Lightweight contender Josesito Lopez spearheads a three-prong attack by a Mexican-American contingent beginning this Friday in the East Coast against three excellent Puerto Rican fighters.

It’s a west versus east invasion.

Riverside, California’s Lopez will jump up a division to meet New York’s Edgar Santana at the Miccosukee Resort and Gaming in Miami, Florida. The fight will be shown on Showtime this Friday. Then come the bigger guys the next day.

Tijuana’s Antonio Margarito meets IBF welterweight titleholder Kermit Cintron for that title and Alfonso Gomez meets WBA titleholder Miguel Cotto for his belt. By the end of this weekend, the Mexican-Puerto Rican clash will decide a great many things about six fighters.

Lets talk about motivation first.

Nothing is worse than depriving a Mexican from eating Mexican food. It makes them ornery, cranky, edgy, whatever word that best describes the sacrifice boxers make to meet weight. A world without tortillas is no world at all unless there’s something at the end of the rainbow, like a title belt.

There are other things as well like Mexican chorizo, carnitas, tacos, chicharrones, pozole, enchiladas, pan dulce and tamales. If you want to torture a Mexican take these things away and you might be in a near-death struggle.

That’s the point I’m trying to make. These are three hungry Mexicans who abstained from the foods they love best for an extra-long time.

Lopez, a tall rangy fighter from the near desert town of Riverside, famous for its Mission Inn hotel and orange fields, dropped down nearly 30 pounds to make this fight. That’s a lot of missed meals.

“I ate ok,” Lopez says. “I ate a lot of chicken breasts and vegetables.”

That’s one reason he consented to the fight at a higher weight level. Less sacrifice.

Lopez, 23, normally a lightweight, makes his debut as a 140-pound junior welterweight, but don’t count on him staying there long.

“Regardless of what happens he’s moving back to lightweight,” says trainer Henry Ramirez. “This is just a one-time thing for the exposure.”

Santana, 29, a hard-hitting Puerto Rican who fights out of New York City, is poised to take the next step in the junior welterweight division. Gleason’s Gym has an abundance of superior fighters in that weight class including IBF titleholder Paul Malignaggi.

That gym has some of the best fighters on the East Coast pound for pound.

Lopez doesn’t care about the danger of facing a knockout puncher like Santana, the exposure is worth the risk of fighting at a heavier weight class.

“I saw the opportunity and couldn’t pass up a chance to be the main event on Showtime,” said Lopez (22-2, 13 KOs), whose fight will be televised by Showtime on Friday live. “I jumped at the opportunity.”

The Riverside boxer began as a junior lightweight and has fought as low as 128 pounds. He hopes the added weight helps him against a punishing fighter like Santana.

“He has nice punches, a good left hook, he’s a solid fighter,” says Lopez of his Puerto Rican foe. “It’s my first time fighting in the East.”

Lopez doesn’t plan on sightseeing.

“I’m just there to fight and come back,” Lopez says.

Then, maybe, he can return to eating Mexican food and pizza.

“Whenever I’m in training I always crave pizza for some reason,” Lopez said.


Championship bouts

The other Mexicans invading the Eastern seaboard, Gomez and Margarito, both are headed to Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The fights will be shown on HBO.

Both fighters are down to their weight limit and expect some fan support.

Mexicans are everywhere nowadays.

There was a time when the only thing people knew about Mexicans was Taco Bell. Now, you can’t go anywhere without running into a Mexican. They even have Mexicans in Alabama for God’s sake! Worse than that, there are reports of Mexicans in Alaska?

So expect a trickle of Mexican fans to give a grito when Gomez and Margarito come out to the arena. But expect them to be very hungry.

La Habra’s Gomez has a tough task. He’s challenging the mighty Miguel Cotto (31-0, 25 KOs) for his WBA welterweight title. The former Contender television reality participant couldn’t be happier.

“I’ve been boxing for 17 years, seven professionally,” said Gomez (18-3-2, 8 KOs) by telephone from La Habra. “I have been looking for this opportunity my whole life.”

Gomez began professionally in 2001 and has never had an easy road from the get-go finding himself opposite boxers like Ishe Smith, Jesse Feliciano, Dumont Welliver and Michael Santos in his first 24 months.

Then he found a spot in the Contender TV show among much bigger middleweights. He wasn’t expected to last very long.


Gomez proved to be extremely durable and popular while handing losses to bigger fighters like Peter Manfredo, Ahmed Kaddour, and Jesse Brinkley. People forget that the likable Mexican fighter is actually a true welterweight.

“I fought guys who are now super middleweights and those guys are doing pretty well. They’re knocking out their opponents,” said Gomez about his former Contender foes. “It gives me a good feeling knowing I can take a good punch and at the same time carry the fight forward against bigger guys.”

Puerto Rico’s Cotto is actually the smaller guy.

“People don’t realize I’m bigger than him,” Gomez says.

Big or not, Cotto has blazed his way to the welterweight title with wins over Carlos Quintana, Oktay Urkal, Zab Judah, and a stirring close victory over Sugar Shane Mosley.

“Cotto is a pretty smart fighter,” said Mosley recently. “He showed me some things in the ring.”

Most odds-makers view Cotto as a huge favorite over Gomez because of his pile-driving style and ability to fight inside or outside as he showed against Mosley.

“I thought I was stronger than him on the inside, but he’s a pretty good boxer on the outside,” said Mosley.

Gomez likes his own chances against the Puerto Rican slugger.

“I did see his fight against Mosley and he definitely showed good things, especially being a good counter-puncher,” said Gomez of Cotto. “But he gets tired and he gets hurt. He’s not invincible or impossible to beat.”

Always the under-rated fighter, Gomez plans a Mexican surprise party for Cotto.

“On April 12 it will be me and him, his two fists against my two fists,” said Gomez. “So anything is possible.”

Margarito-Cintron II

Also, on the same Atlantic City fight card, Margarito faces IBF welterweight titleholder Kermit “El Asesino” Cintron for the second time. He’s looking for a repeat, but it might not be as easy.

“He’s improved,” said Margarito, 30, who has been fighting professionally half of his life. “Cintron uses his jab more and has better defense.”

It’s been nearly three years since the two lean, muscular fighters clashed outdoors in Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. In that fight, Margarito (35-5, 25 KOs) ran roughshod over Cintron who was challenging for the Mexican’s WBO title. It was over in five rounds and remains the Puerto Rican’s only loss.

“It’s the fight I want more than anything,” Cintron (29-1, 27 KOs) said while in Los Angeles. “That fight is on my mind all of the time.”

Now under the guidance of venerable trainer Emanuel Steward, the Pennsylvania-based fighter Cintron eventually captured the IBF title by beating Riverside’s Mark Suarez in 2006.

“Mark was a good puncher,” said Cintron, 28. “He was the best puncher I ever faced.”

Cintron has successfully defended his title twice, including a riveting battle with tough guy Jesse Feliciano last November in Los Angeles.

Cintron has improved in every aspect of boxing.

“He wasn’t ready for Antonio Margarito the first time,” said Steward in November. “We know how to beat him.”

Margarito says it’s more than just boxing science that makes a champion.

“I’m still as hungry maybe even hungrier to win the world title,” Margarito says. “It’s the most important thing to me in the world next to my family.”

Even more important than Mexican food?