow or slower than Alvarez, but he has one major advantage over most of Alvarez’s “name” opponents, most of whom have been at the tail end of their careers: He’s still young and fresh. He’s taken a beating in almost all his fights, because his defense isn’t all that good (despite some improvement there against Ortiz), but he’s basically in his prime. And he’s coming off a career-best win, having found his groove as a pro after struggling with discipline earlier in his career.
Cintron and Mosley were more or less ready to wilt. Lopez doesn’t seem to understand what that means. If Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr.’s biggest weapon is his ability to take a punch rather than any specific blow of his own, so too is Lopez’s biggest weapon his heart. You might be able to back him up or stun him for a few seconds, but that’s all you get. In the meantime, he’s throwing hooking shots at you with both hands to your head and body, working in an uppercut on occasion, all of it usually in a sloppy manner but against Ortiz in a neater fashion. He had solid power at junior welter, and better-than-expected power at welter — he was able to break Ortiz’s jaw, after all — and is the taller fighter, so for all we know he’s got a frame that will allow him to pack on junior middleweight power. His team says he has done just that.
Where I start to worry about Lopez is that he looked awfully beaten up against Ortiz, like his body couldn’t handle punishment from a strong welterweight. Alvarez isn’t as hard-hitting a junior middleweight as Ortiz is a hard-hitting welterweight, but Alvarez is a bigger man than Ortiz and very well could dish out more punishment than Ortiz did.
I expect Lopez to be reasonably competitive, but to lose most rounds and take a horrid hiding by fight’s end. He’ll give Alvarez his own lumps, but will be struggling to crawl to the final bell. Alvarez by unanimous decision. As a fight, it might not live up to Chavez’s or Gonzalez-Ponce De Leon, but it very well could hold its own.