Chatting with the champ: Tony “The Tiger” Lopez
As a three-time world champion, he was the pride of California’s capital city. Born and raised in Sacramento, Tony “The Tiger” Lopez went from his amateur career to a rabid following in the professional ranks throughout the 1980s and ’90s. One of the most popular fighters to emerge from the hotbed of California boxing during his era, Lopez went on to win the IBF junior lightweight title and the WBA lightweight title over three different reigns. Lopez turned pro in 1983 and retired almost 16 years later with an excellent record of 50-8-1 (34). Throughout his impressive career, Lopez faced Rocky Lockridge, John John Molina, Jorge Paez Sr., Brian Mitchell, Joey Gamache, Dingaan Thobela, Greg Haugen, Julio Cesar Chavez, Freddie Pendleton and Charles Murray, among others. A humble, friendly Lopez took a few minutes to chat with UCNLive from his home in Sacramento.
Bill Tibbs: Hi, Tony; thanks for taking a minute to chat.
Tony Lopez: No problem, bro.
BT: How did you get into boxing?
TL: I just followed my family into it. My Dad boxed; my brother boxed and then I got into it. I just took it to the next level.
BT: Did you have a long amateur career before turning pro?
TL: I had well over 100 fights. I don’t remember them all; I know I lost seven. I stopped counting after 100 but I had a lotta fights.
BT: You had a great start in your pro career, going 29-1 in the first five years, and then you get a shot at Rocky Lockridge, a very good fighter. How did you feel going into that bout?
TL: I felt good, confident. I mean, we trained hard to win. I felt good going into that fight, like I felt going into all my fights. I trained like a dog and ate like an ant for that fight. People have no idea what a fighter sometimes goes through to make weight. But, yeah, I felt good going into the bout.
BT: You fought John John Molina three times.
TL: Yes, he was a very good fighter, fast, crisp punches. I didn’t know a whole lot about him. I was told, “You are fighting Molina next,” and I was like, “OK, cool,” but I got in there with him and he was very slick and moved a lot. I had never faced a guy that moved like that. It was a tricky style and a good lesson.
BT: You were trained by Jimmy Montoya?
TL: In bit and pieces, not all the time, but we worked together at different times. I contacted him a while back. He’s doing OK, a good guy. He’s still Jimmy.
BT: You had a great following at the Arco Arena in Sacramento. What do you remember about fighting there?
TL: Oh, man, let me tell you. I have never felt a feeling like that, before or after. In my first fight with Lockridge, I was waiting to go out and it was dark in the back and I was just shadow-boxing to stay warm and then the TV lights came on for me to walk out. You have never heard an arena erupt like this one did. It was crazy. I get goose bumps talking about it. After I got used to the loud crowd, I was like, “OK, let’s go,” and you get into fight mode. But it was crazy.
BT: You fought legendary Mexican Julio Cesar Chavez in his home country. What do you remember about that fight?
TL: It was an experience. I never got too excited about who he was. I figured he was just like me; we both put our pants on the same way. I was there for about two months training for the fight, doing promo and all that. My brother was training me for the fight. He wanted me to box and move, just box. I wanted to fight more as that was more my style. So I boxed him for about 10 rounds and then I was going to brawl for the championship rounds. I would rather get knocked out fighting than finish the fight just running. I thought the stoppage [in the 10th round] was BS. I had a small, two-stitch cut and the doctor stopped it. I didn’t do what I went there to do; I would have liked to win.
BT: You fought Brian Mitchell twice, a very good fighter from South Africa.
TL: Yes, the first time, it was a very close fight [resulting in a split draw] but I thought I did enough to win the fight. Back then, to win the title over a champion, you had to beat him and break him down to win. It was one of those fights where nobody really got beat up. People were so used to seeing me in blood-and-guts brawls but not every fight is like that. The second fight, man, I lost it on the scales. I killed myself making weight but you don’t cry or complain. You just do what you have to do to make weight and fight. But I don’t want to sound like I’m taking anything away from his [rematch] win because Mitchell was a very good fighter.
BT: Looking back, what was your toughest fight?
TL: Well, there are really two kinds of tough fights. The very physical kinds and then more of a draining fight. Lockridge, the first time, was just a rough, tough fight. You just had to fight hard and it was a very physical fight. The Molina fights were also tough but in a different way. He moved so much and was so quick that it was more of a draining fight with all the movement and a tough fight, mentally, as you had to stay focused and the fight, in a way, that was very different for me.
BT: Do you have any current favorite fighters?
TL: Not really, you know? But I will say that a couple of recent performances really impressed me. The last bout for Canelo Alvarez [against James Kirkland] and [Miguel] Cotto’s last fight [against Daniel Geale]. They both really showed me something; it was old-school. They both came out and it was like, “OK, let’s get it on.”
BT: Are you involved in boxing at all anymore?
TL: Yes, I am. I was training some kids at one time and I do some amateur reffing, which I like. I like refereeing the kids. I’m actually meeting with the Sacramento Police Athletic League upcoming about getting involved to help them. I’m a PAL kid; that is where I did a lot of my boxing.
BT: You had a great career, Tony. Looking back, what is your fondest memory?
TL: You know what, bro? I’d have to say the people I met. I had a real good time. I love boxing; I love the sport and I miss it. But I met some great people through boxing. Everywhere I went, I would meet interesting people and some famous people. You wouldn’t believe some of the people I’ve met. If I ever lost my phone, someone is going to get a great list of phone numbers. You wouldn’t believe some of the names and numbers I have in there (laughing). I mean, I’m just a kid from Sacramento but, because of boxing, I got to travel all over the world and meet lots of great people. all because of boxing.
Weekend title wrap-up
* 2008 Puerto Rican Olympian McJoe Arroyo TD 10 over Filipino opponent Arthur Villanueva to claim the vacant IBF world junior bantamweight title on Saturday night in El Paso, Texas.
* WBA “regular” lightweight champion Darleys Perez Maj. Draw 12 Anthony Crolla to hang on to his title on Saturday at the Manchester Arena in Manchester, England. Also, WBA “regular” junior featherweight champion Scott Quigg TKO 2 over former titleholder Kiko Martinez.
* Undefeated IBF junior featherweight champion Carl Frampton hit the deck twice but went on to score a UD 12 over a game and talented Alejandro “Cobrita” Gonzalez Jr. on Saturday afternoon at the Don Haskins Convention Center in El Paso, Texas.
* WBO super middleweight champion Arthur Abraham TKO 6 over Robert Stieglitz on Saturday night at Gerry Weber Stadium in Halle, Germany. Also, super middleweight Vincent Feigenbutz became the WBA “interim” champion when he drilled Mauricio Reynoso in three rounds.
* Junior welterweight Cesar “El Distinto” Cuenca UD 12 Ik Yang to claim the vacant IBF world title on Saturday night at the Venetian Macao’s Cotai Arena in Macau, China.
JMO: For what it’s worth
Boxing fans are somewhat misunderstood. They don’t demand perfect results but they do demand perfect effort. Sometimes inspiration can triumph over execution if the effort is there. If passionate fans sees a passionate fighter, they are satiated (hello, Micky Ward). But if the fans smell a con job or a bail-out, it can turn real quick (hello, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. missing weight time and again). To compete at a certain level in boxing requires a special athlete, not a perfect one. Luis Collazo lost something, bowing out last week. Let a ref or a cornerman pull you; don’t offer it up. Barry McGuigan wasn’t perfect but he was prepared, passionate, left nothing on the table and he got a whole country behind him for his efforts.
Paying the cost to be the boss. Floyd Mayweather Jr. flaunts his gold-plated wares. He does everything he can to remind us he isn’t one of us, to the point of turning off the workingman. But he also keeps the masses watching because he delivers BEFORE the fights. Nobody works harder; he leaves nothing in the gym. He has set himself up for endless criticism with his self-promoted, mega-millions lifestyle out of the ring but he knows his job and has shown up to work 48 times and executed, leaving little room for the workers to question why he’s the boss.
Every fighter wants the mass appeal, the big audience. See above. Fans need to believe. You don’t have to win every time but they have to believe you want it as much as they want it for you. Once you lose that, you become one of them and they don’t want that. They wanted you to be the fighter who would do anything to win. When you aren’t, you are no different from the guy in the bleachers and you’ve lost them. Mayweather might sleep on satin sheets and arrive to the office in one of 40 cars but when it comes time to go to work, Floyd is all blue-collar. He wants it and (quite incredibly) has been focused for two decades with nary a slip.
A good teacher doesn’t always make a good student. Joe Goossen had nothing to do with Julio Jr.’s loss to Andrzej Fonfara but he got turfed for the results. Junior missed weight again for this past weekend’s assignment. His weigh-ins are a running joke in the media and a source of real frustration to fans who want so badly for this guy to reach some of the potential he has shown at times. Robert Garcia is an excellent trainer – as is Goossen. Chavez could have both of them in his corner but it won’t matter if Junior isn’t on board, mentally and emotionally more so than physically. A good athlete never stops learning but if you have a good teacher and, yet get no results, getting rid of the good teacher won’t fix it. Try gazing into a mirror. Looking within might be a step in the right direction. If you think you know everything, and have all the answers, you are not a student of the game who is looking to improve. A secure person – boxer or otherwise – lives for feedback and decodes and deciphers it to see if he is on the right track. That’s not to say they need the approval of others to feel good about themselves but they aren’t so insecure as to dismiss the sage advice of an observer. You don’t have to abide by criticism but to simply eliminate anyone who doles out constructive criticism, especially if that is (apparently) his or her job, seems like an ill-advised and insecure move.
Fight fans don’t demand perfection. That is why there are flawed fighters who have reached the masses! Arturo Gatti, Manny Pacquiao, Jorge Arce, the list is endless. Fans relate to flaws and rough edges; they have them too. Fans want to be able to relate to their heroes. When you pursue a difficult and dangerous craft, when you court danger with passion and resolve – but show enough vulnerability to embrace the workingman who paid to see you (or, more importantly, you make him feel like you are doing it for them), then you are on your way to a huge following. Robert Guerrero isn’t anywhere near perfect but his effort and fortitude is and he’ll always own Gilroy, Calif. because of it. His fan-base knows he gives everything and that is all they ask; results are almost secondary once you have your legion believing in you.
Athletes can be jealous and, sometimes, with good reason. It is tough to watch someone else get the spoils and the opportunities, time and again, as you pay your dues and soldier on. But don’t get mad; get even. Use the anger to fuel passion, so when you get you opportunity, you are ready to pounce. Lots of sizzle with limited steak wears thin quickly (Adrien Broner) and you eliminate the once-loyal following when they feel they have wasted their time and energy supporting a false prophet. At 29-0, former undisputed middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik just had to wait his turn (and take no chances) waiting for his title tilt. He was on deck and he would have gotten up to the plate but he was game, fearless and a real fighter. He faced dangerous bangers like Jose Zertuche and Edison Miranda when he was inches from his title shot. And it saw him in good stead in his WBC belt battle when he was in rough spots against the favored former champion Jermain Taylor. His pre-title fight stroll through the gauntlet had him ready and waiting on whatever assignment he got for all the marbles. He eschewed the present-day verbiage to “demand his respect”. He did it the old way; he earned it. Youngstown, Ohio loved him for it. His legion of everyday, blue-collar folk believed in him…and he delivered.
People who do great things, or who aspire to, take chances. Successful work can be encapsulated in a safe paradigm. But it might not be your best work, the game-changer that puts you over the top. You never know what will resonate with fans. You have been successful for so long with your method that you can’t see anything else. I know; in the end, the “W” is key but can you imagine what people would say if they saw Mayweather triumph in a blood-and-guts brawl, in which he stood toe-to-toe in the trenches and simply out-gutted his foe? Where he left the ring bruised and battered but still perfect? And he already has a legion who believes; he doesn’t have to! But if he chose to dog it in the street for the fans one night…if he thinks he’s popular now…
Be true to thyself. Having just said all that, be who you truly are and play to your strengths. Your window in the fight game is very limited and doing what you do you do best is your greatest chance for success when – and if – you get the opportunity. Figure out what you are good at and be the very best at it. So when your particular strength meets opportunity, you are ready to knock it out of the park. Every fighter can’t be everything to everyone but his or her effort, attitude and preparation can.
This week’s column is dedicated to longtime Nebraska fighter, trainer and promoter Ray Menefee, who passed away last week. Rest in peace, Ray.