Exclusive Interview With Tony “The Tiger” Lopez: My Dream Fight Was Azumah Nelson

Tony “The Tiger” Lopez, a former champion at 130 and 135 pounds, fought a number of Hall of Famers during his exciting career. Indeed, Lopez has an almost ridiculous resume: Julio Cesar Chavez, Rocky Lockridge, Brian Mitchell, Jorge Paez, John John Molina, Greg Haugen, Freddie Pendleton – Lopez fought them all, and he beat a good many of these greats.

Retiring in 1999 with an impressive 50-8-1(34) record, the 58 year old has some memorable career to look back on.

Here, Lopez, who is in great shape these days, strolls down memory lane for the benefit of ESB readers:

Q: It’s an honour to be able to speak with you! You had some career, and where to start? Which fight of yours means the most to you now, when you look back?

Tony Lopez: “Thank you. Probably the first Rocky Lockridge fight. That would be the most memorable one.”

Q: That was Fight of the Year in 1988?

T.L: “Yes sir.”

Q: Rocky passed away a few years back, having been living on the streets…..

T.L: “Yeah, that’s kind of a sad story. What I heard was, boxing was his life. Once he couldn’t do that, he had nothing left. Sad.”

Q: Where does he rank amongst the toughest guys you fought, because you fought a bunch of tough guys!

T.L: “Yeah, he’s one of the top. He was tough. But the hardest hitting, no.”

Q: Who was the hardest hitter you faced, Julio Cesar Chavez, maybe?

T.L: “Chavez didn’t hit hard at all. I was expecting a lot more out of him, but I never got it.”

Q: I remember the fight, he stopped you on cuts? But they weren’t really bad cuts, am I right?

T.L: “Yeah, I had a small cut, a two-stitch cut over my left eye! That was crazy. You know what I did; sometimes fighters talk too much, and I guess I talked too much. When I went down there to Mexico, I was down there for two months, training. And honestly, half the people said he was gonna whup my ass, and half the people told me to whup his ass. So it was kind of an even crowd. Like I had said all along when people asked me what would happen in the fight – I said I was gonna box for ten rounds and then the last two, the championship rounds, I was gonna take him out.

“The day before the weigh-in, he was talking smack, saying what he was gonna do, and I said again that I had come here to win. I told them again, the last two rounds, we’re gonna go to war. I said I was gonna knock him out in the last two rounds. So when the fight happened, my corner was asking me how hard he was hitting me. I told them he hit like a girl, let me go to war! They told me no, stick to the game-plan. And then, he threw a punch after the bell at the end of round two and I got the small cut. It never got any worse the whole fight, but in the tenth round, the ref waved me over and he motioned to his eye. I said, ‘You gotta be kidding me!’ So he took me to see the doctor, who never even stood up. The ring was around four feet tall off the ground, and I’m 5’7” – so that made me around nine-feet above the doctor! He never got anywhere close to me to see the cut. He just said no and waved it off. I asked him to let me just fight the rest of the round, and that if I didn’t knock him out I would never complain. He said no. It was some real B.S. But they were never gonna let him lose anything in Mexico, especially at that time in his career.”

Q: You had three fights with John John Molina. How good was he?

T.L: “He was good. He didn’t hit that hard but his punches were real sharp, and if they caught you, he could drop you. He had a lot of snap on his punches. It was boxer Vs. fighter, and I was the fighter. The first fight we had, I didn’t have a great fight. It was draw in my opinion – he could’ve won, I could’ve won. So the second fight came, and by then I was already struggling to make 130, it was time to move up. But we did it again and I had a blown out eye socket in the second-round. I don’t know what hit me, but it wasn’t a glove. It might have been an elbow. It sure wasn’t red like the gloves he was wearing. It pushed my eye back so far it blew a hole in my socket. So I went eight more rounds with that, and that really hurt. But I wasn’t gonna quit. In the tenth they finally stopped the fight, which I was thankful for. After that, after going to the doctors, people were asking me if I was gonna retire. I said I wanted a rematch. ‘Maybe you should retire,’ people said to me. I said, ‘Maybe you should shut up!’

“I got the rematch and now that he was the champion, and we were both training at Lake Tahoe, and he had a little entourage and a couple of girlfriends; he was the man, right? And I would see him and I would tell him he was finished. I’d taunt him, asking him if he was gonna run this time! I had him so mad he wanted to kill me! I’d make a chicken sound every time I saw him. I knew I could never beat him in a boxing match, but if I could get him into a fight…. that’s what I do. I’m not a boxer, I’m a fighter. Come fight time I had succeeded and he came right at me and we fought. Look at the fight and after the second or third round, I nodded to my corner. I knew then that I had him.”

Q: Fans always knew they would get a great action fight when you were fighting.

T.L: “I was that guy who, win lose or draw, I was gonna fight. If I won it was a good fight, if I lost it was a good fight, if I had a draw it was a good fight. It didn’t matter. As long as I was in a good fight it was cool.”

Q: How good was Brian Mitchell of South Africa?

T.L: “You know, I just answered a question about him, someone asked me about him. Taking nothing from Brian, who was a great fighter, but the first time I fought him, I had nothing wrong, weight wise or anything – I just had a bad day. It happens. He was hard to figure out. He wasn’t a hard puncher and he wasn’t really good at any one thing, he was just good at everything. So a guy like him, you kind of hope you can figure them out. It was a close fight, it was a draw, and I agreed with that. The second fight, I didn’t make 130. All I did was train, I didn’t eat, I didn’t drink. I went to the sauna and I tried to sweat the weight off. I couldn’t even chew gum, I had no saliva in my mouth. I killed myself. To this day I’ve never watched that fight. It wasn’t me fighting, it was a ghost. I wasn’t even there that day.”

Q: So you went up to 135 to fight Joey Gamache and you became WBA lightweight champ.

T.L: “I tell you, that f****r was fast! One time in that fight, we were in a corner and I had my hands up and I remember thinking, ‘we’re far enough apart, I can take a deep breath.’ My hands came down a little and he hit me with a jab/right hand and he was gone! He was so fast. I remember thinking, ‘damn, he’s fast!’ Joey didn’t hit real hard but he had speed not power. I still felt a little hungry at 135, my best weight was 140. I was stronger there and I wasn’t killing myself to make weight. I should have been at 140 all the time but I got there when I was already at the end of my career. By 1995, I was just holding on. I’d kind of semi-retired by then but I came back and gave it another go. I told myself that if I lose, I’ll quit.

“I fought this guy in Palm Springs, I’d never even heard of him (Hector Quiroz) and I was an old fighter and they duped me, which is what they do to old fighters. I was 35 at the time. I got there and I never saw my driver. I had to train at a fitness centre, I had no gym. They didn’t give me anything. I didn’t get to my room until 3 AM, after landing there in the afternoon! I told my dad, we should just go home. Anyway, he [Quiroz] stopped me, I had nothing to offer. All I had was a puncher’s chance and it didn’t go so well.

“The referee, he came back to my motorhome after the fight, ‘cos we never had dressing rooms, and he told me I’d had a great career and that I should retire and a have a great life. Then this guy from The Hall of Fame came in, and he asked me to sell my shorts to him. I said he could have them, that I was done. He peeled off a big ass wad of dollars, he must have had thousands in his pocket, and he said that the shorts would be famous one day in The Hall of Fame. So he gave me the thousand. It was like a movie; I was all by myself, walking back to my motorhome, ‘cos we never had a dressing room, and I was saying to myself, ‘So this is how it ends?’ You’ve seen the boxing movies, where the fighter is all by himself at the very end? It was exactly how it felt. But I tell you, I had a trip, I had a great time in boxing and I wouldn’t change it for anything.”

Q: You don’t have any regrets?

T.L: “Not really. Like I said, win, lose or draw, I was happy if it was a good fight. Today I’m training a guy, a You-Tuber. Let me ask you, does the fighter make the trainer or does the trainer make the fighter?

Q: Great question! Did Angelo Dundee make Ali or did Ali make Dundee? And so on…..

T.L: “My answer? The fighter makes the trainer. Every time. You know why? There’s only, what, 11 punches in boxing, and there’s only so many ways you can defend in a fight. So any good trainer can teach you how to do it. There might be a little change in technique, a little twitch here and there, but not too much. The ‘peek-a-boo’ style, for example – a fighter can get past that easy. Because once you get in the ring, it’s not so much what you have been taught, it’s how much can you take; because you’re gonna get hit. What happens when you get hit and what you do, that determines who wins the fight. All the training in the world ain’t gonna do you a darn bit of good if you can’t take a punch or if you don’t have the gonads. There are a lot of better boxers that I have beaten, only because of my will. The will of a fighter not to quit, that can make him a world champion.”

Q: Did you get all the big fights you wanted?

T.L: “My dream fight was Azumah Nelson. I wanted to fight him so bad. He was a tough son of a bitch and I really wanted to fight him. The reason I wanted to fight Lockridge was because I knew it would be a tough fight. The reason I wanted Nelson was because I knew it would be a tough fight. I didn’t know if I could beat them, but I felt I could be tougher than them and I wanted to prove it. I didn’t worry about the money, I knew the money was gonna be there. That’s the difference with today’s fighters – they care about the money and they don’t really want to fight. Everybody wants to make money but no-one wants to get hit. That’s the problem.

“Today, you know what I do? I’m a plumber. My father fought in Mexico, back in, I guess the 1920s, when he was a kid, and then he came over here. My brother was a fighter, and he was ranked number-three in the world but he got an eye injury and he had to quit. And during this time, I was hanging out in the streets doing stupid shit the whole time. As a world champion, you are supposed to fight everybody and anybody, you aren’t supposed to pick and choose. That’s what I did. I was always ready. To be a great fighter, you have to fight the great fighters in order to have great fights.”

YouTube video