This was to be the finest doubleheader of the year, Showtime’s Saturday card, but this being boxing in 2012, it fell apart the way things fall apart. Now, it’s one tightly wrapped tourniquet and one battle with Fight of the Year potential.
The tourniquet: Victor Ortiz vs. Josesito Lopez at welterweight isn’t a fight that much of anyone would request in other contexts, but as a salvage job — and a salvage job with a lot riding on the outcome — it’s about as good as one could hope for. Ortiz was to face Andre Berto in a rematch of last year’s Fight of the Year candidate, a match-up Showtime stole out from under bigger rival HBO in one of the better moves of the new leadership at the smaller network. One Berto bicep injury, one postponement, one positive test for a banned substance and one cancellation later, Golden Boy Promotions and Showtime found the always-exciting Lopez for Ortiz to fight, in a fine stroke. Lopez’ pressure is like the pressure that gave Ortiz his first loss, so Ortiz-Lopez has competitive potential, and Lopez stands between Ortiz and a coveted date with one of boxing’s two big Mexican cash cows, junior middleweight Canelo Alvarez.
The potential Fight of the Year: No context is necessary for the appreciation of Humberto Soto vs. Lucas Matthysse. It’s just a damn nice fight between two guys with a reputation for hard-hitting action. And both should be hungry, too — Matthysse has, in a pair of close bouts, came up on the short end of decisions that left him without victories over big names, while Soto has spun his wheels for so many years that he’s rallied a battalion of skeptics who’ve forgotten that he once beat a respected opponent to make his own name… back in 2005.
VICTOR ORTIZ-JOSESITO LOPEZ
Lopez’ team is right, mostly, about why they have a shot against Ortiz. Ortiz has somewhat overcome his rep as someone who can’t handle it when things get hot in the ring; he went from basically quitting against Marcos Maidana to overcoming a few knockdowns in the Berto fight. But only somewhat. He also lost his composure against Floyd Mayweather, for whatever reason, and it led first to a bad intentional foul and then him dropping his guard amid multiple apologies, which led in turn to Mayweather’s infamous sucker punch knockout.
Lopez puts the kind of pressure on people Maidana does, and we haven’t seen Ortiz tested quite like that since. Nor is Ortiz a massive welterweight, thus Lopez, a tall, physical junior welterweight, won’t be outrageously disadvantaged by moving up a division for this bout. Ortiz, too, it must be remembered, did get KO’d in his last fight. These things can sometime linger. And he’s also had two training camps for this fight, so he might not be the freshest version of his dopey, lovable/laughable Kansas rube/California surfer self.
Ortiz, though, has plenty going for him in this bout. He is the bigger puncher, and the faster man. He throws the sharper, shorter punches. He is more versatile, capable of circling away and counterpunching or going into full two-fisted assault. He’s probably more comfortable on the inside, though, and all the better, because Lopez is pretty comfortable in there, too. I doubt these two hide from each other, at least to start. Neither wants to jab his way in, either — both just want to walk in and fire combinations to the head and body, Ortiz from a southpaw stance and Lopez from an orthodox stance.
Another thing is that Ortiz has faced and beaten the better competition. Lopez upset Mike Dallas, Jr., and probably deserved the win over Jessie Lopez in his last fight, but those were prospects trying to become contenders. Ortiz is a former Prospect of the Year whose win over Berto is miles better than any of Lopez’ wins, and I’m in the camp that thought Ortiz was fairly competitive with Mayweather.
Since we’ve seen less of Lopez on the big stage, I spent more time looking at him for this fight. He loves his right cross (it’s hard to call it a straight right, because it’s oddly un-straight), his left hook to the body and his right uppercut on the inside. He’s a rough, physical guy who doesn’t usually care to use his length, and negates that advantage anyway when he does use his length by slinging his punches and giving his opponents time to counter him. As someone who works pretty hard in the ring, he can nonetheless be frozen by return fire and movement. He is not exceptionally slow, but he is not fast, and his power is more of the stinging, accumulating variety. And you can hit him any time you want, really. He can take a shot, but he can also be stunned, and that sometimes sends his offense into lulls, too. But he tends to recover well and give as good as he takes thereafter.
This prediction is not one meant as disrespect; I think Lopez is fully capable of getting into Ortiz’ space and his head and dragging Ortiz into doubting himself. But I think Ortiz is going to stop Lopez fairly early, let’s say the 4th or 5th. Lopez is an admirable overachiever and a tough guy. He’s also not encountered anyone near Ortiz’ class or power. After a couple feeling-out rounds, I see Lopez turning up the pressure and getting caught with some “booms,” as HBO’s Jim Lampley might say, and that he won’t be able to recover this time. There will be some heated exchanges before the ending, though. And then it’ll be off to Canelo for Ortiz.
HUMBERTO SOTO-LUCAS MATTHYSSE
Soto is a boxer-puncher, with Matthysse more a puncher-boxer. It wasn’t always so for Soto. He once brawled in mini-Antonio Margarito fashion, throwing tons of punches in a bid to overwhelm his opponents. It worked against then-highly-touted Rocky Juarez in 2005, in a win that put Soto on the world map. It didn’t work so hot two years later in 2007. Not long after that, Soto began transforming himself, working on becoming respectable on defense and setting things up intelligently. It has worked. He’s never going to be fast, per se, but he can now box pretty well when he wants, and brawls selectively. He loves his one-two, but also has a big left hook and an effective uppercut on the inside.
Matthysse is the bigger puncher, and behaves that way. He isn’t a bad boxer; his punches are sharp and accurate, and he has pretty respectable defense himself. His arsenal is limited (straight right, left hook, head or body for either) but he varies it up intelligently. He just knows he can punch things out with anyone and probably come out ahead in doing so. If anything, he doesn’t throw enough punches, a la Randall Bailey a couple weekends ago — when you have the C4, sometimes you’re just looking for the right place and moment to plant it.
Matthysse has losses in his two biggest fights, but only officially. You’ll find a lot of people, myself among them, who thinks he beat both Zab Judah and Devon Alexander. Despite being the younger fighter of the pair, though, Matthysse’s competition blows away what Soto’s been up to outside of the Juarez and Guzman fights, and certainly of late. Soto has more fights on the record, but I’d argue Matthysse has an experience edge by virtue of having faced better fighters, especially of late.
Periods of inactivity in the Judah and Alexander bouts no doubt hurt Matthysse on the scorecards, and Soto is more than capable of outworking him. Matthysse, though, is the naturally bigger man, with Soto only recently coming to 140 pounds. Add up the advantages each fellow has, and you’ll find the lists are roughly the same length.
I can see Soto outboxing Matthysse, and I can see Matthysse catching Soto and hurting him. I suspect both happen in this fight. Soto is a sturdy dude, but Alexander was pretty sturdy and he, like all of Matthysse’s opponents, hit the deck. Soto will in this one, too, although he’ll make it to hte final bell. Soto will outbox and outwork Matthysse enough to make it close enough on the scorecards, but something tells me that this time, Matthysse finally gets the big win that’s been evading him.