When I got to the youth boxing matches at Yaqui Lopez’s Fat City Gym in downtown Stockton, sitting around the ring were officials wearing white polo shirts with a “USA Boxing” logo on them. I sat down with them, not paying much attention to them, and waited for the fights to start. As I waited, a coach brought one of his young fighters up to an official sitting next to me. He told the youngster: “Do you know who this is? He’s a three-time world champion.” The official then began to autograph the wrappings on the kid’s hands, and I took a closer look at him. I recognized him as Tony “The Tiger” Lopez who fought and indeed won three world championships as a super featherweight and lightweight in the 1980s and 1990s.
The Sacramento native has gotten engaged in youth boxing after the U.S. Olympic boxing team failed to win a single medal at the 2012 London Olympics.
Lopez was pretty well-known in the Central Valley, and though I’m not a big boxing fan, even I had heard of him. He was known for his toughness, tenacity and never-say-die attitude. After the few fights were done, Lopez then entered the ring as a referee, and I wondered how that would work out for the young boxers in the ring. Would he let them keep on fighting in a “Rocky”-esque fashion no matter how bloodied and battered they were?
Lopez refereed a bout between Angel Manriquez, 14, with the Fat City Boxing Club and Kristian Guevarra, 15, with the Caballero Boxing Club out of Sacramento. Early in the third round Manriquez got into a bit of trouble, and Lopez quickly gave him a standing-eight count. When the count was done Lopez bade the two boxers to continue fighting. Manriquez, though steady on his feet and moving fairly well, wasn’t defending himself. Lopez stepped in. He directed Guevarra to a neutral corner and began talking with Manriquez, looking him in the eyes. From my layman’s vantage point, I probably would have said that the fighter could continue, but after several seconds of evaluating Manriquez, Lopez raised his hands and called off the fight.
It’s good to have that heart and drive to win no matter what, as Lopez had, but at this stage of the game the welfare of the youths is a greater concern. You want them to learn the sweet science of boxing and also live to fight another day.