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Lopez KO’d his way in the Hall of Fame

11
Jun

The International Boxing Hall of Fame will induct 13 people on Sunday in Canastota, N.Y. Living inductees: junior flyweight titleholder Jung-Koo Chang, featherweight titleholder Danny “Little Red” Lopez, manager Shelly Finkel, referee/commissioner Larry Hazzard, promoter Wilfried Sauerland, matchmaker Bruce Trampler and journalist Ed Schuyler. Posthumous honorees: light heavyweight Lloyd Marshall, featherweight titleholder Young Corbett II, lightweight titleholder Rocky Kansas, light heavyweight and heavyweight contender Billy Miske, broadcaster Howard Cosell and boxing pioneer Paddington Tom Jones. Inductees were voted in by members of the Boxing Writers Association of America and a panel of international boxing historians.

Danny “Little Red” Lopez used to try to make the sound of a balloon bursting when he hit the heavy bag in the gym, the kind of sound that will get your attention.

“I put my whole body, my whole weight behind it,” Lopez said over the phone from his home in Chino Hills, Calif., a few days ago. “I would try to make a pop. That’s where the power came from, hitting the bag as hard as I could over and over again and making that pop. The louder the better.”

Lopez’s opponents will tell that he was on to something, if they’re still coherent.



The former featherweight titleholder was one of the most-exciting and popular fighters in the talent-rich 1970s for a simple reason: Either you were going to stop him or he was going to turn your lights out – and the latter was almost always the case, even if he had to get off the canvas to do it.

Lopez stopped 39 of his 42 victims, lost six times (five inside the distance) and didn’t have a boring moment in his career. His accomplishments have earned him induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame on Sunday in Canastota, N.Y.

“He was just a dead puncher, one of the best one-punch knockout artists who ever lived,” said promoter Don Chargin, who played a significant role in many of Lopez’s fights. “He was more than a good puncher; he was a great puncher. He could be losing a fight, even made to look bad, then with one punch he’d turn everything around.

“It could happen early, it could happen late, but it almost always happened.”

Lopez had a striking look, fair skin and thick red hair that probably can be attributed to the Irish side of the family. And his trademark was the full Native American headdress he wore into the ring, in honor of his Ute ancestors.

He was anything but flashy, though. Chargin and others who knew him well describe him as soft-spoken, unassuming, not the type one might imagine boxers to be – until he stepped through the ropes.

Lopez, who grew up in foster homes in Utah before moving to Southern California, followed his older brothers – professional fighters Leonard and Ernie – into boxing when he was 16 years old at a gym in Orem, Utah, and learned quickly.

Two years later, just shy of his 19th birthday, he stopped the first of the 21 consecutive opponents he knocked out to start his career. All but one of those victories took place in boxing-crazy Los Angeles, where he became an instant attraction.

Lopez’s pivotal fight against Arturo Pineda in 1972 – when Lopez was 10-0 and Pineda 13-0 – filled the famous Olympic Auditorium and ended with a bang: a one-punch KO in the fourth round after Lopez was staggered a few rounds earlier.

That formula was typical of Lopez, who said he went down more times than he could remember.

“You usually didn’t know what type of fighter he was until you knocked him down,” said Sean O’Grady, who suffered his first loss against Lopez in 1976 (TKO 4). “One bet you could make on his fights was what round he’d get knocked down. Another bet was when he’d get up and knock out his opponent.

“When you hit him, it only made him mad. He was just so resilient. He just mowed me down. He was like a Sherman Tank – he wouldn’t stop.”

Lopez’s biggest victory came three fights later, when he traveled to Ghana to take on featherweight titleholder David Kotey in his home country. The challenger, fighting in profoundly hostile territory, didn’t score a knockout but outpointed the Ghanian to win his only major belt.

Lopez said the only people cheering for him in the jam-packed Accra Sports Stadium were a handful of U.S. Marines and few member of the Peace Corps.

“I’ll never forget seeing them standing and cheering for me,” he said. “That’s my best memory in boxing, going to Africa and winning the title.”

Lopez had other important victories, including knockouts of Chucho Chastillo, Ruben Olivares and David Kotey in a rematch. He successfully defended his title eight times.

He also had his difficult moments. The most-devastating was the murder of his manager and father figure, Howie Steindler, in 1977. Lopez is still saddened when Steindler’s name is mentioned.

And he had his setbacks in the ring. He was stopped by fellow L.A.-area sensation and Hall of Famer Bobby Chacon in the ninth-round of a classic battle at a sold-out Los Angeles Sports Arena in 1974, his first loss. And he concluded his career with back-to-back knockout losses to the great Salvador Sanchez in 1980 and an ill-advised comeback fight in which he was stopped by a journeyman in 1992.

The losses to Sanchez were particularly costly. Had he been able to beat the Mexican legend, he said he was in line to face Wilfredo Gomez for a seven-figure payday. Lopez never made more than the $235,000 he earned for the first Sanchez fight.

“I just got beat by a better fighter,” he said.

Lopez, 57, has done fine since he retired from boxing. He’s happily married to wife Bonnie and has three sons. He works in construction, although he admitted that times are lean in his business at the moment.

And he has no regrets about his boxing career, particularly now that he’s entering the Hall of Fame.

“I thought I’d never in there,” he said with a laugh. “I’m real excited. It means a lot to me that people liked to watch me fight. I had a habit of getting hit and going down and then jumping up and knocking the guy out. I guess people liked that.”

They certainly did.

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