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Thanks for the Memories… Up Close and Personal with Former Light Heavyweight Title Challenger Alvaro “Yaqui” Lopez

Exclusive Interview by “Bad” Brad Berkwitt (Copyrighted Boxing Interviews Of A Lifetime 2002)

Before I get into this interview, I want to tell you how, an interview that has eluded me for quite some time, came to be. Back in November 2000, I did an interview for the boxing website www.fightnews.com with former IBF Super Middleweight Champion Murray Sutherland who campaigned as Light Heavyweight before he dropped down to Super Middleweight. In that interview, I mentioned that Yaqui Lopez was also a boxer from Murray’s era who always came to fight, and if anyone had contact with Lopez, it would be honor for me to do an interview with him.

Fast Forward——June 2001, I receive an email from a wonderful young lady who read the Murray Sutherland interview when she found it by searching the internet when she typed in Yaqui’s name, which pulled up my interview with Sutherland. She was doing this for a tenth grade project she was working on. Well, that project happened to be on her Uncle who turned out to be Alvaro “Yaqui” Lopez. The young lady turned out to be Ashley Lopez, Yaqui’s very sweet niece.


The Alvaro “Yaqui” Lopez story is a fascinating one which starts with his birth under a bull ring in the Plaza deToros San Pedro in Zacatecas, Mexico. He was raised for 14 years underneath the seats in an adobe garage of a famous Bullring in Zacatecas.

Young Lopez had dreams of becoming a Matador, but those dreams were shattered when in his teens, he got a shot at fighting a bull. After about four or five passes, the bull drove his horn into his ankle which shattered it. With that shattered ankle came shattered dreams of becoming a bullfighter.

Lopez always continued to dream about bigger and better things. Dreams turned to reality many years later when he met his soon to be father-in-law and manager, Jack Cruz. Cruz would take a young Lopez on a journey into boxing that few boxers ever will have a chance to experience.

It was a journey that saw Lopez challenge for the Light Heavyweight Title four times and the Crusierweight Title once. In three of those fights, many felt that Lopez should have won the belt against John Conteh and Victor Galindez (twice). All three of those bouts were lost by 15 round decisions and many as I said, felt the decisions should have gone to Lopez.

In his other attempt at a Light Heavyweight Title, he faced then Champion Matthew Saad Muhammad. The fight would go on to be the 1980 “Fight of the Year” by Ring Magazine. The first half of the fight was dominated by Lopez and in round eight (also named “Round of the Year”), Lopez pinned Saad Muhammad in a corner landing 20 consecutive blows. Muhammad somehow got out of that round, and stopped Lopez in the 14th round. If the fight would have been staged today, Lopez would have won by a TKO in the eighth round because they stop fights much sooner now, then back in his day.

One side note to the Muhammad fight. I was at the Boxing Hall of Fame this weekend and in fact, ran into Matthew Saad Muhammad. When I mentioned I just interviewed Yaqui, his face lit up with a big smile. He said, “Brad, in my two fights with Yaqui, he made me a better fighter because of his huge heart and the tough fights he gave me both times.”

Shortly after his fight with Muhammad, Lopez moved up to crusierweight and challenged then Champion Carlos Deleon, who stopped him in four rounds. Lopez would go on to have one more fight as crusierweight, facing Bash Ali, dropping a 12 round decision. Both Lopez and Cruz felt it was time for Yaqui to retire and not go on as so many greats did before and after him, sometimes getting hurt.

From the very second Lopez and Cruz picked up the phone, I saw a closeness that you could hear when they spoke of their legendary run, which is still being written about today in boxing magazines.

When we finally got done with the interview, I chatted some more with Lopez and Cruz telling me some wonderful stories. Finally, as we hung up, Yaqui said, “Brad, I just want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for remembering me. I really appreciated the interview.”

I was very moved by that and replied, “Yaqui, the honor was all mine. Thanks for giving {US} the fans, years of great excitement every time you stepped in the ring. Those memories will last a lifetime.”

BB: First of all, for the readers who talk about you as amongst the exciting Light Heavyweight’s of the 70’s and 80’s, tell them what you are up to today?

I am retired now from a sanitation company where I drove big trucks. With my retirement, I get to spend lots of time taking care of my family, which I enjoy.

BB: How did you first become involved in boxing?

I met my girlfriend, who would become my wife. She told me her father was a boxing promoter. I told her that I want to box. She was surprised when I said that, but took me to her father who got me started in the sport.

BB:  In your five title attempts, you faced John Conteh, Victor Galindez (twice), Matthew Saad Muhammad and finally, you moved up to Crusierweight. There you faced then champion Carlos Deleon. Briefly tell me your recollections of each bout?

John Conteh: When I went to Copenhagen to face him, we got over there three days before the fight. The first day, I can’t sleep because of the time difference and very bad jet lag. My boxing equipment didn’t arrive with me because they put it on another plane.

In the tenth round, I hit him with a big punch and they gave him an eight count. The referee also was messing with my trunks to give Conteh more time to get over the punch. There was not supposed to be an eight count. When the fight was finally over, I lost by a split decision. I feel that I won the fight.

Victor Galindez I: We traveled to Italy for that fight, and this time around we had a little more experience, since I had already fought once for the title. This time we went over there about 15 days prior to the fight. We took our own sparring partners. I felt I did very good in that fight and if you know about Galindez, he always threw lots of dirty punches and had other dirty tactics. The referee never took a point from him for any of this.

Victor Galindez II: When I was jogging over here in my hometown, I pulled my tendons in my left ankle which is the same one that got shattered in the bull ring many years before. This happened about 15 days before the fight. I told my father-in-law that I didn’t want to back out of the fight. (This led to a great story told by Jack Cruz).

“When Yaqui messed up his ankle, we tried everything to get the swelling down. In fact, one old guy took us to an old Filipino healer. We had to take a fifth of whiskey to him, and he drank some combined with some other stuff he mixed, and spit it on Yaqui’s leg while rubbing it with some type of powder.” Funny thing, it really worked. I was very competitive in this fight and again, dropped a decision which I thought I should have gotten.

Matthew Saad Muhammad: In this fight, I was winning the first half of the fight and in the eighth round I had him almost out, and then Commissioner Jersey Joe Walcott was screaming for the referee to stop the fight. Only problem, the ref had his back to Walcott and didn’t see him. Also, they told my corner we could not have smelling salts and after the fight, we went to his corner where they had about 15 broken capsules of smelling salts.

Carlos Deleon: I was in good shape and got caught by a good punch which stopped me.

These are all things that happen in boxing and not excuses, just recollections of those fights. I enjoyed each one and was honored to have had the chance to challenge as many times as I did.

BB: In your days, you fought for the title and had 15 rounds vs. today’s 12. Would you like to see the 15 brought back?

Yes! I think the 15 rounds show who is really in good shape and who is not.

BB: Do you remember of any big fights you were approached with but they didn’t pan out?

We were supposed to fight John Conteh again in Africa in what would have been a rematch. The fight was all set and the Emperor of Uganda killed a bunch of people. He was the guy backing the fight and when he did that, it canceled out the fight.

BB: If you had to take one of your fights to call a career best, which one would you pick?

When I fought Mike Rossman. We fought at Madison Square Garden and I was brought in to just be an opponent for him. Rossman at that time was number one. When I stopped him, I signed a contract that night to fight Galindez again. But what winds up happening is Rossman gets the shot instead, and beats Galindez.

BB: What do you think of Roy Jones, JR. as the premier Light Heavyweight of today? How do you think he would have done with the fighters from your era?

I think Jones has good skills but just doesn’t have the same finesse that the boxers did in my era. We went 15 rounds in my day and I think Jones just couldn’t hang, based on what I have seen him do today. I really think Michael Spinks could have beaten him.

BB: I heard that you did a little acting in some movies (Fat City and Valentino Returns). How come you didn’t pursue it more?

Yaqui said, with a chuckle, “I didn’t do such a good job acting. If I would have done a good job, they would have called me back.”

BB: If you could take any Light heavyweight from any era and put him in the ring with you in your prime, who would that be, and what do you think the outcome would be?

Willie Pastrano. I think I would have out boxed him and took a decision.

BB:  Who are you top three favorite fighters of all-time and why?

Muhammad Ali. He was such a great Heavyweight Champion whose movement reminded me of welterweights I have seen fight. Also, he was very smart and can punch. Second, Jose Napoles. He was such a great defensive fighter. Finally, Carlos Monzon. He was not fast, but he would set you up with a right hand, and when he hit you, it was all over from that right.

BB: What is the greatest fight you have ever seen and why?

I have seen lots of great fights in my lifetime. But I want to tell you that the recent fight with Prince Naseem Hamed and Marco Antonio Barrera was the greatest fight to me.

Out of 30 sports writers I think only two picked Marco to win. Both my father-in-law and I picked Marco to win, before the fight. Barrera showed me such heart in the Morales fight, which I felt he won. We thought if he had anything left, he would expose Hamed’s weaknesses and he sure did. He put on a perfect fight, and it was so good to see him get the decision.

BB: Do you favor a mandatory retirement fund for all boxers and if so, how would you like to see it accomplished?

Brad, first of all, I think that is a very good question to ask. I think every fighter, after so many years, should have a pension coming in for all of his ring efforts. Lots of people don’t realize what we have to go through to get in shape for a fight. We endure lots of pain, daily.

When I started boxing, there were no light heavyweights in Stockton, California. We would travel to Oakland Monday – Friday, and it was about a 75 mile trip. We did this four years straight. On top of this, I worked in a cannery.

I would wake up at 4:00 AM in the morning and go jogging. Then I would come home take a shower and then go to work at the cannery. I would get home around 2:00 PM and then we would jump in the car and go to Oakland to work out. I would spar with the number one contender at the time, middleweight, George Cooper.

There were other top fighters there that I had to spar with. They used to kick the crap out of me in the first four months. After about five months, nobody would show up because I reversed the beatings.

The reason I mention all this is because boxers endure these things, and this is why we need a retirement fund. I consider what a fighter does to become world class a full-time job. You could take out a certain percentage from each fighter’s check and put it in the fund. I really hope this comes to be.

Bb: Now that you have been out of boxing for quite some time, how would you like your many fans to remember you?

I would like to be remembered by the way I retired. I knew when my legs were starting to go in my last fight, it was time to quit. I didn’t go on as so many do.

BB: Finally, what is the saying you live your life by?

If you don’t work hard, you will not go anyplace.

Jack Cruz wanted to add the following to our interview:

Yaqui has never been the type to brag, but I want the boxing people to know, that he goes to the schools and always talks to the kids about staying in school. He is always doing things to better our society and we are very proud of him.

Interviewers closing remarks:

As many of you know, when I conduct an interview which is really special to me, I have no problem saying it. It truly was an honor to interview Yaqui, who indeed, is part of my childhood memories. It was a time when we had boxing on all the major networks, and Lopez’s image was forever forged in our boxing memories.

I would like to thank Ashley Lopez again for assisting me in making this interview possible, and in addition, Jack Cruz, Yaqui’s father-in-law and manager.

Alvaro “Yaqui” Lopez

Professional Record:  78-15, 40 KO’s

1978: North America Lightheavyweight
1982: North America Cruiserweight

– 1972 –
+ (Apr-24-1972, Stockton) Herman Hampton 6
+ (Jun-2-1972, Carson City) Herman Hampton ko 3
+ (Jun-16-1972, Stockton) Cisco Solorio ko 6
– (Jul-1-1972, Stockton) Jesse Burnett 8
+ (Oct-24-1972, San Carlos) Henry Tavako 6
+ (Nov-6-1972, Eugene) Mark Hearn ko 6
+ (Nov-29-1972, Stockton) Herman Hampton ko 7
+ (Dec-11-1972, Eugene) Van Sahib ko 2

– 1973 –
+ (Feb-8-1973, Stockton) Polo Ramirez ko 7
– (Mar-15-1973, Seattle) Al Bolden 10
+ (Apr-21-1973, Santa Rosa) Hildo Silva 10
+ (Jun-9-1973, Santa Rosa) Ron Wilson 10
+ (Jul-6-1973, Gardnerville) Dave Rogers ko 5
+ (Aug-3-1973, Reno) Ron Wilson ko 6
+ (Aug-22-1973, Tacoma) Herman Hampton ko 6
+ (Sep-20-1973, Stockton) Budda Brooks ko 5
+ (Nov-1-1973, Portland) Alfonso Gonzalez ko 2
+ (Dec-6-1973, Portland) Al Bolden 10

– 1974 –
+ (Feb-14-1974, Portland) Andy Kendall ko 5
+ (Mar-7-1974, Reno) Willie Warren 10
+ (May-10-1974, Stockton) Hildo Silva 12
+ (Jul-7-1974, Gardnerville) Joe Cokes 12
+ (Oct-11-1974, Portland) Bobby Rascon ko 6
+ (Nov-13-1974, Stockton) Hildo Silva 10

– 1975 –
+ (Mar-4-1975, Sacramento) Terry Lee ko 9
+ (Apr-8-1975, Sacramento) Lee Mitchell ko 6
+ (May-14-1975, Stockton) Mike Quarry 10
+ (Jul-3-1975, Gardnerville) Gary Summerhayes 10
– (Jul-31-1975, Stockton) Jesse Burnett 12
+ (Sep-24-1975, Stockton) Jesse Burnett 12

– 1976 –
+ (Feb-12-1976, Portland) Terry Lee 10
+ (May-3-1976, Stockton) David Smith 10
+ (Jun-30-1976, Stockton) Karl Zurheide ko 6
+ (Jul-17-1976, Stockton) Larry Castaneda ko 9
– (Oct-9-1976, Copenhagen) John Conteh 15 (W.B.C., Lightheavyweight)
+ (Nov-18-1976, Stateline) Clarence Geigger kot 5
+ (Dec-8-1976, Stockton) Pete Mc Intyre ko 6

– 1977 –
+ (Feb-18-1977, Stateline) Danny Brewer kot 6
+ (Mar-7-1977, Stockton) Larry Castaneda ko 8
+ (Apr-5-1977, Incline) Ron White ko 8
– (Apr-22-1977, Indianapolis) Lonnie Bennett kot 3
+ (Jun-17-1977, Miami Beach) Bobby Lloyd ko 5
+ (Jul-20-1977, Stockton) Manuel Fierro ko 3
+ (Jul-27-1977, Las Vegas) Benny Barra ko 5
– (Sep-17-1977, Rome) Victor Galindez 15 (W.B.A., Lightheavyweight)
+ (Oct-27-1977, Stockton) Chuck Warfield ko 4
+ (Dec-15-1977, Stockton) Clarence Geigger ko 4

– 1978 –
+ (Jan-12-1978, Los Angeles) Fabian Falconette ko 2
+ (Mar-2-1978, New York) Mike Rossmann retiring 7
+ (Mar-17-1978, Las Vegas) Ned Hallacy 10
– (May-6-1978, Camaiore) Victor Galindez 15 (W.B.A., Lightheavyweight)
+ (Jul-2-1978, Stockton) Jesse Burnett 15 (North America, Lightheavyweight)
– (Oct-24-1978, Philadelphia) Matthew Franklin ko 11 (North America, Lightheavyweight)

– 1979 –
+ (Jan-18-1979, Stockton) Wilfred Albers ko 3
+ (Feb-27-1979, Sacramento) Ivy Brown ko 3
+ (Sep-12-1979, Stockton) Ernie Barr ko 4
+ (Oct-4-1979, San Carlos) Bashiru Ali 10
– (Dec-1-1979, Rahway) James Scott 10

– 1980 –
+ (Apr-16-1980, Fresno) Pete Mc Intyre ko 8
+ (May-20-1980, Fresno) Bobby Lloyd ko 8
– (Jul-13-1980, Mc Afee) Matthew Franklin kot 14 (W.B.C., Lightheavyweight)
– (Oct-18-1980, Atlantic City) Michael Spinks ko 7
+ (Nov-29-1980, Lake Tahoe) Carl Ivy ko 3

– 1981 –
+ (Feb-14-1981, Lake Tahoe) Grover Robinson ko 4
+ (May-18-1981, San Carlos) George O’Mara kot 10
+ (May-27-1981, Stockton) Willie Taylor ko 7
– (Jul-24-1981, Reno) S.t. Gordon injury 7 (North America, Lightheavyweight)
+ (Nov-21-1981, Brisbane) Tony Mundine kot 3

– 1982 –
– (Jan-14-1982, Atlantic City) John Davis 10
+ (May-5-1982, Stockton) Alvin Dominey kot 6
+ (Jun-1-1982, Sacramento) David Smith 12 (North America, Cruiserweight)
+ (Jul-31-1982, Lake Tahoe) Ken Arlt 10
+ (Sep-9-1982, Stateline) Roger Braxton 10
+ (Nov-27-1982, Lake Tahoe) James Williams 10

– 1983 –
+ (Feb-19-1983, Incline) Mike Jameson 10
+ (May-7-1983, Stateline) Eddie Gonzalez 10
– (Sep-21-1983, San Juan) Carlos De Leon kot 4 (W.B.C., Cruiserweight)

– 1984 –
– (Sep-12-1984, Stockton) Bashiru Ali 12

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