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30 SEPTEMBER 2016

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Lopez remembered


By Alex Castro: Nowadays it seems like every fight is for some kind of ‘world title’. Since the late 1980’s fringe world boxing organizations have popped up from all around the globe, and cheapened the name "champion" by blotting the line between a real champion, and one of the lesser sanctioning bodies.

Today most boxing experts accept there are three major bodies, the WBC, WBA, and IBF, and 17 weight classes, which still leaves a lot of room, but back in 1972 there was only the WBC and WBA ,with 11 weight divisions, and titles meant a lot more.

It was in 1972 in Stockton, California that a then unknown Mexican light -heavyweight named Alvaro "Yaqui" Lopez began his career. Over the ensuing 12-year, 63-15-(40), career Lopez accomplished everything except winning a world title. The exciting warrior will be remembered as one of the greatest non-champions ever. Though Lopez never won a title, his incredible courage makes him unforgettable to those that were fortunate to witness his skills..

Lopez' story began on May 20,1951 when he was born in Zacatecas, Mexico with dreams of becoming a bullfighter. At age 14 Lopez climbed into the Plaza de Toros to bullfight, but had his leg shattered by a bulls horn, and was lucky to survive and tell the tale. After recuperating Alvaro moved to Stockton, California ,and worked many long hours of manual labor in the fields with his father. At age 18 Lopez fell madly in love with one Beatriz Cruz, the woman he would later marry. While courting Beatriz, young Lopez grew close to her father Jack Cruz, a former fighter, and not wanting to spend his life laboring the fields, Lopez took up boxing. While at an amateur fight on a Native American reservation Jack, who by now was Alvaro's manager, was asked which tribe he was from. Being of Mexican Indian, rather than American Indian heritage Alvaro, and his manager needed to think of something, so Cruz said his charge was of the Yaqui tribe. Thus "Yaqui" Lopez' legend was born.

By 1975 Lopez was a top contender at 27-3 , with 2 of those losses on close decisions to contender Jesse Burnett, though by the end of the year Lopez had decisioned Burnett for revenge, and scored a sensational 10 round win against the popular Mike Quarry in Stockton. In late 1976 Lopez had four more wins, and a shot at John Conteh of England for the WBC light-heavyweight title. Travelling to Denmark Lopez pounded Conteh most of the way. In round 10 he nearly got a knockout, and apparently won the fight, only to lose a controversial split decision. A return match was scheduled for Africa, but due to political strife it never came off, and Conteh studiously avoided fighting Lopez ever again.

In 1977 Lopez went to Italy to challenge WBA champion Victor Galindez, the most dominant light-heavy of the late 70s. Though he came close Lopez was thrown off by Galindez' roughhouse tactics, and lost a narrow decision. In 1978 Lopez travelled to New York to battle red hot contender, and future champion Mike Rossman in a title eliminator. Always friendly "Yaqui" was taken back by some negative things Rossman said about his heritage. More focused than ever "Yaqui" stormed out, and stopped Rossman in seven rounds to get back in the title picture.

The year 1978 would be a dramatic one, for Lopez was granted a rematch with Galindez for the WBA belt, and despite an injury in training, "Yaqui" was in top form. For 15 rounds Lopez gave Galindez a boxing lesson, but again Lopez found himself robbed, as Galindez escaped with a decision that was among the worst of the decade. Refusing to give up Lopez bounced back by winning the North American title from his old rival Jesse Burnett on a thrilling 15 round decision. Eager to prove he was the best in the world Lopez had Burnett rocking in round six, but in the eighth, Lopez was cut on the bridge of the nose by a Burnett, elbow. He was in danger of having the fight stopped on a cut. Showing courage, "Yaqui" pounded Burnett late to take a unanimous decision, but instead of another title fight Lopez found himself before another hostile audience in Philadelphia to battle Matthew Saad Muhammad, at that time a young contender.

Despite rocking Muhammad several times, Lopez suffered a bad cut , which caused the referee to award the fight to Muhammad, as Lopez wondered if he could ever get a break. In 1979 Lopez dropped another close decision to James Scott in a bout held at Rahaway State Prison, where Scott was an inmate, as Lopez battled not only an opponent ,but a slew of criminals, and thugs rooting against him.

Despite all this Lopez remained fearless, never complained, and by 1980 had come back strong, with over 50 wins to his credit to earn a rematch with Matthew Saad Muhammad, as by now Muhammad had won the WBC 175lb. title. In his most famous fight "Yaqui" pounded Muhammad with over 20 unanswered punches in round eight, but amazingly the ref did not stop it, and Muhammad survived. Ahead Lopez refused to coast, continued charging in, and in round 14 Lopez suddenly tired, as Muhammad dropped him four times on the way to a knockout.

For the fourth time "Yaqui" had just missed the title, but because of both men's heroic showings there was plenty of glory to go around. "Yaqui" became a celebrity in Mexico, but never forgot his family, staying close to his wife Beatriz, and their young son Alvaro Jr.. A stoppage loss to the great Michael Spinks looked like the end, but incredibly "Yaqui" rebounded with four consecutive knockout wins. In1981 Lopez landed another big fight against Tony Mundine in Australia winning on a third round knockout.

In 1982, however, Lopez battled Johnny Davis in Davis' backyard, and after being dropped twice early on "Yaqui" rebounded to give Davis a beating down the stretch, only to lose another hard luck decision. Still undaunted Lopez scored seven wins and moved up to the cruiserweight division to battle Carlos DeLeon for the WBC title. Now aged 32 Lopez looked disinterested, and DeLeon knocked him out in four rounds, one fight later "Yaqui" decided to call it a day. For the next 17 years Lopez drifted away from boxing, and settled down with his wife, and children in Stockton, resurfacing only to do community work. Despite his roller coaster career, "Yaqui" has a happy, stable life, and has taken good care of himself. Earlier this year Lopez again resurfaced to give an online interview to writer Brad Berkwitt, and stated "I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for remembering me." Those that saw Lopez give, his all in the ring, and act with so much class outside it would have no problem remembering him. To them Alvaro 'Yaqui" Lopez remains unforgettable.



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