Luis Alberto Lopez is on a run that can no longer be denied – even by him.

Lopez hopes to stay on course Saturday at Turning Stone Casino in Verona, New York, when he fights Japan’s Reiya Abe, in Lopez’s third defense of the IBF featherweight title.

Arguably the most accomplished fighter in his division, Lopez (29-2, 16 KOs) was once considered a stepping stone for prospects and contenders. But he refused to play the role, wouldn’t go away and now finds himself more respected than ever.

Lopez has defeated seven contenders or prospects who were favored against him, including stopping Golden Boy’s Cristian Baez, upsetting Top Rank’s Andy Vences and taking the unblemished record of Gabriel Flores Jr. He also defeated Tyson Fury stablemate Isaac Lowe.

When he earned a majority decision over Josh Warrington to win the IBF featherweight title, he did so in Leeds, England – Warrington’s hometown. His next fight came in Belfast, where he knocked out Michael Conlan. In September, he won a unanimous decision over Joet Gonzalez. The only difference on the last of those occasions was that he was no longer the second name on the poster.

Time and again, Lopez, 30, took on the promoter’s fighter and won. Boxing is supposed to use and discard fighters like him. Yet here stands Lopez, nicknamed “El Venado” – a champion.

He’s still getting used to it.

“Even after the fight with Joet Gonzalez, where 'Venado' didn’t look very good, people don’t know what happened before the fight," said Lopez’s manager, Hector Fernandez. "Let’s just say he almost had an accident on international television. That being said, Venado looked at me and said ‘Damn, I look better when I am the B-side. Let’s just keep on getting on the B-side.’"

Saul "Canelo" Alvarez, Emanuel Navarrete and Juan Francisco Estrada may be Mexico's leading active fighters, but Lopez just may be ready to join that class of current Mexican greats.  

Lopez’s opponent, Abe, is his mandatory challenger. A 30-year-old southpaw, Abe (25-3-1, 10 KOs), on a six-fight winning streak that includes an April 2023 win over Kiko Martinez, will make his U.S. debut Saturday. In so many respects, he represents a trap for Lopez.

But Lopez has made a career of creating his own opportunities and making the most of them. He wasn’t the product of promotion. He won fights. He lost early, to Abraham Montoya, then to Ruben Villa. Neither defeat deterred him. Unlike so many fighters who overvalue their records, Lopez is a tough competitor who, not unlike countryman Orlando Salido, seems to savor silencing the crowd.

Lopez has revived his career since the pandemic. The next step is to fend off his challengers before he can return to the role he loves – fighting those who are favored against him.