By Larry Tornambe
When he left Mexico, in his adolescence, he wanted to be a bullfighter. By the time he settled in Stockton, California, he worked in the fields picking cherries. A friend, who was too young to drive, asked Alvaro Lopez to drive him to a girl’s house. Alvaro met the girl’s family when he dropped off the friend. The father was a fight trainer/promoter and the sister became Alvaro’s love interest. The strong looking Lopez caught the eye of the fight trainer who convinced him to try boxing as he began dating the man’s daughter, Beatrice. “I think he was testing” or trying to scare him away says Beatrice, affectionately called ‘Beano’.
The boxing career began in front of a majority Native American crowd. To gather a fan base someone in the promotion said Lopez was a “Yaqui” Indian, hence his nickname. “I only had 16 amateur fights. I wasn’t a good amateur” said Lopez. The pro career started in Stockton in 1972 with a 6 round win and then fought Jesse Burnett over 8 rounds in only his 4th pro fight two months later. No doubt, Yaqui was known as one of the toughest of his day. With a record of 31-3 Lopez left the west coast for Denmark to challenge John Conteh for the WBC Light Heavyweight belt. A narrow, split decision went Conteh’s way and Lopez returned to home and started over a month later.
Yaqui knocked out eight of nine opponents and was awarded a chance for the WBA title against Victor Galindez. Galindez prevailed over 15 rounds in another slim tally. Lopez won five straight, including a TKO over Mike Rossman, before getting another shot at Galindez in Italy. Again Galindez defeated Lopez over 15 rounds. Yaqui was 0 for 3 in world title bouts, but despite his propensity to facial cuts, was still considered a very tough and worthy contender. He signed to fight Matthew Franklin (later known as Saad Muhammad) for his NABF light-heavyweight belt.
Lopez and Franklin fought in Philadelphia’s Spectrum and the bout became part of Philadelphia’s legacy of holding the roughest fights. It became nearly inhuman in the 8th round when a hard right staggered Franklin and drove him to the ropes. With a taste of victory on his lips, Yaqui wound up a 64-punch flurry, Matthew was able to block some, duck some and skip away to other ropes, but Lopez wasn’t stopping. After Matthew impossibly absorbed the amazing onslaught from Lopez, Franklin stepped away and laughed at Yaqui, then knocked him to the corner with his own combination. Franklin took control and Lopez was stopped as the bell was sounding to end the 11th round with blood coming down his drawn and tired face. “He got his 2nd wind and I didn’t” Lopez says today. But Lopez was not done yet, “Matthew told me he’d give me a chance to fight for the world title if he won. I didn’t believe him, but he was true to his word and gave me the chance” after Matthew won the WBC belt. Franklin changed his name to Matthew Saad Muhammad.
It would be Yaqui’s 4th world title opportunity almost two years later in July 1980. That event would pick up with the same excitement level as their first bout and would follow nearly the same path. The bout was slightly in Lopez’s favor when Lopez stunned the WBC champion and launched another attack in the 8th. This time it was a little more conservative. Matthew would later be quoted as saying, “I was waiting for him to stop, but he didn’t slow up”. Matthew would survive and knock down Lopez 4 times in the 14th round in the 1980 Fight of the Year. The 8th stanza was Fight of the Year as well. Yaqui realizes why the bout was stopped but felt fine to continue as he recalls 25 years later. “I am proud of both of those fights, Matthew got his 2nd wind in both before I did.” Saad would recall “those fights with Lopez and with Marvin Johnson made me the fighter I am known for.” Lopez returned immediately but lost against Michael Spinks in 7 rounds. He then tried out the Cruiserweight division.
A loss to ST Gordon for the NABF Cruiserweight belt was followed by a win over Tony Mundine and a loss to Johnny Davis. After 7 straight wins he unsuccessfully challenged Carlos DeLeon for the world title and lost to Bash Ali in his swan song. “My last fight was in September 1984 for the California state title, 12 rounds. He was a guy I beat before. I thought I beat him (again) and when I heard the decision they gave it to Bash Ali. Somebody else in the athletic commission wanted me to quit. So that was my last fight. I didn’t do nothing for several months. Then I told my wife I got to work. I called my friend Ralph (a city councilman) and I tell him ‘I need a job’. I told him how about in the garbage company. He called me back in 10 minutes and told me they’ll be waiting for me the next morning at 4:30am and that lasted 9 years through the rain and the heat. I messed my back up in the garbage company, on the job, so now I am retired.”
He battled for the world title 5 times and does not show the scars that come with boxing. In fact, his damaged back discs came from life after boxing and cause him pain. At age 54, Yaqui still lives in Stockton, next to his mother and across the street from his father in law. Yaqui is an expert domino player, his wife and sister-in-law, Judy, say “he never loses and is able to count the dominos so he knows what is played and available.” Yaqui smiles when he says, “I take care of my father in law, he’s 81, I get his dog out and take a walk and take care of my mother. Life is good.” Yaqui ended his 12-year pro career with 63 wins, scoring 40 knockouts and losing 15 times. At a recent reunion with Saad Muhammad, Eddie Mustafa Muhammad and Marvin Johnson, Lopez claims, “I am happy because they (the fans) still remember me.” Indeed we do and it’s all good.