Josesito Lopez has left quite an impression on fight fans over the last couple of years. In victory or defeat, the welterweight’s toughness and grit in the ring have won over numerous boxing fans.
The “Riverside Rocky” has enjoyed the limelight, but would you believe it almost never happened? Six years ago, Lopez almost walked away from boxing. To his fans and those who have stuck by him, it is a good thing he stuck with the sport.
Lopez returns to action tonight when he faces Aron Martinez in a 10-round bout at the Agua Caliente Casino in Rancho Mirage, Calif. The bout will headline a special Thursday edition of Friday Night Fights on ESPN2 that starts at 9:00 p.m. ET/ 6:00 p.m. PT.
In his last bout on Dec. 13 in Indio, Calif., Lopez won an eight-round technical decision over Mike Arnaoutis. It was a difficult fight for Lopez, as it was compounded when he was dropped in the third round. Lopez was the more accurate fighter and received the close nod on the judges' scorecards.
Some in boxing wonder whether the amount of hard fights Lopez has had – against the likes of Jessie Vargas, Victor Ortiz, Canelo Alvarez and Marcos Maidana – in the last three years have caught up to him.
Lopez (31-6, 18 knockouts) dismisses those claims, giving credit to Arnaoutis. The Riverside, Calif. native says he will build on the win in December with a more impressive showing against Martinez.
“I wasn't at my best that night (against Arnaoutis), but I did what I had to do to win,” Lopez told RingTV.com earlier this week over the phone. “I know I could've done better. He (Arnaoutis) was not an easy opponent. He had a lot of experience. But I was able to pull off the win.”
Lopez will face a difficult challenge in Martinez, who has an aggressive, yet awkward style that gives his opponents fits. That style has beaten a few unbeaten fighters or prospects.
The fight between Lopez and Martinez has been in the works for over half a year, but had been postponed because of injuries. Lopez is not taking him lightly. A win over Martinez will likely give him significant fights later this year against welterweight contenders.
“Martinez is no pushover and he's a tough fighter,” said Lopez, who is co-promoted by Goossen Tutor and Thompson Boxing. “I stay motivated because I want to be mentioned amongst the best. I have my head on right and all this hard work and training is bringing out the old-school aspect in me. I want to continue fighting at 147 pounds.”
It is hard not to believe Lopez would be unprepared, unfocused, or unmotivated. It did occur during Lopez’s darkest time of his professional career. Lopez lost a close and disputed decision to Edgar Santana six years ago this month. Distraught from the loss, he put his equipment away and focused on a career in real estate. He reportedly ballooned to around 180 pounds, making even those close to him wonder if boxing would be an afterthought.
But that is not who he is. Throwing in the towel is not an option, not when he still had so much to prove, despite suffering a controversial loss.
Flash forward six years later and he has enjoyed the fruits of his labor. While he had lost three of his previous four bouts prior to the Arnaoutis fight, he had cemented his status as a must-see fighter. He wants to continue that trend with a victory over Martinez.
“The fact that my family and fans believe in me pushes me more,” he said. “If I had given up (after the Santana fight), I wouldn’t be where I am today: The Riverside Rocky. I overcame a lot and I faced adversity and it’s made me a stronger person.”
Lopez has done all right thus far. But there is more that he wants to fulfill in his career. A victory over Martinez could line him up with bigger paydays, which is why he is not taking Martinez for granted, considering Lopez was once in Martinez’s shoes.
Then again, after going through the peaks and valleys of thus far in his career, would one expect anything less from Lopez?
“It’s been a crazy ride. I’m just as motivated as I’ve ever been.”
Francisco A. Salazar has written for RingTV since October of 2013 and has covered boxing in Southern California and abroad since 2000. He also covers boxing for the Ventura County (CA) Star newspaper, Boxingscene.com, and Knockout Nation. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter at FSalazarBoxing