John J. Raspanti reminisces about Danny "Little Red" Lopez - through the eyes of his Grandpa
In 1972 my grandfather started talking about Danny “Little Red” Lopez.
Grampa lived in Rosemead, CA, roughly 20 miles from The Olympic Auditorium, where Lopez fought 26 times from 1971-78.
In early 72, Lopez fought fellow hotshot, Arturo “Tury the Fury” Pineda, in what was billed as the “Battle of the Teeny-boppers.” Grampa was worried, but confident.
“That kid (Lopez) is tough,” said Grampa. “He takes punches to land his own, and when he does, they don’t get up.”
Grampa was right. Lopez entered the fight against Pineda with 10 knockouts in 10 fights. He exited it with his 11th KO. Along the way, he was staggered a few times before sending Pineda to dreamland.
This pattern would repeat itself numerous times during the course of his career. Lopez would get staggered, go down, get up, and almost always knock out his opponent. It was like getting knocked down woke him up.
The spectacle was amazing to watch. Standing just over 5-foot-7, and weighing 126 pounds soaking wet, Lopez looked like a scarecrow with red hair, but his right hand was loaded with dynamite. He was impassive in the ring, stalking his prey, looking to launch his murderous punch.
I thought of this as I watched Danny make his way through a crowd of admirers at the fifth annual National Boxing Hall of Fame in Montebello, CA. last weekend. Everybody wanted to get their picture taken with him. So many of his fights are memorable.
At the time, Lopez was can’t miss TV. Most of his bouts were wars. He often said if he could hit a guy, he’d knock him out. So true. Lopez was old school. He’d take three to land one. But that one would often end things. Deadly, but, for boxing fans, exciting to watch.
In 1974, Lopez fought fellow unbeaten featherweight Bobby “Schoolboy” Chacon. The sold-out crowd at the Los Angeles Sports Arena was buzzing with excitement as the two phenoms met up. Their records were close to identical. Lopez was 23-0, with 22 knockouts. Chacon had scored 23 wins in 24 fights, knocking out 21 foes. His single loss was to the legendary Rueben Olivares.
Thirty-nine years later, I interviewed Chacon at a café near Staples Center in Los Angeles. I asked him what he remembered about the fight.
“I used to spar with Danny and he’d whup me all the time,” Chacon recalled. “Then my manager said we were going to fight him. When we were sparring, I was learning so much about Danny. All that sparring made me a better fighter. So, when we fought, I was ready. I knew where he was. My right hand kept finding him.”
Yes it did—and his left. Chacon, smaller, but quicker, stopped Lopez in round nine. The loss could have derailed Lopez’s career, but as always, his heart propelled him forward. Grampa took his loss pretty hard, but he kept telling me that Lopez would be a champ someday.
After two more losses (one avenged) and knock out victories over former champions Chu Chu Castillo, and Olivares, that day came in 1976, when Lopez traveled to Accra, Ghana to face WBC featherweight champion David Kotay.
The odds seemed against him, but Lopez stalked and rocked, winning the title by unanimous decision. He gave Kotay a rematch, and stopped the former champ in round six.
In 1979, Lopez engaged in “The Ring Fight of the Year” with tough Mike Ayala. The battle was a war of attrition as each fighter landed hellacious blows. Lopez broke Ayala’s nose, winning by stoppage in the 15th and final round.
The year before he fought cagey challenger Juan Domingo Malvarez at the Silverdome in New Orleans, LA. Malvarez, winner of 26 fights in succession, knocked Lopez was down in the first round, and staggered him a few minutes later. He was winning right? No. As always with Lopez, all it took was one. That one landed in the second round and crumbled Malvarez. The Argentina native didn’t get up for five minutes.
In total, Lopez defended his title eight times. His reign as featherweight champion ended in 1980 when he faced future Hall of Famer Salvador Sanchez.
The fight was brutal, with Sanchez stopping Lopez. Sanchez repeated the feat four months later. Lopez retired.
An ill-advised comeback happened 12 years later. His logic, that he “had to know,” made sense. Grampa talked about Lopez till his dying day. He’d laugh, and shake his head, and mutter, "What a fighter he was."
The love boxing fans have for Lopez is deep and heartfelt. He was the ultimate warrior, who put it on the line in every one of his fights. Everytime I see him, I shake his hand, not only for me, but for my Gramps.
Danny "Little Red" Lopez is one for the ages.