Rock ‘n’ Roll: Danny “Little Red” Lopez

By Mike Casey on June 5, 2012
Rock ‘n’ Roll: Danny “Little Red” Lopez
Danny "Little Red" Lopez was one of those who could win wherever the plane set him down

You could cut Danny, you could outbox and maybe even outpunch him, but you couldn’t destroy his will to win…

Growing up, I loved Danny “Little Red” Lopez. I loved the way he fought and I loved the way he looked with that tall and rangy frame and that eternal glint in his eye of the natural born hunter. The moustache that later accompanied the famous shock of bushy red hair would perfectly complement the appearance of an old-style gunfighter out of time, blazing a trail with flesh and bone instead of pig iron.

Danny Lopez shot down plenty of guys in the ring, from fellow prospects in the early days to bullish and fearless young challengers who came to dethrone the tall and laconic world champion that Lopez became in his wildly exciting prime. What made those showdowns so thrilling was that Danny was in no way the untouchable Western hero of movie folklore. He was a carefree Doc Holliday who would take a bullet or two himself and sometimes hit the barn door before the man.

Back in 1974, I recall the agonizing wait here in England for the result of the dream match at the LA Sports Arena between Danny and the brilliant young Bobby Chacon. It was a hugely anticipated shootout between the featherweight young guns of the West Coast. While Lopez had been born at Fort Duchesne in Utah, he had based himself in the Los Angeles suburb of Alhambra. Chacon hailed from Pacoima in the San Fernando Valley. I was a fan of both fighters, but Danny was my favorite.

In the comparatively dark and information-starved age of the seventies, boxing results could take longer to cross the ocean than migrating birds. Then I saw it in the paper. Chacon had stopped Lopez in the ninth round. Boxing in the UK was already taking a back seat to other sports by that time and that was all the detail I got. No report, no explanation. It was tough going back in those pre-Internet days. I am reminded of the old anachronistic joke where two prehistoric cavemen trudge for days in search of food. One turns to the other and says, “I wish some clever bastard would hurry up and invent the wheel.”

How I wished I had been among the throng of 16,027 that sat enthralled at the Sports Arena. Lopez and Chacon were little men but mighty big ticket sellers. A further 2,671 closed-circuit TV fans were in attendance at the Olympic Auditorium just a few blocks away.

The reports in the trade magazines didn’t make pleasant reading for a Lopez rooter. Danny was already a wonderful battler at that stage in his development, but the fast and dangerous Chacon was better. The best punches that Lopez could offer failed to deter Bobby or check his impressive advance. Danny kept pressing but kept eating Bobby’s stiff jabs and right crosses.The crisp and sharp blows opened a slit over Lopez’s right eye in the second round, which required the constant attention of his handlers thereafter. Chacon really was a very special talent at that age, and I have always wondered how much greater he could have been if his stop-start career had not been plagued and pulled apart by his inner demons.

Bobby controlled the fight all the way and had the look of a very confident fighter as he bounded from his corner at the start of the ninth round. He met Danny in the center of the ring and sent him to the ropes with a heavy right. Lopez was clearly in trouble and Chacon was on him in a flash, driving in two more rights and a left that sent Danny tumbling onto the bottom strand of the ropes. Another series of punches sprung the Alhambra youngster from his temporary trap and deposited him on the canvas.

The one lesson Danny Lopez taught us in this fight was that he was never dead in his own mind. Always he got up. Always he fought back. He rose to fight back against Chacon, but a fusillade of blows sent Danny reeling and propelled him into the ropes on the opposite side of the ring. Referee John Thomas had seen enough and halted the contest.

Lopez had lost for the first time in twenty-four fights and was typically forthright in defeat. “He was tough inside,” he said of Chacon, “a lot better than I thought he was. He didn’t hurt me until he dropped me. Then he hurt me pretty good.”

Danny was just twenty-one and had yet to reach maturity. He was under the featherweight limit at 123½ lbs. and knew the problem. “I didn’t come in heavy enough. He was just a little bit too strong.”

Honest words from the man who would be king just two years later.

Midnight

It was past midnight at the Accra Sports Stadium in Ghana, yet the temperature was still well into the eighties. A pulsating record crowd of more than 100,000 people only served to stoke the shimmering furnace. Tribal drums boomed and the people cheered as they awaited the arrival of their hero, WBC featherweight champion David “Poison” Kotei.

To step into that kind of cauldron and challenge such an immensely popular champion must send a shiver down the spine of the bravest man, even though most boxers feel obliged to deny any feelings of fear and intimidation.

Yet if there was fear in the heart of Danny Lopez in that heady atmosphere, then it did not reflect in his performance. The twenty-four-year-old challenger had waged most of his battles in his hometown of Los Angeles, and it was a long flight and something like eight inoculations from Los Angeles to Ghana.

But Lopez was one of those exceptional men who could win wherever the plane set him down. He possessed that special brand of fighting spirit that sometimes drives a man beyond the boundaries of common sense and safety. You could cut Danny, you could outbox and maybe even outpunch him, but you couldn’t destroy his will to win.

Against Kotei, Lopez was a revelation, a tireless puncher who shut his ears to the partisan crowd and pounded his way to the greatest victory of his career. It was hard to believe he was a man in a foreign land, a man deprived of the invaluable presence of his trainer, mentor and friend, the 72-year-old fox Howie Steindler.

Howie’s age and health prevented him from making the trip, and the absence of such a wise old general might have had a telling effect on any other young fighter. Not Lopez.

I was approaching manhood when Danny was carving a big name for himself on the West Coast of America. For many years, there was a section in The Ring magazine titled ‘In Sunny California,’ which I would scan religiously in the early seventies for reports on Danny’s fights.

A big puncher, Lopez was also easy to hit, and so many of his fights seemed to be the see-saw, drama-laden slugfests that appeal to a thrill-seeking youngster. His background was no less colorful. For the first eight years of his life, Danny was raised on an Indian reservation in the northeastern region of Utah. Then his parents broke up and he and his elder brother Ernie, who was to become a top class welterweight, went their separate ways: Ernie to a boys ranch and Danny to adoptive parents.

The youngsters kept in touch, and when Ernie started campaigning as a professional in California, Danny decided that he too would be a boxer.

The strong right hand that was to account for so many opponents in years to come rapidly attracted attention as Danny won a number of Utah amateur titles. Then he joined brother Ernie in Los Angeles under the astute tutelage of Howie Steindler. Ernie “Red” Lopez would fall just short of world championship glory. Danny “Little Red” Lopez would go all the way.

Danny’s name quickly became synonymous with the Southern California fight scene. He began his career in dynamic fashion as he racked up three successive first round victories and won his next eighteen fights by knockout or stoppage. Japan’s Genzo Kuresawa became the first man to take him the distance in early 1974.

Some of Danny’s early bouts were fiercely contested, and his 1972 win over the fiery Arturo “Turi” Pineda was characteristically violent and short-lived. The battle between the undefeated prospects filled the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles, and featured three rounds of exciting slugging before Lopez struck with the decisive punches in the fourth to register a dramatic victory.

A year later, Danny was involved in a similar brawl of rapidly changing fortunes against Japan’s Kenji Endo. Floored and shaken by a hard right from Endo in the opening round, Lopez rallied from near disaster to deck his opponent just before the bell. In the second round, Danny continued to demonstrate his excellent recuperative powers by scoring a further three knockdowns to notch another epic win. As he moved up in class, Lopez learned the age-old lesson that higher caliber opponents cannot always be despatched in such quick and spectacular fashion. His points win over Genzo Kuresawa and a subsequent 10th round TKO of Memo Rodriguez marked the beginning of a tough 1974 campaign, which saw his world title aspirations severely dented by the defeat to Bobby Chacon.

Danny’s career seemed to waver uncertainly after that setback, and his hopes of rebounding up the rankings were further damaged by two more frustrating defeats. He knocked out Masao Toyoshima in three rounds but then experienced a cruel stroke of luck in a gruelling fight with the rugged Japanese battler, Shig Fukuyama. Danny was stopped in the ninth round after being temporarily blinded by medication that had been applied to an eye cut.

Lopez then dropped a points decision to the skillful and underrated veteran, Octavio “Famoso” Gomez, but the positive aspect of these reverses was that they probably taught Danny more about the tough trade of fighting than most of his earlier triumphs.

He kept plugging away and was soon rolling again. Stoppage victories over former world bantamweight champion, Jesus “Chucho” Castillo and Antonio Nava, followed by a sixth round knockout of Raul Cruz, were rewarded by a golden match with the great Ruben Olivares for the North American title in December 1975. The fading but still dangerous Olivares was looking to maintain his status as a serious contender, having lost his WBC championship to David Kotei just three months before.

Lopez idolized the legendary Mexican but was no less destructive as he knocked out Ruben in seven rounds. It was an important victory for Danny, one that confirmed beyond doubt that his career was truly back on course.

It wasn’t all plain sailing. It never was with Lopez. Olivares was a 10 to 8 favorite and started with a rush as he decked Danny in the opening round, in what many believed was a slip. Lopez blazed straight back and sent Ruben tumbling just thirty seconds later with a short right. Danny kept firing and knocked Olivares down for the second time with a left hook.

The Lopez bombardment continued in the second round, when Ruben was caught by a combination of lefts and rights and hit the canvas for the third time. But the old champion could still put on a show and he surged back into the fight in the third, scoring with classy combinations to open a two-inch cut over Danny’s right eye.

Lopez, however, in his own cliff-hanging way, controlled the fight. A big right to the chin unhinged Olivares for keeps in the seventh round, referee Dick Young counting out Ruben at the 1:59 mark.

“Ruben was my hero when I was an amateur,” Danny later said. “Beating him has to make a fellow feel like he had defeated Muhammad Ali. But I am sure Ruben wasn’t what he once was. I have to admit I didn’t beat Olivares at his peak.”

Unbeaten

In his next bout against the young and unbeaten Sean O’Grady, it was Danny’s turn to play the role of the experienced campaigner against the rising star. Lopez proved far too hard punching and resourceful for O’Grady, recording a fourth round win at the Inglewood Forum.

Lopez was edging nearer a world championship confrontation with Kotei. Danny’s vast improvement was evident in his revenge win over Octavio Gomez in April 1976. Defending his North American crown, Lopez needed just three rounds to dispose of Gomez, an exceptional result that earned “Little Red” a match with the chunky Canadian slugger, Art Hafey, in an official eliminator for the WBC title.

Hafey was one of a group of colorful featherweights who added excitement to the West Coast scene of the ‘70s, but Lopez confirmed he was the best of them all as he produced another sparkling display of power punching to stop Art in seven rounds. It was Danny’s 31st win in 34 fights and the interest he had generated since turning professional had made him one of the sport’s most colorful and popular fighters.

By contrast, David Kotei was still something of a mystery man, despite his fabulous victory over Olivares. To all but the most studious of boxing fans, the Ghanaian had seemingly come out of nowhere to jump to the top of the division.

He had been unranked in some quarters when matched with Olivares, yet Kotei had travelled to the great man’s favorite hunting ground of Los Angeles and shown himself himself to be a strong, skilful and resilient fighter in scoring an upset points decision.

Earlier in his career, David had not been overly impressive in winning five and losing two of seven fights in Australia, but he had also shown tantalizing glimpses of his potential. He knocked out the hard punching Tunisian Tahar Ben Hassan in one round to win the All-African featherweight title, and took the Commonwealth crown from the tough and durable Scotsman, Evan Armstrong, on a 10th round retirement.

The late Danny Vary, who worked Armstrong’s corner for the fight, threw considerable light on Kotei’s talent, describing the young prospect as one of the best featherweights he had ever seen.

Kotei subsequently proved that he was also good enough to hold on to the world title. After dethroning Olivares, David twice successfully defended the championship before taking on Lopez. Kotei displayed an effective jab and threw damaging hooks and uppercuts to stop Japan’s Flipper Uehara in 12 rounds in Accra, and then halted Shig Fukuyama in three rounds in Tokyo.

Although the Lopez camp was confident of victory against Kotei, it was the defending champion who started favorite when the two fighters stepped into the ring on the night of November 6, 1976. Any champion is tougher to beat when he is fighting on home territory and Kotei appeared to be just reaching his peak at the age of 25.

Even though Lopez seemed to relish fighting under pressure, it was generally believed that he faced too tough a task on this occasion; and so it seemed as the first bell brought Kotei from his corner in express fashion.

Firing accurate punches from both hands, he surprised Lopez with the suddenness of his attack, and Danny looked shaken as the champion’s blows rifled through his guard. Lopez tried to rally and scored with several good blows, but he couldn’t seem to avoid Kotei’s stinging jab and solid rights.

Kotei seemed intent on scoring a quick victory and continued to gamble his energy in the second and third rounds as he maintained a fast pace and punished Danny with hurtful jabs and right crosses. Lopez, never a fast starter, was still trying to settle and seek a way past David’s jab. But the challenger’s progress was thwarted by stiff counterpunches whenever he moved into range.

The puzzle was set for Danny and he could only charge on and try to smash down the barricades. It was his style to go forward, whatever the consequences. He began to enjoy some success in the fourth round as he bravely walked through Kotei’s punches to score with his own lefts and rights.

But the strong champion continued to dominate the battle and Lopez was struck by some fierce punches as he gamely tried to turn the tide. A left hook opened a cut below Danny’s left eye and his chances of victory already seemed to be receding.

In fact Lopez was in his element. One could almost see him reaching for a can of spinach, like a desperate Popeye tied to the rail track. The muscles flexed and the punches came faster with added steel as Danny dug in and gradually battered his way back into the fight. Walking through the stiff, spearing jabs of Kotei, Lopez forced the champion to retreat in the fifth round as the balance of power began to subtly shift.

The sixth round was savagely fought as Lopez braced himself, bulled his way through Kotei’s pounding jabs and engaged the champion in a torrid slugging exchange. The drama heightened when a ferocious right hand shot from Danny opened a cut on David’s right eyebrow.

Lopez erupted again in the eighth round, winging punches at Kotei, while the ninth was another glorious showcase of both men’s courage as they ignored the blood that ran freely from their cuts and stood their ground to deliver vicious combinations.

Both men were concentrating their punches to the head as they sought the decisive blows that would free them from the furnace into which they had hurled themselves.

Maintaining his relentless pursuit of Kotei, Lopez was again caught by solid blows in the 10th round. But he kept hammering away with his own punches, trying all the time to trap the champion. English referee Harry Gibbs, one of the finest, cautioned Danny for careless headwork,  but in the main the slugfest was cleanly fought, for all the blood and ferocity it exuded.

Stormy

Kotei was now going through a stormy phase and his task was further handicapped when his lip was split by one of Danny’s punches. David looked groggy in the 11th round as he slipped to the canvas, and Lopez now appeared to be in definite command as he kept up his pursuit of his wounded prey.

Gamely, Kotei tried to match punches with Lopez in the 12th, but the challenger possessed the greater strength and won another important round. Kotei was now desperately tired and Lopez swarmed into him in the 13th round, hustling and punching all the time and winning the session handily. Every round was packed with incident and suspense and now even the minute intervals had their share of excitement.

At the end of the 13th, referee Gibbs asked the ringside doctor to inspect Kotei’s cuts, and after a few tense moments the doctor ruled that David was fit to box on. Then the interval was prolonged when the Lopez camp noticed a split in Kotei’s right glove, and new gloves had to be laced on the champion. The extra time might have helped Kotei had he not already expended so much energy, but he still looked desperately weary and badly beaten as he came out for the 14th round.

He showed immense heart in carrying the fight to Lopez, but now the wavering champion’s punches lacked their former speed and power. Free of the heavy pressure he had been subjected to in the earlier rounds, Danny was now able to place his blows more accurately. He repeatedly jarred Kotei with precise counterpunches as the champion struggled to remain upright.

David walked slowly and painfully back to his corner at the end of the round and one wondered how he could possibly endure the final three minutes. Yet that certain feeling of pride and glory that comes from being a world champion can lift the spirits of even the most tired and battered of men.

Kotei launched a final flurry in the 15th, one last hurrah as his crown slipped from his head. It spoke volumes for his fortitude that he was still willing to trade punches with a man who specialized in toe-to-toe warfare. But the champion’s final fling could not match the power of Danny’s grandstand drive to the finish line. There were moments in those last minutes of battle when Kotei looked set to crumble in the face of the Lopez offensive, but the plucky champion survived to hear the final bell.

The decision for Lopez was unanimous and the stunned thousands in the Accra Sports Stadium were downcast over the sad fall of their hero. But Africa is a warrior nation and the new chieftain was respected accordingly.

The cheers that rang out for Danny Lopez were a mass salute to a young man who had travelled so far and battled so hard to realize his dream; and to an incredible fight in which two men of abundant courage had added another memorable page to the glittering history of the featherweight division.

Mike Casey is a freelance journalist and boxing historian and a member of the International Boxing Research Organization (IBRO).

https://sites.google.com/site/alltimeboxingrankings

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Bobby Chacon vs Danny "Little Red" Lopez (part I)-rds 1-2-3



Bobby Chacon vs Danny "Little Red" Lopez (part II)-rounds 4-5-6



Bobby Chacon vs Danny "Little Red" Lopez (part III)-rounds 7-8-9



Ruben Olivares vs Danny Lopez 1 of 2



Ruben Olivares vs Danny Lopez 2 of 2



Danny Lopez -vs- Art Hafey 8/6/76 part 1



Danny "Little Red" Lopez vs Juan Domingo Malvarez



Danny Lopez vs Mike Ayala [Fight of the Year 1979]



Danny _Little Red_ Lopez vs Roberto Castanon



Danny Lopez vs Jose Caba.



Danny "Little Red" Lopez vs Salvador "Chava" Sanchez II (part 1)



Danny "Little Red" Lopez vs Salvador "Chava" Sanchez II (part 2)



Danny "Little Red" Lopez vs Salvador "Chava" Sanchez II (part 3)



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  1. Darrell 05:33pm, 08/05/2014

    Ahhhh, those early 70’s ay!  I got my fix of boxing from old, or if I managed to earn a little extra in the school holidays, new Boxing Illustrated magazine. Little Red, Bobby Chacon & “Bazooka” Limon, as well as the prominent higher weight fighters of the day, were some of the names liberally mentioned or written about in those issues.  Getting Ring magazine was very rare for me as our local news agent didn’t stock it, so on the odd occasion I was in a larger town I would hunt down other titles.

    Alas, I never kept any of them…....

  2. jofre 03:59pm, 06/10/2012

    Another Casey classic. Lopez was never in a dull fight. You could never count him out. He had the same frame as Foster and Hearns and it only took one shot for him to end a fight!

  3. Phil Rice 05:17am, 06/09/2012

    Always a pleasure to read one of Mike’s stylish history pieces.

  4. Don from Prov 07:49am, 06/08/2012

    This was a fine article about a true warrior, Mr. Casey.  I’m still smiling about those who were recently speaking of Money May’s bout with Cotto as if it were a career defining walk through fire: I’d suggest a look at any title defense by Mr. Lopez, or—as Ted mentioned—scrolling through the battles of Matt Franklin.  A nosebleed and a few contested rounds? Please. Men like Lopez and Franklin epitomized toughness and resolve.

  5. Gajjers 12:18am, 06/07/2012

    Sorry for the late response Ted - no, I come from Azumah Nelson country (Ghana), but yeah, the South Africans have a plethora of talented fighters, and trainers who know how to hone that talent.

  6. The Thresher 10:56am, 06/06/2012

    Gajjer’s are you a South African? They are among my favorite fighters.

  7. The Thresher 10:54am, 06/06/2012

    John, I wish that was my writing. It was Mike Casey’s

  8. john coiley 01:48am, 06/06/2012

    Lopez was the epitome of the “tiger in the cage.” great writing on this Star, Ted.

  9. Gajjers 12:35am, 06/06/2012

    Yeah, Danny ‘Little Red’ Lopez was a fighter we admired a lot - David Kotei Poison, my compatriot, had his hands full that night. My dad was the ringside doctor for that fight (I was too young to attend at the time, but my mum did, & regretted it - came back home from her ringside seat with blood stains from the combatants) and dad said he was gonna stop it because DK was just gushing blood from his lower lip, but the home crowd were like - “Man, you wanna get your ass whupped?” He let it go on, and to my chagrin (ever the moralist, even at that age), Danny Lopez was detained for a coupla’ days (couldn’t leave the country) for whuppin’ our hero. Salvador Sanchez overshadowed Lopez’ accomplishments in my book (Azumah Nelson, another compatriot, would attest to that), but the warrior breed always draws great respect from us mere mortals. Thanks for the memories, Danny…

  10. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo 07:28pm, 06/05/2012

    Mike Casey-A really great job of recognizing Danny for the ATG that he is. Danny and brother Ernie had heavy, heavy hands like Micky Ward did and Carl Froch does in the present day. Howie Steindler’s homicide is a cold case that needs to be reopened, reworked and solved!

  11. The Thresher 04:29pm, 06/05/2012

    If I could write like Mike, I would!

  12. The Thresher 10:44am, 06/05/2012

    The Canadians claim Haffey but hell, he was a West Coast fighter all the way IMO.

  13. The Thresher 10:41am, 06/05/2012

    Danny was Matthew Franklin before Matthew Franklin and Matthew was Gatti before Gatti.

  14. Norm Marcus 10:37am, 06/05/2012

    Mike: A well crafted story that comes alive with your keyboard. Always learn a lot from your articles. I was in the Marines in the 70s and was taking some shots of my own. So I’m glad to catch up here.
    Waiting for your Maxie Baer piece—he is my favorite!

  15. The Thresher 10:31am, 06/05/2012

    One of my all time favorite fighters and one of my all time favorite articles by Mike Casey. Danny iced Sean O’Grady and then Bobby Chacon iced Danny. Those were the days. When Danny came down that walkway with his Indian Gear, chills tingled down my spine. He was never, ever in a dull fight. He was special.

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