Friday, Sept. 14, 2012 | 2 a.m.
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Saul “Canelo” Alvarez has every reason to feel victimized heading into his light middleweight championship bout against Josesito Lopez on Saturday at MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Headlining the first major fight card of his career, the 22-year-old Mexican phenom finds himself without the luxuries historically extended to other boxers in the same position.
Rising stars in their first main event tend to get opponents with a profile high enough that a win represents a significant accomplishment while a loss isn’t completely devastating.
Lopez fails to fit that description. If Alvarez (40-0-1) beats the 28-year-old veteran, he was supposed to. But if Lopez (30-4) wins, everyone points out his unspectacular reputation and the fact that he’s spent the majority of his career fighting at a weight class 20 pounds below Alvarez’s.
The fight also won’t be the focal point of the boxing world Saturday night, as it has to share that distinction with the more anticipated Sergio Martinez vs. Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. bout down the street at the Thomas & Mack Center.
“It doesn’t affect me,” Alvarez said through a translator upon arriving in Las Vegas. “It’s no threat to me. I’ll keep going my way.”
He continually denies disappointment, but no one would blame Alvarez for some frustration over how it all turned out. Three other opponents who would have put the fight on pay-per-view fell through before Golden Boy Promotions reluctantly booked Lopez.
Alvarez’s body language spelled shock when Lopez stunned Victor Ortiz, the Mexican’s first scheduled opponent for Saturday, by technical knockout June 23 after breaking his jaw in the ninth round.
Paul Williams became the announced foe for Alvarez, but the WBC champion crashed his motorcycle and wound up paralyzed. A bout with once-beaten James Kirkland also didn’t work out before Lopez was chosen.
“I always get very enthusiastic about my opponents,” Alvarez said. “All of them who were mentioned to me, I was very excited to fight and very motivated to fight.”
He’ll need it, as no one is questioning Lopez’s motivation. The California native could turn a victory into the biggest payday of his life and a new level of notoriety.
Lopez was quick to accept the fight and started to down five or six meals a day to bulk up to the 154-pound weight limit. He beat Ortiz at 147 pounds, the highest weight he’s ever fought at, hence the perceived strength advantage for Alvarez.
“I can’t say I don’t like being the underdog,” Lopez said. “It adds excitement to the fight and makes me want to pull off the upset that much more.”
Alvarez found “many openings and many opportunities” when studying Lopez’s style. He says he’s not taking them for granted, though.
Alvarez expects Lopez to present a new kind of intensity because of the uniqueness of the situation.
“He has nothing to lose,” Alvarez said. “He has everything to gain.”
Unlike so many other first-time Las Vegas headliners, Alvarez can’t say the same for himself.