Best I Faced: Tony Lopez

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Popular Mexican-American Tony Lopez regularly thrilled audiences in Northern California, winning three world titles in two divisions in the late-1980s and early-1990s.

Lopez was born on Feb. 24, 1963 in Sacramento, California. He was the third eldest of four children and never far from trouble.

“I was a little hellion,” Lopez told The Ring. “If someone did it, it was probably me.”

His father boxed when he lived in Mexico and taught Lopez’s older brother to fight. It wasn’t long before young Tony followed suit.

“I’ve been fighting since I could walk, that’s just something I like doing,” Lopez said. “Age eight I was in the middle of the street getting ready to get in a fight when trainer Jerry Jacobs walked by and said to my dad, ‘Can I train your little son?’ My dad said, ‘No, we’ve got to wait until he’s at least 10.’

“So two years later I’m on the street getting ready to get into a fight. I remember Jerry pulled up in an old, beat up Volkswagen Beetle and he says, ‘Hey, do you want to fight?’ I thought he wanted to watch but he said, ‘Get in the car.’ I got in the car, he took me to the gym and I never stopped going.”

Lopez had over 200 amateur fights, lost seven and captured the junior Olympic title on seven occasions. He left school at 18 years old, worked a day job and continued to box, working with two-time world champion Bobby Chacon.

Out of the blue, at a family meal, he announced that he was going to box professionally.

“My dad said, ‘We’ll give you a few fights and see if you quit’ so I started training with my brother,” Lopez reminisced. “I trained like nobody’s business. In between rounds I talked smack, had fun, enjoyed myself, but when the bell rang to get busy, I got busy.

“Everyone was telling me I would get my arse kicked, so when I left my dressing room I go, ‘I’ll be back in a minute, they told me, ‘It’s a five-round fight.’ I go, ‘I know, but I’ll be back in a minute.’ They go, ‘You talk a lot of smack.’ I knocked him out in the first round and I go back and go, ‘I’m back.’

“It kept going like this for quite a few fights. I don’t think anyone believed me until after I had close to five 10-rounders and they thought, ‘This fool might do something.’ My thinking was always, and still is, we’ll do what we’ve got to do; you hit me, I’ll hit you, we’ll see who lasts longer, ’cause I ain’t going nowhere.”

It snowballed from there. Lopez won his first 26 fights, mostly in Sacramento, before being disqualified in a bout against Ramon Rico, who he struck twice while on the canvas. He won a direct rematch, however, and two fights later earned a shot at IBF junior lightweight champion Rocky Lockridge in July 1988.

The fight took place in Lopez’s hometown at the Arco Arena before a sizeable and raucous crowd. “The Tiger” had to get off the canvas in the eighth round from a heavy knockdown but won a close unanimous decision. That bout was later named The Ring Fight of the Year.

Lopez considers that to be his proudest moment in boxing.

“I remember everything. I told everyone he ain’t whooping me,” he said. “I’ve never doubted myself in anything I do. I’m not cocky, I’m confident. If I say I’m going to do something, I’m gonna do it.”

Lopez thrilled his home fans with a gritty display against John John Molina, edging the talented Puerto Rican over 12 rounds to retain his title for the first time. He followed that with a rematch victory over Lockridge and a stoppage win against Tyrone Jackson.

Next up was another rematch, this time against Molina, who stopped a weight-drained Lopez in the 10th round. Both men had an interim fight before settling their trilogy in Reno, Nevada. Lopez dropped Molina in the penultimate round to squeak home by split decision.

“Molina was a great boxer and I knew I had to make it a fight. I knew I couldn’t outbox him,” admitted Lopez. “I’d say things in Spanish to tick him off and by fight time he wanted to kill me. It worked, when the bell rang, he came right at me.”

Lopez outpointed Jorge Paez before finding a new rival. The WBA titleholder was South African technician Brian Mitchell and the pair met in a unification match in March 1991. At the conclusion of the bout, the judges couldn’t separate them and the fight was declared a draw. Lopez believes he won the first fight.

Mitchell was mandated to fight Joey Gamache but wanted to settle his differences with Lopez, so he vacated the WBA belt and traveled back to Sacramento for their rematch in September 1991.

Lopez was overweight and unable to shed the last half pound, losing his title on the scales. The fight went ahead anyway and Mitchell won a competitive but unanimous decision.

Lopez soon moved up to lightweight and after three wins took on WBA titleholder Joey Gamache in Maine. He was narrowly behind on two of the three scorecards entering the 11th frame before scoring a rousing stoppage to win his third world championship.

Lopez bested Dingaan Thobela at home before traveling to South Africa for their rematch, which he lost by hard-fought unanimous decision.

The former champion up to 140 pounds in search of a world title in a third weight class. After winning three fights, including a stoppage over Greg Haugen, he met Mexican legend Julio Cesar Chavez in December 1994.

Chavez was ahead when midway through the 10th round the fight was halted in his favor due to facial damage. An enraged Lopez was perplexed by the stoppage.

“I was not impressed with Chavez at all,” he explained. “That fight goes down as my biggest disappointment because I didn’t get to do what I wanted to do; fight the last two rounds and knock him out. They stopped the fight and that was BS because it took two stitches to (close the cut). That was crazy.”

Lopez (right) at war with Chavez. Photo from The Ring Archive

Losses to Freddie Pendleton and Charles Murray followed, curtailing any ambitions Lopez had at fighting for another world title. He walked away with a record of 50-8-1 (34 knockouts) in 1999.

Lopez, now 55, is married and has a daughter. He still lives in Sacramento, where for the past 19 years he’s run a bail bonds business. However, the former champion is moving to Las Vegas early next year, where he’ll be training a 17-year-old prospect who has agreed to move there with him.

Lopez graciously took time to speak to The Ring about the best he fought in 10 key categories.

BEST JAB
John John Molina: His jab was fast and he could move really well. He had a really good stiff jab and his lateral movement was off the hook.

BEST DEFENSE
Jorge Paez: Without a doubt it would be “Maromero” Paez. He moved so much he was really hard to hit, he moved in weird angles. You’d swing and he’s gone.

FASTEST HANDS
Joey Gamache: I would say Joey Gamache. Around the seventh or eighth round we’re in a neutral corner and I’m five feet away. I put my hands down and took a deep breath and by the time I’d finished picking up my guard he hits me with a one-two and he’s gone. He was fast. Rocky Lockridge and Charles Murray were fast but not even close to how fast Joey was.

BEST FOOTWORK
Molina: The boy danced circles around me. He was the type of fighter that when that bell rang he used so much of ring and gave you angles. It was hard to keep up with him.

BEST CHIN
Julio Cesar Chavez: I would say Chavez. He took quite a good shot, he stood right there in front of you. He could take it, all power to him.

SMARTEST
Brian Mitchell: He was a smart one. I never thought Mitchell was a great fighter, I never thought much of him, but he was always in shape. He wasn’t fantastic at anything but he was good at everything. I just couldn’t get him, something about his style just threw me off.

STRONGEST
Rocky Lockridge: I’d give it to Rocky Lockridge – the first fight – because there was a lot of pushing and fooling around in the ring that day. He was a pretty strong fighter.

BEST PUNCHER
Tim Brooks: I don’t think Chavez hit that hard, I’ve been hit harder. Freddie Pendleton dropped me with a short right hand and I never saw it. A fighter from Sacramento, I fought him twice, his shots hurt. He hit me on the shoulder and I thought to myself, ‘Ow, that hurt.’ He’s the only one to make me say, ‘Ow’. I immediately thought, ‘I need to get rid of this guy ‘cause he could get lucky’ so I attacked. That guy hit like he had sledgehammers for fists. Everything he hit me with hurt.

BEST BOXING SKILLS
Molina: Molina was an A or B+ on a lot of the categories. Molina had the skills to pay the bills. Boxing skills had to be Molina. I don’t remember anyone coming close to him skill wise.

BEST OVERALL
Molina: My wife! She KO’d me! It’s so tough because I fought so many. According to the people it’s Chavez, but they’re not in there. You’re talking Chavez, Paez, Molina, Lockridge, Pendleton, Murray. I fought a lot of people, that’s a good question. That would be hard, that’s probably the hardest question I’ve ever been asked in my life. If I had to pick one, I’d say Molina.

 

Questions and/or comments can be sent to Anson at [email protected] and you can follow him on Twitter @AnsonWainwright

 

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