Lopez, 29- with 17 KOs, on the other hand, has been developed by Riverside, CA trainer Henry Ramirez since the beginning. Like the 22 year old Vargas, Lopez turned pro young, at age eighteen. Along the way to this fight, he suffered three defeats, two of which were very close. But at age 27 and with 176 rounds under his belt, Lopez feels the timing is just right for this moment. And while he is the underdog, he feels he is more than live.
“I started boxing when I was eight,” Lopez told me at the press conference announcing the bout. “I turned pro when I was eighteen, very young. I feel now I am barely starting to box. Everything is so fresh so new. Everything is falling together, everything is going good. I feel I have a lot more years to fight. I think this is barely the beginning. I am getting the right training. I am more focused mentally, physically. So everything is good.”
Lopez’ trainer felt that the fight was almost too good to be true. Not one to be overconfident with his fighters, he has seen a maturity in how Lopez is living and fighting and so he was all over the fight when it was offered.
“Oh f**k. I jumped at it,” Ramirez told me. “As long as the money was right, which it ended up being, I was fine with it. [Lopez] has been tested. He’s had a setback but he’s had a comeback and reevaluated himself. I was thrilled.”
Vargas is a good young fighter but is more prospect than contender. The problem he faces coming into this fight is that he has not been truly tested. He has yet to face a peer or someone near their prime who can ask questions of him that a faded veteran cannot. One has to wonder what “Mayweather Promotions” was thinking making this fight. Floyd has already spoken of how Amir Khan will have to face Jessie Vargas if he wants at shot at “Money.” It’s a valid question to wonder if this is too much too soon for the young man. Yes he can move well and he is fast with some good defense. But what happens when he gets punched in the mouth or hits someone who doesn’t fold? We’re about to find out.
For both men, this is a big step up in terms of the amount of publicity and pressure. The card promises to be one of the biggest of the year and certainly the biggest of their careers. Still, Ramirez is not worried that the lights will blind Lopez even with Lopez suffering a hand injury earlier this year.
“He’s fought on a few big cards before,” said Ramirez. “Never on the opening of a PPV but I’m not at all worried. He’s been in the gym. He was getting ready for a fight already. We were supposed to fight Steve Chambers in May and the hand wasn’t quite cleared yet. They were looking at August. He just started getting ready. But this oppurtinuty came about and we jumped on it. The money was right and it’s a great card for him. I don’t necessarily feel that this is the best fighters he has fought but this is the biggest event he has been a part of.”
“It’s going to be a great card,” said Lopez. “But 6 PM, me and Jesse Vargas are going to get out there. I’m expecting action.”
The confidence both men showed to me at the presser should be taken as overconfidence. They understand they are the underdog. This is not their promotional company putting the thing on and everything will be against them. But I did get the sense that in a way, they like it that way.
“That’s the extra push, extra motivation,” said Lopez. “Those extra couple workouts that you did, you know, when you didn’t want to on a Sunday afternoon, that’s what it’s going to come down to. I think overall Jesse is a good fighter. But he’s young. It’s a little too quick. They are trying to step him up too quick. I keep on, in my last fight, Mike Dallas, an undefeated kid. I knocked him out in seven rounds. It’s too soon for [Vargas]. Experience is important at this stage and being in front of a big crowd like that and being a part like that, experience plays a big role. I think in my younger years I wasn’t mentally ready. And I’m fully ready now. Mentally, physically, I am fully ready.”
I asked Ramirez if he was worried that if the fight went to the cards, as Vargas’ disputed win over Christian Favela did back in February, if he can get a decision with his underdog fighter.
“It’s run through my head,” said Ramirez. “I think we are going to win convincingly anyways. A knockout or a clear decision.”
For Lopez, the difference here is experience. While he thinks highly of Vargas, he feels that with all the battles he has been through plus the winning streak he has been on recently, he will be able to ask the hard questions and get the right answers for himself against Vargas.
“We know he’s a good fighter. We know he can fight. But when you put a guy that’s just as tough if not just as tough in front of him, we don’t know. That’s yet to be seen. And that’s what we are going to find out Sept 17. I think we match up great. It’s an all action fight,” said Lopez.
If you haven’t seen him fight, you are missing out. Win or lose, Lopez has no quit in him. He is an aggressive fighter but one who has learned the value of a jab, body punching and most of all according to Ramirez, the true value of hard work. When push comes to shove, Lopez will be right at home in the fight. In the development of any fighter, the matchmaking is important. Lopez has had some tough fights along the way and while he came up short in the past, as of late he has matured and now knows who he is and what he has to do.
“Questions? I’m 27 years old. I feel I am a veteran in the ring. I’ve been in 33 fights. I’ve seen it all. I’ve sparred with Edwin Valero. I’ve sparred with good fighters, had good fights. I’ve been the underdog in half my fights. So everything is no big deal. Everything is on him. I have to take full advantage. I have to keep proving it because some people don’t think I should be in that position or maybe doubt me to be victorious. The past few years I have matured and I have learned a lot in boxing and have gotten smarter as a fighter. I think that everything is falling together so perfectly that I feel this is my time to shine.”
I asked Lopez what he meant by “getting smarter as a fighter.”
“Smarter overall. Patient. It is so many things when you get in the ring. You have to know when you have your opponent out. When he doesn’t want to be in the fight. For example, [Vargas]. He’s been in a couple tough fights. He is young, he’s slick. So we have to test him. Jesse Vargas, we have to test him. So we’ll see. Most the people who have seen me fight know the type of fighter I am. I am a fighter that will never back up and never quit. I feel that I am the type of fighter that will never back up. I am excited. I am excited to watch it after,” he said with a laugh.
The time is now for Josesito Lopez. He feels that to his core and his trainer has supreme confidence in his man. All that is left now is the fight itself. One win and he can join the conversation of 140 pounders who are on the watch list. It has not been an easy road but one full of the best knowledge money can’t buy. To Lopez, the learning is not quite over but for this fight at least, he will get to be the teacher.
“It’s weird how everything works I have had some setbacks, some losses. But dude, that has only made me stronger, better,” said Lopez. “It only works to the betterment of me. There were losses at a very young age and unfortunately young fighters go through that sometimes. I feel like Jesse Vargas is going to have to learn the hard way and he will have to have that setback if he wants to move up.”