Welterweight contenders get opportunity to state their case for 147-pound relevancy this Saturday night on PBC on FOX.
Josesito Lopez and Miguel Cruz are fighters at very different stages of the warrior lifecycle. This Saturday night on a FOX-televised card (8:30 p.m. ET/5:30 p.m. PT) at the Don Haskins Center in El Paso, Texas, the two will meet in a 10-round welterweight battle to see if one battling lineage ends at the expense of another’s beginning.
Lopez (35-7, 19 KOs), from Riverside, California and nicknamed the “Riverside Rocky” for good reason, has had a career full of thrilling wars and blue collar-honest battles. The fifteen-year veteran has been in the ring with stars such as Jessie Vargas, Victor Ortiz, Saul Alvarez, Marcos Maidana, and Andre Berto—and has given all of them a tenacious fight.
The epitome of Lopez as “Lopez” was against Ortiz when, as an 8-to-1 underdog, he withstood an early barrage from the heavily-hyped Ortiz and then proceeded to break the jaw of his much more naturally gifted opponent en route to a TKO win after nine rounds.
“This is the kind of fight that I can really display my skills. I’m going to show everyone the same heart that I always do, combined with some skills that Robert Garcia has helped get,” Lopez said.
“Cruz is unbeaten and that brings its own kind of mentality. But I know I have what it takes to conquer this challenge and fight the best in the division.”
With the mileage on his body at 33 years of age and with only two fights since March of 2015, the temptation is there to regard him as a tough guy on the downside of a long career—the perfect “opponent” for a young fighter on the rise and looking for a quality name to add to a resume.
A 27-year-old undefeated prospect, Cruz (17-0, 11 KOs), is certainly willing to test Lopez’s mental and physical resolve in pursuit of a stepping stone to next-level stardom in a stacked welterweight division.
A native of Lake Mary, Florida, Cruz was a member of the Puerto Rican national team as an amateur, but has yet to face anyone as remotely good or accomplished as Lopez.
In six years as a pro, Cruz’s high-water mark opponents have been Alex Martin, Samuel Figueroa, and David Grayton—all solid fighters, but not a world class list of names by any stretch of the imagination. The move to take on Lopez represents a monumental jump up in class and a true, albeit well-calculated, leap of faith.
Lopez’s technical vulnerabilities, along with the wear and tear on his body, make him a large target for emerging stars and, from this point forward, there will be a mad dash to test the Mexican-American’s professional pride.
A straight-line fighter with plenty of defensive liabilities, Lopez is like a lot of tough-as-nails battlers who rely on will and strength of character to see them through rough times. In born warriors, the ability to withstand and overcome makes defensive grace and nuance an afterthought—and the former world title challenger certainly fits the bill of someone conditioned to walk through walls rather than skillfully maneuver around them.
“ I have respect for what Josesito’s done in the game, but I feel I'm one of the best guys at 147. People are going to know my name after Saturday night. ” Welterweight contender Miguel Cruz
But the Riverside Rocky is not entirely without skill.
Lopez has a solid jab and, at least until things get heated, an underrated ability to control space and distance in the ring. Despite being a right hand-dominant fighter, he also has a deceptively effective left hook, which often takes opponents by surprise.
When push comes to shove, though, Lopez becomes who he is and fan-friendly wars ensue. This is when he becomes vulnerable to stronger, quicker, larger, and/or better-skilled opponents.
Miguel Cruz aims to be the type of fighter who can get past Lopez and move on to the elite of the division.
“I have respect for what Josesito’s done in the game, but at the end of the day, this is the premier division in boxing. I feel I'm one of the best guys at 147 and I will come out on top,” Cruz said.
“People are going to know my name after Saturday night.”
The fighter of Boricua descent has fairly heavy hands, but doesn’t seem to carry true one-punch power. He is also an assertive, come-forward presence, but not quite a pressure fighter in the truest sense of the word.
Cruz’s defects mostly fall in the area of defense and other basic fundamentals. Balance issues stemming from a legs-wide-apart stance rob him of some leverage on punches and also keep him from being effective in pursuit of more mobile opponents. The need to reach in against foes that maintain distance makes him susceptible to counters—and he has shown himself vulnerable to being marked up by flush shots.
Some of Cruz’s issues surely stem from his odd recent run of five straight southpaw opponents—a matchmaking fluke that would make any fighter seem less graceful and balanced than normal. Matched against a more conventional orthodox fighter like Lopez after a long run of lefties could ratchet up the comfort level to his pre-southpaw days when he disposed of eleven of his first twelve opponents within the distance.
But comfortable or not, Cruz will have a tough time getting past a veteran like Lopez who has seen everything and been everywhere. It will be especially difficult dealing with a Lopez who is fully recovered from career-long hand issues, back to full active duty, and dead set on making his way back into the deep end of the welterweight talent pool.
Lopez versus Cruz, however, is ultimately about two warriors facing one another at very different stages in their careers. Will the veteran stop the bold upstart’s ascent just as it begins or will the young lion squash the comeback bid of the battle-tested soldier?
For a complete look at Lopez vs Cruz, check out our fight page.