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Against all Odds: Luis Alberto Lopez

(Photo via Nigel Roddis, Getty Images)

“He’s the person that boxing is supposed to use and abuse”.

That’s what Lukie Kettle had to say about Luis Alberto Lopez on his YouTube channel “LukieBoxing” earlier this week, and it couldn’t be any more true.

With the current structure in the sport of boxing, Luis Alberto Lopez isn’t supposed to be where he is. Venado (his nickname which means Deer in Spanish) was not an established amateur and was never signed by a major promoter on the come-up. Nevertheless, here he is as an established world champion holding one of the more impressive resumes in our sport today. He isn’t a technician; in fact, he does many things that a coach would not teach a young boxer to do. Much like fellow Mexican champion Emanuel Navarrete (38-1, 31 KOs), Venado uses his awkwardness to his advantage and can land punches at angles and from distances that their opponents have never been hit with before.

Picking up five wins on the “B-side” since 2020 is a feat that no one else has been able to match on the world level. Fighters who are not heavily backed by a major promoter must take chances when the odds are not in their favor in hopes of scoring an upset and putting themselves on the radar. A good performance in a losing effort can land these fighters another opportunity as an underdog, but to place themselves among the high priority of a promoter they must upset the apple cart and replace one of the promoter’s main fighters.

Oftentimes, it takes more than one upset to become a major focus of a promotion. Lopez upset former title challenger Andy Vences (23-5-1, 12 KOs) in the bubble in the summer of 2020, and Top Rank then rewarded him with another TV fight in 2021 against the highly touted prospect Gabriel Flores Jr (22-2, 8 KOs). Flores was undefeated at the time and Top Rank was fully behind building him into a star, but that all came to a screeching halt when Lopez turned in a dominant performance. Venado would win a wide unanimous decision and dish out an unbelievable amount of punishment to the 21-year-old. Most observers of the fight, along with the commentary team, believed that the fight should have been stopped well before the final bell in the tenth round.

Despite two wins as the underdog, Lopez still had work to do before Top Rank fully invested in him. Three months after the win over Flores, Lopez was once again brought in as an opponent. He went into enemy territory in England against undefeated contender Isaac Lowe (23-2-3, 7 KOs), who also happens to be the cousin of WBC Heavyweight Champion Tyson Fury (33-0-1, 24 KOs). Fury walked out with Lowe and supported him from ringside, but once the bout began, he could only watch Venado take it to his cousin. Lowe was knocked down in both of the first two rounds, and later finished off by a body shot in the seventh round.

Lopez scored two early knockout wins on club shows before being awarded his first-ever world title opportunity. In December of 2022, Lopez headed into enemy territory once again to face Josh Warrington (31-2-1, 8 KOs) in his hometown of Leeds. Warrington had just claimed the IBF title and became a two-time champion, but his second reign was cut short. Lopez came out the gates firing on all cylinders and fought off a late rally by the hometown favorite to win a majority decision and become the IBF featherweight champion.

Even though he was then a world champion, it felt like the boxing world still doubted Lopez. He made the first defense of his title in May of this year but continued his “road warrior” ways. He once again went across the pond, and even as a champion was still perceived as more of the “B-side”. He was up against two-time Irish Olympian Michael Conlan (18-2, 9 KOs). Conlan was pushed heavily by Top Rank, and even though he was the challenger, he was fighting in his hometown of Belfast, Ireland. Conlan boxed well in the first two rounds, but the pressure of Lopez began to wear him down in round three. In the fifth round, an uppercut by Lopez provided him with not only a successful title defense but also a knockout of the year candidate.

That brings us to the second defense of his title, which takes place tomorrow night at the American Bank Center in Corpus Christi, Texas. He will be up against another stiff challenge in two-time title challenger Joet Gonzalez (26-3, 15 KOs). We are finally at the point where Venado is respected as a world champion. He was the slight underdog against both Warrington and Conlan, but the odds are now in his favor as he is a sizable favorite (-900 via FanDuel) against the well-respected Gonzalez. This fight should be closer than the odds suggest, and a win for Lopez would be more proof that he is an elite operator at 126lbs.

Venado has had an unlikely rise. He went from trending towards “journeyman” or “gatekeeper” status to becoming a world champion in just a few fights. With big fights on the horizon, Lopez can go from being an established champion to a Mexican boxing icon. He has a style that should captivate not only Mexican boxing fans but fans of all nationalities. In sports, it is always easy to get behind an underdog story. Venado is the most recent example of that in boxing, and a win tomorrow night puts him one step closer to becoming Mexican boxing royalty.

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Jack Kelly

Jack Kelly