Yaqui Lopez: Stockton Is Fat City

By Robert Mladinich on June 9, 2011
Yaqui Lopez: Stockton Is Fat City
Former light heavyweight contender Alvaro “Yaqui” Lopez is giving back (Robert Mladinich)

Growing up in Zacatecas, Mexico, Lopez, now 60, dreamed of being a bullfighter, but that dream turned into nightmare…

Former light heavyweight contender Alvaro “Yaqui” Lopez is giving back. A fan favorite during the1970s and early ‘80s, he got it on with Michael Spinks, Victor Galindez (twice), John Conteh, Mike Rossman, Matthew Saad Muhammad (twice), and Carlos DeLeon.

Growing up in Zacatecas, Mexico, Lopez, now 60, dreamed of being a bullfighter, but that dream turned into nightmare when he was gored by a bull at the age of 12. His right leg still bears the scars of that goring.

Yaqui’s family moved to Stockton, California, where they found seasonal work picking fruit and vegetables. He dropped out of school before completing the 10th grade and joined his family working in the fields. Off-season Yaqui was working in a local cannery. He met a lovely girl there named Beatrice Cruz. When he learned that her father was a boxing promoter, he asked to be introduced.

“I remember thinking,” said Jack Cruz, now deceased, Lopez’s father-in-law and longtime manager, “that at 6-foot-2, he was tall for a Mexican.”

Cruz put Lopez to work. Although he only had 16 sanctioned amateur bouts, Yaqui fought in smokers at a nearby prison.

In 1971, at the age of 19, Yaqui married Beatrice. A year later he had his first pro fight. Within the year he was headlining main events across Northern California and beyond.

With his record at 30-3, and after beating such stalwart contenders as Mike Quarry, Willie Warren, and Canadian champ Gary Summerhays, in 1976 Lopez challenged Conteh for the WBC 175-pound title in Copenhagen, Denmark. Conteh captured a unanimous decision to retain his title.

Eight fights later, Lopez lost a heartbreakingly close decision to WBA titlist Galindez in Rome. Three victories later he destroyed number-one contender Rossman in Madison Square Garden.

Lopez fought Galindez a second time less two months later and lost a unanimous decision.

The first of his two epic battles with Matthew Saad Muhammad (known as Matthew Franklin at the time) was in Philadelphia on October 1978 for Muhammad’s NABF title. Although Lopez was TKO’d in the 11th round, the fight was a classic.

The two men fought 21 months later. Saad Muhammad had not only changed his name, he had also won the WBC title. In a dynamic eighth round, Lopez hit Saad Muhammad with more than 20 unanswered punches and looked well on his way to winning a title. But the champion managed to stay on his feet and came back to stop Lopez in the 14th round. “He got his second wind,” Lopez said, “and I didn’t.”

In October 1980, Lopez fought Michael Spinks in Atlantic City. Although Spinks stopped Lopez in seven rounds, he told him he had never been hit harder by another fighter. Lopez asked him, “Then why didn’t you go down?”

Lopez beat several lower-tier heavyweights, but lost a WBC cruiserweight title fight to DeLeon in 1983.

Lopez retired in 1984 with a record of 65-15 (40 KOs). He never won a title, and his highest purse was $50,000 for the second fight with Saad Muhammad.

“We live in a different era today,” said Lopez. “The fighters today are not the same caliber as they were in the ‘60s and ‘70s. They were real good, and took nothing for granted. You couldn’t sneak your way into a title shot back then. You had to earn it.”

“A lot of people don’t realize just how talented Yaqui was,” his wife Beatrice explained. “He was like a ballet dancer in the ring. People remember all the blood, but that was because his skin cut so easily. He looked like he was hit hard, but he rolled with most of the punches and they slid across his neck. He slipped a lot more punches than he took, against many great fighters at their peaks. All you have to do is listen to him today to see that he didn’t take too many beatings.”

Cruz said that Lopez “could have been a doctor if he chose. He’s brilliant. He learned English by himself. To be as sharp as he is with all the fights he had, imagine of he had no fights and went to college instead.”

“For some reason, God didn’t want him to be a champion,” added Beatrice, “it just wasn’t in the books. Yaqui loved fighting, but always said the family had more fun than he did during his career. I’m sure he’s right. I remember busloads of people going to watch him fight. The Hell’s Angels would be in the back, the drinkers in the middle, and the quiet old people in the front. They would all be eating my mother’s tamales. Life is nothing but memories, and we have so many. Not a day goes by we don’t thank the Lord for all we have to be grateful for.”

Lopez has all his marbles and no regrets. And in February the former contender and longtime Stockton resident has opened Yaqui Lopez Fat City Boxing Club in Stockton. At first the extremely modest and humble Lopez was genuinely surprised at how much publicity it generated.

“I can’t believe they remember me,” he told Bob Highfill, the sports editor of the Stockton Record

The innately decent Lopez went on to explain how grateful he was to be able to provide local youngsters with an alternative to the sordid temptations of the streets. In Lopez’s heyday, he was a fixture in the top-ten light heavyweight rankings, much like the Stockton of today is a perennial top-ten contender for America’s most crime-ridden city.

Having come up under the most hardscrabble of circumstances, Lopez has a lot of knowledge and wisdom to impart on the youth of today.

“Before I leave this world,” he told Highfill as his voice cracked with emotion, “I want to show somebody what I learned because it is very tough in this world.”

The Fat City Boxing Club is located at 1120-2A E. Waterloo Road, Stockton, California. For more information contact Beno Lopez at 209-609-4330.

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Matthew Saad Muhammad -vs- Yaqui Lopez II 7/13/80 part 1



Michael Spinks v Yaqui Lopez Part 1/2



Alvaro "Yaqui" Lopez vs Mike Rossman (part 1)



Alvaro "Yaqui" Lopez vs Mike Rossman (part 2)



Alvaro "Yaqui" Lopez vs Mike Rossman (part 3)



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  1. Eric 06:02pm, 12/04/2012

    @Rinze, have to agree with you that the name Yaqui Lopez belongs right up there with the Sam Langfords, the Bennie Briscoes, the Jerry Quarrys, the Charley Burleys etc, as best fighters to never win a world title. Fought just about all the big names in an a era for light heavyweights that rank as one of the best, if not the best era ever. Came agonizingly close to winning the title and many thought he did enough to notch a win over Galindez in their first bout.

  2. Rinze van der Meer 02:27am, 11/09/2012

    This man Yaqui Lopez was a wonderful fighter in an area where the average top fighters were more than a cut above the so-called alphabet champions of today. Sometimes they talk about “the greatest fights who never won a World title” Well, here’s one strong contender for that. Men like Lopez should never be forgotten, never worry about the daily sorrows and be able to look back, also in decades to come, with health problems and always be honored by us all. Even as far away as the Netherlands, his reputation is a sound as his skill. A pity Stockton is to far, but shaking that man’s hands would be something. I’m 67 years old, but watching his films on the internet, make me feel like 25. God Bless Yaqui Lopez.

  3. Jeff 10:30pm, 06/14/2011

    Thanks for the update on Yaqui Lopez.  I was relieved to read that he is doing well.  I rooted for him against Victor Galindez.  If my son wanted to learn how to box, I would want a man like Yaqui Lopez to teach him.

  4. Bob Edwards 04:10pm, 06/14/2011

    I remember Yaqui well
    And enjoyed all his fights it was different then
    When you fought at the Olympic Auditorium in those days you got carfare (like $10) as an amateur and maybe $100 as a semi main event fighter But everyone gave it their all
    Yaqui was real tough

  5. CALLYMART 12:27pm, 06/14/2011

    Have a lot of respect for Yaqui Lopez, who would have won at least a version of a world title in many eras.

  6. Jack Freney 06:23pm, 06/13/2011

    Nice tribute to an excellent fighter. I always wanted to see Yaqui fight a friend of mine, Richie Kates, another excellent boxer who also fought Galindez twice. This was a “Golden Era” of light heavyweights. Todays fighters would have a tough time “hanging” with most of the light heavyweights of that era. Quiz Time: Since the article didn’t mention this, anybody know what the reference to Fat City means? No cheating, doing a search. The hard core fans know the answer without help. Also, Yaqui looks like he can still go some rounds!!!!!

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