I’ve always been of the opinion that a loss or losses doesn’t define a fighter, sure every fighter steps through the ropes with intentions of victory but it’s the ones who step away from the obscurity who really find out who they truly are in their search for greatness, so with that being said I usually switch off when someone starts a debate by telling me, ‘Yes but he’s never been beaten’ which could in all fairness be a fair reflection if that particular person had fought solid opposition but given less credence if it revolves around less stellar opposition.
It is however a remarkable achievement to remain unbeaten in any sport, a feat which in boxing has only been accomplished fifteen times in its history, some have done so prematurely with injury cited as the reason for stepping away from the spotlight but there are a few on the list who can actively seek out legendary status, we refer to the likes of Rocky Marciano, Joe Calzaghe and Floyd Mayweather Jr for instance but also to the man who I base this article on Ricardo Lopez.
The lighter weight classes have always held my attention more so than any others, for as long as I can remember I’ve loved the all action nature of the men small in stature but BIG in heart, throwing hundreds of punches in an effort to outlast the man standing across from him, ‘Finito’ along with Ivan Calderon sat at the top of my own list of personal favourites from the Minimumweight division.
In my early days unlike today where the fights are readily available, it became a task at the end of each month to find the latest foreign fights to add to the collection which adorned the cabinets of the walls of my bedroom.
It started out with VHS before the beauty of DVD became readily available, all ordered from the listings at the back of boxing magazines, some will remember these as I start to show my age.
Still to this day I have a catalogue of tapes / DVD’s from Lopez’ career all of which will one day be converted digitally when I find the time to do so. He fascinated me in the way he would find a path to victory, a Swiss army knife that had a tool for every occasion.
It’s easy to reason behind his apprenticeship of learning his craft. Growing up he would study the Mexican greats, marvelling in the way they would put their punches together, one, in particular, catching his gaze in Jose “Mantequilla” Napoles whose abilities to hit and move transfixed Lopez of the beauty and brutality that was exhibited.
He would go on to not only follow in his heroes footsteps but by the time the smoke had settled, he was the one taking his seat along with Napoles, Sanchez, Chavez etc on Mexico’s top table of greats.
Where it all started….
Aged seven, Lopez managed by the legendary boxing manager Cullo Hernandez went on to become one of a select few to achieve the feat of never being bettered in either the amateurs or professionally, in his time in the unpaid ranks he won four consecutive Guantes de Oro de México Championships from 1981 to 1984.
A year later he was embarking on his professional debut at the age of 18. Those lucky to be in attendance that night witnessed him score a third-round stoppage of Rogelio Hernandez before scoring seven consecutive knockouts before Herminio Ramirez was durable enough to give him some rounds.
By 1990 Lopez had taken his resume to 26-0 with the champions of the division unable to put off the inevitable any longer. The man courageous enough was Hideyuki Ohashi who had already taken two bites of the cherry in being stopped by Jung Koo Chang before finally securing the WBC title in his sixteenth contest in the knockout of his countryman Jum Hwan Choi. Ohashi had defended his crown just once in defeat of Napa Kiatwanchai before Lopez stood eagerly at the front of the queue.
Ohashi may have felt temporary comfort in his surroundings as he was fighting in front of his hometown fans in Tokyo, Japan but that confidence was soon removed from the equation with a masterclass of such levels that the champion was unable to match. Five rounds are all it took to break the resistance he held on the WBC title, five rounds which witnessed Ohashi hit the canvas twice on-route.
Now Lopez had taken his place as king of the division with two defences in Asia to follow, a stoppage win in Tokyo over Kimio Hirano whilst the other in Korea over former champion Kyung Yun Lee.
He had not only won the title on the road but also defended it in the challengers country all the while a nagging feeling was felt, a longing to fight in front of his beloved Mexican compatriots who wished to see firsthand one of their prized possessions, Lopez obliged with a couple of victories to satisfy their cravings. Rocky Lin had racked up a decent resume but Lopez had hit his stride by this time, knocking out the Japanese fighter in the fifth defence of his title.
Lopez had become a name on the lips of boxing insiders, nailing his colours to the mast he found himself on the undercard of McClellan Vs. Jackson with the chief support from the likes of Julio Cesar Chavez, Terry Norris, Azumah Nelson, Jesse James Leija and Meldrick Taylor.
The unbeaten Colombian Kermin Guardia found himself in the crosshairs of the Mexican, Lopez did his level best to bring spectators to their feet by putting out another display of brilliance in unanimously defeating his foe.
The undercard brought with it the eyes of a watching audience to the talents of Finito who like myself hungered for more.
In the nineteenth defence of the WBC title he coupled that title with the WBO championship, claiming the crown with victory over Alex Sanchez before his biggest of tests presented itself in the shape of Rosendo Alvarez.
The WBA title lingering attractively, the carrot on a stick became a chance to add to the growing cabinet of titles but the Nicaraguan wasn’t going to just step aside or pull out the welcome mat for that to happen.
The fight represented only the second time a unification contest had taken place in the 105-pound division, the first being Lopez’ knockout of Sanchez for the same title on offer against Alvarez.
I can already sense your confusion so let me save you the trouble of reading the above sentence again, the WBO title was stripped due to Lopez’ intention on giving the title to his father, The organisations president stepped in, saying “It was enough for us, That’s a public resignation.”
This became a chance to recapture the one that got away but after two rounds Lopez already sensed the uphill task he was faced with, knocked down in the second round courtesy of a brilliant right hand further pushed home that thought process.
Lopez looked to even the scores but in the eighth, the two butted heads leaving Lopez with a nasty looking cut, the referee Arthur Mercante Sr. following WBC rules took a point away from the uncut fighter which on reflection would have swayed the eventual decision.
The cut thereafter worsened with Nacho Beristain opting not to work on the cut in the belief that his fighter (Lopez) was ahead on the scorecards, quickly he come to the conclusion that this was an error on his part. Tommy Kazmarek of New Jersey had Lopez ahead 67-64, while another judge favored Alvarez 68-63. The third judge was Las Vegas’ Dalby Shirley who ruled the bout 66-66, a draw, bringing groans from the two sectors of fight fans.
An immediate rematch was sought by all parties in need of a more satisfying conclusion, Lopez had long awaited a man good enough to challenge his supremacy, Alvarez had proved he was more than up to the task but would let himself / his team down by being stripped off the WBA title due to his inability to make weight. The Nicaraguan came in to the bout 108 1/4, a full division above the one he held the title at, this meant that only Lopez could take the crown.
Lopez stylistically was the classic boxer in the contest whilst Alvarez was the stronger of the two men, added to more due to the illegal weight advantage. That aside the fight had all the makings of a classic which turned out to be the case.
Lopez started the brighter of the two, using his famed left hook to punctuate his dominance but soon Alvarez’ heavy hands started to have their desired effect. Like a pendulum on a clock the control swung from one to the other.
Lopez was cut over the right eye in the 5th (via accidental headbutt), over his left eye in the 6th whilst blood continually ran from his nose from the 7th onward, he suffered further cuts under the left eye in the 9th and under the right eye during the 10th looking grotesque but continuing valiantly like the Mexican warrior of years gone by. Lopez found his rhythm in the latter rounds, edging the scorecards by the contests closer to bring a packed Hilton Hotel in Las Vegas to their feet whilst Alvarez in the rare occurrence back-stepped from the onslaught.
The fight had its victor, albeit split on the judges’ scorecards by scores of 116-114, 116-112, 113-115 with the feeling from all that the fight had earmarked its consideration for fight of the year. Alvarez blamed his hotel scales for the reason why he come in over-weight, a half-hearted excuse that was difficult for the media to swallow.
Lopez was now on the precipice of the division, reigning supreme for an eight year period, with 21 successful defenses.
NEW VENTURE SOUGHT…
The thirst for more remained but having drank from the minimumweight fountain for so long the competition had eventually dried up, a move to a new watering hole was sought, Light Flyweight with Will Grigsby awaiting the challenge.
The American had lifted the title with a win over Anucha Phothong before a successful defence followed against Carmelo Caceres, now Lopez had entered the scene. Grigsby confidently accepted the challenge with the intention on sending Lopez back home with his tail between his legs, on reflection it may have been ill advised. Lopez remained dominant in winning on the judges scorecards with Mike Glienna rendering a score of 112-116, whilst Bill Graham had it 110-118 and Joseph Pasquale 111-117.
Next on the hitlist was Former IBF Minimumweight champion Ratanapol Sor Vorapin who had already lost a decision to Grigsby for the title had the second bite of the cherry against Lopez. Okay that sentence may be a bit of a stretch as it turned out to be more of a nibble from the Thai fighter who lasted just three rounds before opponent number 50 succumbed to the magical Mexican.
Lopez’ long road to greatness had finally arrived at its destination, he had walked the beaten path, skipping over the jagged challenges along the way. One more swan-song was sought, a challenger by way of South Africa, a former IBF Minimumweight title holder who UK fans will know as the man who defeated Mickey Cantwell, who is a mainstay in many peoples top ten best at the weight class.
The contest was originally slated for September 15th 2001 but was postponed two weeks due to the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Lopez was favoured as he had done numerous times in the past but a tough nights work was predicted nonetheless. Arthur Mercante Sr. was also making his last appearance of a career that had spanned 145 world title fights making the occasion that much more special.
The fight itself became another marvel of Lopez’ incredible talents, all of which left the usually resourceful Petelo out of ideas on how to solve the Mexican puzzle, the contest lasted eight rounds before the inevitable white flag was waved.
George Foreman encapsulated the performance, saying “When they take their mouth pieces out they don’t want it anymore”
A sentence that can be attributed to many of the contests involving Lopez, they would step through the middle rope with hopes and dreams but soon came to the realisation that they were sharing the canvas with an artist unlike any other.
It was a privilege to be able to reflect on a career that is amongst the best the lower weight classes have ever seen.