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Chatting with the champ: Yaqui Lopez

Lopez, often called the toughest fighter to never win a world title, may not have won a world title but he certainly cemented a reputation as a champion in every way, every single time he entered the ring.

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Yaqui Lopez
Yaqui Lopez

In the latest episode of “Chatting with the Champ,” MaxBoxing gets an opportunity to speak with legend Alvaro “Yaqui” Lopez.

 

Yaqui turned professional in 1972, and 12 years and 76 fights later, he would leave the ring with a reputation as one of the light heavyweight division’s premiere warriors and most exciting, fan-friendly fighters to ever enter the ring.

 

Lopez, often called the toughest fighter to never win a world title, may not have won a world title but he certainly cemented a reputation as a champion in every way, every single time he entered the ring.

 

Lopez challenged for world titles against England’s John Conteh in 1976, Argentina’s Victor Galindez in 1977 and ’78 and division legend Matthew Saad Muhammad in 1980. Though uncrowned, these fights indeed secured Lopez’s reputation as a world champion fighter.

 

By the time Lopez retired, along with 4 world title fights, he had faced future cruiserweight champion ST Gordon, cruiserweight champion Carlos De Leon, Australian legend Tony Mundine, light heavyweight king Michael Spinks, light heavyweight champion Mike Rossman, light heavyweight title challenger Lonnie Bennett, world title challenger Mike Quarry, (prison incarcerated) division contender James Scott, world title challenger Johnny Davis and world cruiserweight title challenger Jesse Burnett, to name but a few.

 

Lopez was one of the best, and always wanted to fight the best, and by doing so solidified a resume that makes him a true, throw-back warrior in boxing.

 

A couple years back, Top Rank Boxing was doing in show in Lopez’s hometown of Stockton, California. Canadian, and world-renowned cornerman, Russ Anber was in Stockton to work the show. He is a friend of Lopez’s and made a point of inviting Lopez to the weigh-in and making sure he had tickets to attend the show the next night. Anber knows the history of the game like no other and he knew if they were going to be working in Stockton, that the city’s boxing royalty should be there. I reached out to Russ and he connected me with Lopez to what turned out to be one of the most enjoyable interviews I have ever done. Yaqui is as humble and gracious out of the ring as he was ferocious and exciting in it. Here is that interview.

 

Bill Tibbs: Hi Yaqui, I have to say this is a real thrill to be chatting with you. How are you?

 

Yaqui Lopez: (Laughs). Oh Bill, thank you my friend. I am just happy to be talking to you and I appreciate you talking to me about my boxing career.

 

BT: Did you fight in the amateurs?

 

YL: My girlfriend at the time, who is now my wife of almost 49 years, well her father was a promoter, and I asked him to teach me to box. So, we worked in the gym and he showed me some things and then he put me in my first amateur fight after about 2 weeks of training. The first fight he put me in was with a guy who had 100 fights. Jack (Cruz) wanted to see if I was a real fighter or not. I had to show him I was serious because I was with his daughter (laughs). So, I had about 15 fights, I was 12-3 and then I turned professional.

 

BT: Did you work with (father-in-law) Jack your whole career?

 

YL: Yes, I did. He said to me, ‘Well, we should do up a contract to make it official’. But I said there is no need for that. I am a man of my word and I will stay with you and I did. I worked with him for my whole career. Angelo Dundee approached me about training with him but I said no because there wasn’t anything that he could show me that was going to change the way I fight. I fought the way I fought. I tried to always give the fans an exciting fight and do my best in the ring. I am loyal and I stayed with Jack my whole career. When I thought about him, I would think, he has brought me this far and it has been so far, so good; no need for a change.

 

BT: Your fights with Mathew Saad Muhammad were legendary.

 

YL: Oh, thank you. The first time I fought him in Philadelphia the 8th round was the ‘Round of the Year’ and the fight was the ‘Fight of the Year’.

 

BT: What was your toughest fight?

 

YL: Hmm, my toughest fight. It’s hard to say. When I fought Al Bolden for the first time, in Seattle, that was a tough fight. We knocked each other down 3 times each and it was a very tough fight. I lost a very close decision. But, the fans loved the fight so much they were throwing money in the ring after. I was paid 500 dollars for the fight and collected 750 dollars from the fans after they threw money in the ring. So, I made 500 from the promoter but made 750 from the fans (laughs). The next time I fought him in Portland, I changed my style, set up my shots and used my boxing skills more and won a decision. Al Bolden was a tough fight.

 

BT: Fat City Boxing Gym, tell me about that.

 

YL: Well Bill, I am still there 5 days a week, helping the young kids, help get the next generation of fighters from Stockton. We need another fighter to be the next boxing legend in Stockton. My wife says, ‘you want to stay home and relax a bit?’ And I will say, ‘Why? To sit around the house and get fat?’ (laughs). So, she says ‘Ok, go to the gym’ and that is why I love her (laughs).

 

BT: What is your greatest memory in boxing?

 

YL: My greatest memory? I have many good memories of boxing. Fighting Michael Spinks, my fights with Matthew Saad Muhammad, fighting for the world titles. I enjoyed boxing for the people and always tried to fight my hardest and give the fans a good fight.

 

BT: How would you like to be remembered Yaqui?

 

YL: I would just like people to remember me as a person like I am. If you treat me good, I will treat you good. I want to be remembered as a nice guy who respected people; we all bleed the same color. I am just happy to be talking to you today Bill. Thank you.

 

BT: Yaqui, I can’t tell you what an honour it was speaking with you today. You were simply one of the best and it was a thrill to follow your career. Thank you for your time.

 

YL: Oh, thank you and God be with you my friend. Thank you.

 

* Again, a special thank you to Russ Anber for setting up the interview.

 

 

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