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Articles of 2005

Yaqui Lopez Never Took a Backwards Step



Long before there was Arturo Gatti, there was an equally exciting light heavyweight named Alvaro “Yaqui” Lopez. Hailing from Stockton, California, Lopez, who campaigned from 1972-84, spilled gallons of blood and took hundreds of facial stitches but never took a backwards step in compiling a record of 63-15 (40 KOS) against such championship caliber opponents as Victor Galindez and Matthew Saad Muhammad, each of whom he fought twice, Michael Spinks, Mike Rossman, S.T. Gordon, and Carlos DeLeon. In his heyday, Lopez was so popular, even the venerable Archie Moore said he was one if his favorite fighters of all time.

“Yaqui fought for the light heavyweight title five times,” said Marty Sammon, a longtime Northern California boxing official. “Even though he never got the win in any of them, he won at least three of them.”

Lopez’s title fight against John Conteh, which occurred in Copenhagen in October 1976, is a prime example. “Lopez, his manager and father-in-law Jack Cruz, and co-trainers Benny Casing and Hank Pericle, the latter of whom bears a striking resemblance to the Paulie Walnuts character on HBO’s “The Sopranos,” arrived in Denmark just three days prior to the bout. Although feeling the effects of jetlag, by most accounts Lopez was beating the champion handily.

“Albert hit him with a body shot, and the ref picked Conteh off the floor,” said Cruz, who still calls Lopez by his anglicized first name. “Then the ref gave an eight-count, even though the eight-count had been waived.”

Lopez also lost two heartbreakingly close decisions to Galindez, both in Italy. As controversial as those fights were in their day, Lopez is best known for his two epic battles against Saad Muhammad. In their first bout, in October 1978, Saad Muhammad, who was still known as Matt Franklin, stopped Lopez in the eleventh round. The fight, which took place in Franklin’s hometown of Philadelphia, was for Franklin’s NABF title. By the time of the rematch 21 months later, Franklin not only changed his name, he also held the WBC title. In the eighth round, Lopez hit his arch nemesis with over 20 unanswered punches, and looked to be en route to winning the long elusive title. But the champion miraculously stayed on his feet, and roared back to stop Lopez in the 14th round of The RING magazine’s 1980 Fight of the Year.

“He got his second wind and I didn’t,” said Lopez, who still resides with his wife and two grown sons in Stockton, directly across the street from Cruz.

The 79-year-old Pericle, however, assumes more responsibility for that loss. He insists that he abided by a rule prohibiting smelling salts, while the Franklin corner did not. “I didn’t use them, thinking I was doing the right thing,” he said. “But people kept telling me Saad’s head was jolting up and down between rounds. When we looked on the floor in his corner after the fight, there were capsules everywhere. If I had used salts, Yaqui would’ve gotten his second wind and been light heavyweight champion of the world.”

Although Lopez was stopped seven months later by Michael Spinks, Spinks told him he had never been hit harder by any other opponent. Along the way, Lopez also stopped Mike Rossman, who was then the number-one contender, in six brutal rounds at New York’s Madison Square Garden, and beat such top contenders as Tony Mundine in Australia, Jesse Burnett, Gary Summerhays and Mike Quarry.

“We live in a different era today,” said Lopez, now 53 and a seemingly fit 195 pounds. “The fighters today are not the same caliber as they were in the sixties and seventies. They were real good and took nothing for granted. You couldn’t sneak your way into a title shot back then. You had to earn it.”

Given Lopez’s humblest of beginnings, it is no wonder that he takes nothing for granted. Born in Zacatecas, Mexico, he dreamed of being a bullfighter but had his right leg gorged at the age of 12. His family then moved to Stockton, where they found seasonal work picking fruit and vegetables in the broiling sun for 12 hours a day. Lopez, who dropped out of junior high school, eventually got a job at a local cannery and felt relegated to living a humdrum life. That all changed when he met a lovely young girl named Beatrice Cruz, who was of Irish and Mexican descent. Her father Jack was a small-time but well-known area boxing promoter. Lopez was not only in love – he finally saw an opportunity for a better personal and professional future.

“I remember thinking, at 6’2” he was tall for a Mexican,” said the gregarious Cruz who is now in his early eighties. “Albert was so green, the first time I put him in a ring he was walking around looking for the gate to get out.”

During an early amateur fight, on an Indian reservation in Eureka, California, Cruz was asked what tribe his protégé hailed from. The first word that came to mind was “Yaqui” and Lopez immediately garnered the nickname that he holds to this day.

Although Cruz says that Lopez initially had “two left feet,” the young fighter fought hard and often, devouring all the knowledge he could along the way. He apprenticed in smokers throughout California’s Central Valley, and even against inmates in local and state prisons. Not long after Lopez married Beatrice, at the age of 19 in 1971, he turned pro. Within a year he was fighting ten-round main events throughout California and beyond. Against the rugged Al Bolden in Portland, Oregon, the $1,500 in coins that was thrown into the ring by ecstatic fans was triple the fighters’ $500 purses.

“With Yaqui, attitude was everything,” said Pericle. “He was as tough mentally as he was physically. It was obvious that he would make his mark. And he did, even though he never won a title.”

Although Lopez was known as a blood and guts warrior, his wife says he was a lot more talented than he is given credit for. “He was like a ballet dancer in the ring,” she said. “People remember all the blood, but that was because his skin cut so easily. He looked like he was hit hard, but he rolled with most of the punches and they slid across his neck. All you have to do is listen to him today to see that he didn’t take too many head beatings.”

She’s got a point. Not only is Lopez extremely articulate, his memory is downright photographic. “Albert could have been a doctor if he chose,” said Cruz. “He’s brilliant. He learned English by himself. To be as sharp as he is with all the fights he had; imagine if he had no fights and went to college instead.”

After retiring from the ring, Lopez became a garbage hauler, but seriously injured his back. Although he has endured five surgeries, he refuses to take the prescribed pain killers and stays fit by walking two to three miles a day, eating healthily, and doing lots of stretching. He also dotes on his ailing father-in-law, dispensing his medication, doing his cooking and cleaning, and playing dominoes with him on a daily basis. They are as tight now as they were when Lopez was one of television’s premier attractions. “I don’t know what I did to deserve such a good son-in-law,” said Cruz. “It’s like God sent him to me.”

In many ways, Lopez the fighter is as much of an anachronism as Stockton the city is to old-timers like Cruz and Pericle, the latter of whom was recently awarded a Purple Heart for injuries he incurred during a kamikaze attack while serving aboard the U.S.S. Lansom during World War II. At the time, the 19-year-old Pericle did not a request the medal because of fear that the news would find its way to his mother. She had already suffered a cerebral hemorrhage that doctors attributed to her other two sons being engaged in combat.

The Stockton in which Cruz and Pericle were reared, and in which Lopez was developed, was generally regarded as a frontier town where rules were flouted and the only law of the land was lawlessness. The skid row so well chronicled in the classic film “Fat City” is gone, as are the labor camps, gambling dens, whorehouses, bootleg fight venues, transient hotels, and pool halls with names like the Bataan Pool House and Daddy Blacks.  Gone too are fighters like Lopez, who brought pride and dignity to a city that was much too often, and too easily, maligned for all of the wrong reasons.

The way Beatrice sees things, her husband represented all that was good about Stockton, long before it became “sanitized” by its modernization and gentrification. “For some reason God didn’t want him to be a champion, it just wasn’t in the books,” she explained. “So many times, big time promoters tried to steal him away from my father. But loyalty was so important to him, he wouldn’t go. When he fought, he gave it all. He had too much respect for the sport, and his fans, not to. And when he quit, he never looked back. My father got many offers for him to return, but he always said no. Both my husband and my father lived life on their own terms. They did things their way, and are as close now as they were then. That’s not always the case in boxing families.”

Articles of 2005

In Boxing News: Floyd Mayweather An All-Time Great, Valuev & More



A Shot of Boxing on the Last Day of the Year

The Guardian reports that talks have already taken place between Nicolay Valuev‘s co-promoters – Don King and Wilfried Sauerland – and Danny Williams‘ promoter Frank Warren for Nicolay Valuev to face Danny Williams. I’d suggest Danny Williams needs to worry about Matt Skelton (who Williams is reportedly scheduled to fight in February) before he entertains notions of facing the Beast From The East.

The Mirror in the UK looks forward to a big year in boxing for 2006. The Mirror considers what the future might bring for Joe Calzaghe, Amir Khan and Ricky Hatton, among others.

The Parksville Qualicum News has an interesting column on the travails of former Canadian Super Middleweight title holder Mark Woolnough. Woolnough’s career turned controversial – as widely reported in the Canadian press – at the beginning of this year when Woolnough and four other men were charged with manslaughter and assault after a fight outside a Parksville nightclub. The case returns to court next month. It’s an interesting read, as Woolnough is still looking to the future with hope.

Our own Marc Lichtenfeld provides plenty of food for thought with his Top Ten Wish List for boxing in the New Year. There’s plenty of good stuff here, but what really jumped out for me is Lichtenfeld’s opinion that a win over Zab Judah could have Floyd Mayweather knocking on the door of all-time great status. Seems to me this might be jumping the gun a little. Or is Marc right? Will it soon be time to call Floyd Mayweather Jr. an all-time great?

(More Boxing News Links at

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Articles of 2005

ShoBox Friday Night Fights




Hot bantamweight prospect Raul “The Cobra” Martinez heads back to Chicago next Friday night as he is featured in the co-main event of SHOBOX “THE NEW GENERATION,” an action packed evening of professional boxing presented by Dominic Pesoli’s 8 Count Productions,’ HOME OF THE BEST IN CHICAGO BOXING, Kathy Duva’s Main Events Inc., along with Miller Lite and TCF Bank.

The two-time national amateur champion sporting a perfect 12-0 record with 9 knockouts, six of which have come in the first round,  will take on Colombian Andres “Andy Boy” Ledesma, 13-1 (8 KOs) in a scheduled eight round bout.

Speaking after a training session at his home gym in Georgetown, Texas, Martinez said, “I’m truly looking forward to returning to Chicago. The fans were terrific in September, they were very supportive from the start of the fight,” an internationally televised first round knockout of Miguel Martinez on September 16th at the Aragon Ballroom.

Regarding his upcoming fight with Ledesma, “The Cobra” said, “I haven’t seen him fight, although I understand he’s fought at higher weights and will be naturally bigger than me. I’ve had great training for this fight and feel very confident. I really haven’t left the gym in months, just taking off Sunday’s and even then I get my running in. My thinking is that fights are won in the gym and complete preparation is the key.”

When asked about his being mentioned by Dan Rafael, ESPN’s boxing writer as one of the top prospect’s in the boxing world the 23-year-old San Antonio native said, ‘It’s a great compliment, but I still have much work to do. I want to be a champion for Main Events like Fernando Vargas and Arturo Gatti. But like Fernando said while he was in town, ‘be patient, work hard and your time will come.’”

Finishing the conversation, Martinez said, “I’m looking forward to starting out this year with a bang. I might have a couple less fights than the seven I had in 2005, but I’m looking to stepping up the competition, move up to ten-rounders and climb in the rankings.”

Headlining the evening is a ten-round welterweight showdown between boxing’s hottest prospect, unbeaten Joel Julio of Monteria, Columbia, and Ugandan native Roberto “The Doctor” Kamya. Julio, turning 21 years old the day before the fight, is 25-0 with 22 knockouts, twelve of which have come in the first two rounds. Kamya, now fighting out of West Palm Beach, Florida is 15-5 with four knockouts.

Tickets, starting at $30, are on sale in advance by calling 312-226-5800. Cicero Stadium is located at 1909 S. Laramie, at the corner of 19th and Laramie, just ten minutes south of the Eisenhower Expressway and ten minutes north of the Stevenson Expressway. Doors for this evening will open at 6pm with the first bell at 7pm.

The full bout lineup for the evening is:

Joel Julio vs. Roberto Kamya, ten rounds, welterweights

Raul Martinez vs. Andres Ledesma, eight rounds, bantamweights

Miguel Hernandez vs. Butch Hajicek, eight rounds, middleweights

David Pareja vs. Derek Andrews, eight rounds, light heavyweights

Mike Gonzales vs. Tony Kinney, four rounds, lightweights

Omar Reyes vs. Luis Navarro, five rounds, featherweights

Reynaldo Reyes vs. Ricardo Swift, four rounds, middleweights

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Articles of 2005

Pick ‘Em: Plenty of Big Upcoming Fights in ’06



Here’s the early call on many top matches scheduled for the first half of 2006: Happy New Year!

As the new calendar dawns, there are already a considerable amount of premium bouts on the horizon. Things don’t look to be bogged down by undetermined championships next year. In many cases the scheduled face-offs involve the best fighters in the division, or at least close enough for general bragging rights. If anybody else with proper qualifications signs up to force the issue, all the better.

It can be argued that some pairings could have taken place within a more optimal timeframe, or that some headliners carry distracting baggage, but there are certainly enough heavy hitters on deck. That nobody can deny.

It doesn’t matter whether one considers the proverbial glass half empty or half full; there’s still the same amount of juice in the vessel. It’s nice to know that even with a high number of cancellations, there will still be plenty of important contenders on tap.

With elite fighters in weight divisions from top to bottom on the agenda, it’s an equivalent to what fans in more mainstream sports expect in a consistent championship format.

Baseball fans can almost always count on a World Series. Some hoops fanatics say too much attention to playoffs distracts unmotivated NBA teams during their regular season. In college, they project Sweet Sixteens. Football fans know there’s always a Super Bowl ahead to raise advertising dollars and test the USA’s halftime morals.

So too, there is method in boxing’s current madness.

The midnight crystal ball hasn’t even been unveiled in Times Square and there are already a number of potential thrillers scheduled. Most feature contrasting personalities that almost guarantee going along for the ride will be worthwhile. Any subsequent drops will probably be cheered.

Don King jumps right out of the auld lang gate with a January 7th Showtime card featuring Zab Judah against Carlos Baldomir and Jean-Marc Mormeck in a cruiserweight unification against O’Neil Bell.

It will be the upset of the year, bar none, if Baldomir can tip the applecart before Judah gets to his scheduled super-showdown with Floyd Mayweather Jr. Meanwhile, Mormeck is emerging and should keep on rolling against Bell, who can expose him if he’s not for real.

The proverbial Big Bang starts with a January 21st rematch of one of the finest fights of ‘05, when Erik Morales goes against Manny Pacquaio for the second time on HBO pay per view. The fact that Morales was upset by Zahir Raheem after beating Pacquaio was no real loss in box-office luster. Artful Raheem will get a spot on the undercard and hope his patience is rewarded.

Everyone figures Morales and Pacquaio will pick up where they left off. Like the first time, the rematch is a pick’em contest. Management distractions and glove restrictions cited as Pacquaio’s previous problems won’t matter this time. The two are very evenly matched and their styles will make for another whapathon. It could come down to corners, where Freddie Roach gets the edge since Morales will have a new trainer for the first time since replacing his father after the Raheem lesson.

February features four of the game’s most enduring attractions, in a pair of crucial matchups.

First up, Showtime presents the Jose Luis Castillo – Diego Corrales tiebreaker from El Paso on Feb 4th. This is another pick ‘em pair, barring any sideshow. In boxing that disclaimer may be a stretch, since the sideshow is part of the act and the charm.

As far as action inside the strands goes, every round these guys have fought has been great. There’s no reason to think that pattern won’t continue. Regarding the result, Castillo keeps the pressure on as he did in the second fight, but he’ll walk into trouble from a more reserved Corrales. We still don’t know which coin to flip.

February also holds a better late than never affair between two perennial favorites as Shane Mosley collides with Fernando Vargas on the 25th.  This fight could lead to a winning ticket in the Golden Boy sweepstakes for a fall bonanza against Oscar De La Hoya.

Vargas has been in tougher recently, based on comparable strength of opposition stats, but he’s seen little action. What weight they enter the ring at may have a lot to do with the result. If Vargas has to struggle at the scale, Mosley might have the battle in the bag after round nine.

It’s hard to imagine Mosley getting stopped early, but Vargas doesn’t have to hurt him, he just has to knock him down three times. With natural size, he may be able to do just that, but Mosley would have to box uncharacteristically flat.

Unless Mosley decides to heed the crowd, the most likely scenario is that Shane plays it safe, picks a few shots, and stays away enough to capture a comfortable, dull decision. An unbowed Vargas maintains his fan base but not his bettors.

March both comes in and goes out as a lion.

On March 4th Joe Calzaghe welcomes Jeff Lacy to Manchester UK for what may be the biggest blowout of the headlining bunch. Calzaghe gets the chance to prove his considerable home-based reputation once and for all, but if Lacy creams him as we expect, that glossy record will be severely tarnished.

All Calzaghe has to do is make a respectable stand, but that’s no small task against the rising Lacy. A motivated Calzaghe, songs of England ringing in his ears, could pull a big surprise if he can exploit Lacy’s relatively limited technical development, but that’s a longshot indeed.

It looks like Lacy can get by on power alone. He could soon emerge as a pound-for-pound leader. Old Joe’s hometown advantage will last about two left hooks.

March 11th has the Ides of history to beware for at least one old lion, with farewell (we’ll see) fireworks featuring Roy Jones Jr. against Bernard Hopkins. Less than two years ago they were considered untouchable all time greats. Now between them they’ve lost five in a row.

This goodbye fight is contracted at light heavyweight, for what seems like an oldies night. Hopkins is the senior at age 41 to Jones’s 37, but Roy seems more the grandpa figure, last seen hanging on against Antonio Tarver. Youth, as it were here, will prevail.

This bout was signed quickly as each principal, usually sticklers for favorable contract clauses, agreed to parity in a demonstration of businessman first and fighter second. They may both expect easy marks. How much the boys have left by the time they get down to business remains to be seen. The history books will show this as a climactic career bout between Hall of Famers.

At 175 pounds, Hopkins may be in for rude awakening. Jones may have been more thoroughly outfought recently, but he was rumbling with bigger, tougher men than Jermain Taylor or Howard Eastman. Respectable as he is, Taylor still falls short of the level of Tarver, at least for now. The difference is still fifteen pounds less pop.

It will be quite a feat if Hopkins can stay in the fight, even at Jones’s advanced age. Our stars point to Jones winning in overwhelming fashion.

On March 18th, James Toney meets Hasim Rahman in another pairing of seasoned war-horses.

Toney and Rahman already had their introductions, when they brawled in Mexico during a WBC gathering to bestow Rahman’s new belt. Between formalities, Toney got married, which could bring up the old questions about carnal training.

Let’s hope when they meet in the ring, they restore some of the fire missing from the heavyweights in ‘05.  Toney might have an edge in recent form, but Rahman shows fine tuning he previously lacked. The winner might get newly “crowned’ Nicolai Valuev, an easy payday outside Germany.

Rahman could be the heavyweight that finally makes Toney look like a blown up middleweight. But anything less than a top effort will probably lead to embarrassing night for the Rock and give Toney solid claim to being the true heavyweight champ.

This might not be the most artful fight of the new season, but it could well be the most grueling, and the closest. He who’s faced the better big boys gets the nod. Advantage Rahman.

March 25 features Marco Antonio Barrera, probably the strongest overall claimant to 130 pound honors. The likely opponent is said to be always tough Jesus Chavez.

Chavez seemed rejuvenated when he met Leavander Johnson, but Johnson’s tragic death may have taken some of the steam out of thoughtful Chavez, said to have received Johnson’s family blessing to continue in Leavander’s name. That could mean a lot of inspiration. Either way, if he does meet Chavez, who hung tough with one arm against Erik Morales, Barrera won’t get any slack. The Fates say Chavez, whose wife recently served in Iraq, is a live, live underdog.

Another clash to be King of the Hill finds Floyd Mayweather Jr, arguably the game’s finest practitioner, bumping heads with Zab Judah, one of very few boxers who rivals Mayweather in speed, skills, and brashness.

Their hoedown, scheduled for April 8th, is one of the top pound-for-pound pairings in recent years. Judah will need a career best performance to have a chance of victory. That’s not to say he can’t pull it off, but currently Mayweather is in a different galaxy in terms of punching power. Slow-motion replays may be the only way to follow the flying fists once these two whirlwinds unload.

Mayweather should be around a 4-1 favorite. Judah is good enough to make taking the odds an attractive proposition, since that’s probably as good of odds as one is likely to see on Floyd for a while. Mayweather will stop Judah in his tracks.

The first half of next year is set to conclude with the star power of Oscar De La Hoya, probably against noteworthy foil Ricardo Mayorga on May 6. There could be some snags before a contract is finalized, but if it comes off count on Mayorga for promotional sound bite nastiness. One of the questions is whether or not he’ll be able to get under Oscar’s skin, and it might actually be entertaining to see the classy, model perfect De La Hoya show he’s human and freak out against the Nicaraguan maniac.

Mayorga may have burnt his best bridges already. De La Hoya has not only the boxing skill to negate Mayorga’s offense, but enough power to end it early. If Mayorga rushes in and causes a cut, De La Hoya might get ruffled enough to duck into defense and Mayorga could get a decision that goes to the cards after six rounds or so. It will be wild for as long as it lasts.

Pro boxing, like many sports, had its share of problems during 2005, but there were also many positives. Most notably, as usual, was superior and inspiring action inside the strands. Unless there’s a mass freeze-up at the top, early 2006 figures to see decisive interaction among many well-known fighters.

If even fifty per cent of the aforementioned pairings come to fruition, it’s a strong likelihood the upcoming year has at least one very positive half. Arturo Gatti, Miguel Cotto, Antonio Margarito, Brian Viloria, and Shannon Briggs, to name a few, are also on deck. No matter how you chose to look at or measure mass qualities, there’s still just as much good to be seen.

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