By Shawn M. Murphy: Recently I spoke with former three-time world champion Tony “The Tiger” Lopez. During his career, Lopez would win the IBF Super Featherweight title twice and the WBA Lightweight title. His victory over Rocky Lockridge in 1988 was Ring Magazines “Fight of the Year”. Other notables that Lopez beat during his career were John John Molina, Jorge Paez, Brian Mitchell, Joey Gamache and Dingaan Thobela. Lopez retired in 1999 with a final record of 50-8-1 with 34 KO’S..
(SM) Tony how did you get started in boxing and what kind of amateur career did you have?
(TL) I started at age ten in 1973. I don’t know if they kept records back then of amateur stuff. I think the biggest thing I did was win the Golden Gloves. I won like one hundred and lost five or six.
(SM) What were you ranked when you beat Rocky Lockridge for the first title?
(TL) I had just broken the top ten, I had beat Tony Pep to do that.
(SM) That was a big step up in competition wasn’t it?
(TL) You know everybody forgets that I was Bobby Chacon’s main sparring partner for three years. That’s when you learn everything, in the gym. You learn in the ring too, but you get the good experience in the gym, especially with a guy like Bobby. Bobby was no pushover. I remember one day in particular my face was beaten up; my nose was about 2 inches wide and my eyes were swollen. Bobby and I went to war everyday, that’s the way we trained. I thought everyday that I wasn’t gonna let him get the best of me, although he usually did. I remember Bobby looking at me from his corner one day and shaking his head like “This kid is never gonna fucking give up”. The first year we sparred he got the best of me. The second year it was somewhat even and the third year it was give and take. I never took it easy on him in the gym.
(SM) What do you remember most about the Lockridge fight?
(TL) Everything! That’s been twenty years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday. I remember certain moves, missing and throwing punches, I remember it all.
(SM) You beat John John Molina in the first fight but lost by TKO in the second fight, why were the fights so different?
(TL) You know, in the second fight that I lost, I got caught with an elbow in the second round, got hit right in my eyeball. It forced my eyeball back so hard that the muscle tissue had no where to go, so it blew a hole in my socket. When I came out for the third round it was closed. The doctor came to me at the end of the round. He asked me how many fingers he had up. One of my guys was on the floor and tapped me three times, so I told the referee three. We never practiced that or anything. The referee came to my corner two or three more times and we did the same thing. I was a mess when they stopped it and don’t know why they didn’t stop it earlier. Either stop it earlier when I’m getting beat up or let me finish it.
(SM) In your first fight against Brian Mitchell, did you think you did enough to get a draw?
(TL) We got a draw in that fight but I thought I won it. That’s the first fight that I do not remember anything at all. I don’t remember warming up or the walk to the ring, I hardly remember the fight at all. I tested positive for anemia after that so maybe that had something to do with it. Mitchell was a good boxer, he just wasn’t that good. Maybe that’s not the right words but it was nothing that I should have had a problem with. There’s a few fights that I won and lost that I didn’t have a good day. But it happens, you have a bad day now and then. Taking nothing away from him, he was a good fighter.
(SM) What happened in the second Mitchell fight, when you lost the title?
(TL) I killed myself making weight, I was done before I got started. I had about a pound to lose three or four days before the fight and I just couldn’t lose it. I went to the sauna and stuff like that for several hours and I was pretty dehydrated. Making weight just killed me physically for that fight.
(SM) You won your third world title over Joey Gamache in 1992. What kind of fighter was he?
(TL) I remember he was just very fast. I’ll tell you, Joey didn’t hit very hard but he was super fast. I expected to lose the first six or seven round because I was always a slow starter. His speed was a big factor, I just waited to wear him down in the later rounds. I remember looking at him during the fight and I was quite a distance form him. I thought that I could put my hands down and take a quick breath. When I did that he hit me and he was gone, damn he was quick.
(SM) You were actually losing that fight going into the eleventh round, right?
(TL) Yea, but I didn’t care though. You see when your in the ring fighting it’s a different story. I could see him wearing down so I wasn’t worried about it. If the fight would have went into the last round you would have seen me come out non-stop. I knew what I had to do and I knew he was wearing down so it was just a matter of time.
(SM) You defended against Thobela in the U.S. and then went over to South Africa to fight him. Why go over?
Because they paid me to. His camp was complaining that the first fight was not fair. I don’t know what they were looking at but I won it. So a month or two later they kept saying they wanted me to come to South Africa and fight him again. This is the reality of boxing, you leave the country to defend your title their paying you to take your title. They offered me good money and I told them it was good enough for me. They paid me more than I had ever made before so why not. The altitude was so much different than in what I usually trained in. But we had a couple months over there to train and I was in great shape. They had like a Las Vegas show for each fighter as we entered the ring. If you ever get a chance to go to Sun City South Africa, go, it’s absolutely beautiful! It was such an event, the fight. Going over there I knew I basically had to knock the guy out to win, there’s no way I could get a decision. It shocked me but he fought for six or seven rounds. After that he did nothing but run and hide, he didn’t so a damn thing. I not only beat him, I beat him down. After that fight he was done. When I went to the corner after the fight was over my brother told me that I had lost. He said you won but you lost the fight. I knew what he meant, that I wasn’t gonna get the decision. You know I really didn’t care. I just thought I would go out and get another title. I really thought I won easily though. The next day we were at the hotel eating breakfast and Thobela was there too. A photographer ask us to take our picture. I tried to put my arm around him but he was too sore. His face was all swollen too. But you know, you do what you do, they paid me for it, and I just thought I would go get another belt.
(SM) You fought Julio Cesar Chavez who was 91-1 at the time. How did you train for him?
(TL) I trained like I normally did, he wasn’t anything special. Honestly I don’t care what anyone says, he didn’t hit that hard. I’ve been hit a lot harder. He never hurt me at all. The weigh-in was a big fiasco and honestly we don’t know if he ever made weight. He was two hours late, hit the scale and it went shooting to the top. He jumped off, left again for two hours and came back. He got on the scale and was obviously overweight. Jose Sulaiman and my dad almost got into a fight. Don King was in the background laughing at it all. Just a real fiasco, those were the good old days. My game plan was to box for ten rounds and then brawl for two and knock him out. I didn’t want to but my brother was my trainer and that was the fight plan. After the first round I went back to my corner and told my brother that he doesn’t hit hard so let me go. He said no, just stick to the plan. I got a little cut in the second round, nothing at all, took two stitches.
In the tenth round I see Chavez motion to the referee with his hand out. At that point I’m fresh, ready to go, and there was no blood in my eye. The referee took me over the doctor who was sitting down on the floor, so with my height he was about nine to ten feet from me. He never got on the ring apron to look at my eye at all, just stopped it. That is the only fight in my career I want to do over. That’s the only fight in my career that I didn’t get a chance to do what I came to do. They cut me short. Chavez had two broken ribs after the fight too. I think that was why they stopped it, not due to my eye, which took two stitches.
(SM) Who was the toughest guy you ever fought?
(TL) A guy named Sammy Espinosa. He kicked my ass for nine rounds and all but thirty seconds of the tenth. In the tenth I got lucky, hit him with a hook and knocked him out cold. Molina was good too, but this guy was tough. I fought Espinosa again a few months later and knocked him out early.
(SM) You fought until 1999, had a TKO loss and then retired. How did you know it was time to go?
(TL) I was on a comeback trying to get another title fight. I was old for the division, you were old at thirty at that time. I remember they said Lockridge was old at thirty when I fought him. I got stopped in that last fight after he threw about twenty punches, although only one I think landed. The referee stopped the fight. After the fight I was out in my dressing room, a trailer. The referee came in and asked me how I was doing. I asked him why he stopped the fight. He said Tony I like you, you’re a clean fighter. If I didn’t like you, I would have let it go, but I like you. He told me I had a four year old at home and when she turns eighteen and you can still say her name and you know what’s going on, you’ll thank me. And that was that, it worked for me. The funny thing was that after he left another guy walked in and wanted to pay me a thousand dollars for my trunks. I told him to just take them, that I’m retired, I don’t need them anymore. He said no I want to pay you for them. We went back and forth for about five minutes. Finally I said OK, give me a thousand dollars for them. He pulls out a wad of bills and I said again to just take them. He told me I didn’t understand, he was from the Boxing Hall of Fame and he’s been following me during my last few fights. He said his job was to buy my shorts when I retired for good. He said he didn’t know when but one day they would be hanging in the Hall of Fame. I thought that was pretty neat.
(SM) Any regrets looking back on your career?
(TL) Not getting the eleventh and twelfth round with Chavez. Other than that not really, I had a great time.
(SM) After boxing you started a bail bond business?
(TL) Yea, I goofed off for a year or so and then realized I need to start doing something. So I became a bail bondsman, started a business. I’ll give credit to my wife, she does a lot of it.
(SM) And you’re a promoter now as well?
(TL) Yes, I hired Jimmy Montoya as a matchmaker. I told him when I hired him that I want to change the way fighters fight. I want fighters who want to fight. I fought for Don King, without a doubt the best promoter I ever had. He gave me good fights, paid me well and paid me when he said he would. I was treated like a world champion under King, really first class. I know why Don King does the things he does. Don King doesn’t promote fighters, he promotes fights. And I thought what a great concept. This is a business, it’s not a game. Don King gave me five contracts one time, all signed. He said fill in the amounts and sign them and I did. I would like to shadow Don King. I tell people good things about him all the time because I have worked with him and I know him. I want to give the fans exactly what they want. I don’t need to make $100,000 from each event. Because I don’t, I can lower ticket prices that are affordable. I fly in boxers and celebrities and people in the VIP seats get to mingle afterwards with them at the after party. I want to make Sacramento like Hollywood North.
(SM) Tony, anything else you want to say?
(TL) Just that if you’re ever in Sacramento come see some boxing.
(SM) Tony thanks, some great stories here.
(TL) No problem.