The CBZ Newswire

Touching Gloves with… Danny ‘Little Red’ Lopez

by on Feb.13, 2015, under Boxing News

By Dan Hanley

Danny 1stPic

While Ernie ‘Indian Red’ Lopez was bopping pugs to sleep in the early ’70s, west coast fight mavens took a double-take when his kid brother arrived on the scene sporting the monicker, ‘Little Red’. Afterall, west coast fight fans were passionate, knowledgeable, and didn’t suffer fools in this game, having been weaned on several generations of leather-slingers. However, as the kid began leaving an array of prone bodies in his wake, even the most cynical man-in-the-seat saw the harkening of a new day.

DH: Danny, your name, of course, is synonymous with L.A., but you’re actually from Utah originally, are you not? 

DL: That’s right. I was born on an Indian Reservation in Fort Duchesne, Utah.

DH: What was life like on the Reservation?

DL: It was very hard. There were 8 of us kids, but I was taken from my Mother when I was 8 years old and sent to a foster home with a brother and sister in Jensen, Utah. The foster family I grew up with was a family called the Moons. They were very nice people and they adopted my sister Carol, my brother Larry and I. Although I changed my name back to Lopez when I left, I still always kept in touch with them.

DH: When a pale red-head wearing an Indian war bonnet with a hispanic surname shows up on the scene, the question begs to be asked, what exactly is your lineage?

DL: (laughing) OK, here it is. My Father was half California Mission Indian and half Mexican. My Mother was half Ute Indian and half Irish. Man, (laughs) it’s like I came out of a blender.

 DH: Your brothers Ernie and Lenny preceded you in the business. Was there ever a doubt you would be following them into the fight game?

DL: No! I always wanted to be a fighter. Probably because they were into it, but I just loved it and was going follow them into the sport regardless

DH: Tell me how and where you started out?

DL: I started out at Stan’s Boxing Club in Orem, Utah when I was 16. I was living with Glen Burr by this time and he brought me down to the gym to learn the basics. I was taught by Gary Brown at the Club. He taught me how to step into my punches.

DH: What kind of an amateur career did you have?

DL: I had 47 amateur fights, winning several Utah Golden Glove championships before coming to L.A. Eventually I fought in the National Golden Gloves and the National AAU tournament. I never won the tournaments, but I came close a few times. I lost in the quarter-finals of the Nationals in Las Vegas in 1970 and lost in the semi-finals in Fort Worth in ’71.

DH: Was it as an amateur or as a pro that you realized, ‘Wow! I can really bang!’?

DL: It was as an amateur. Gary Brown had me working on that heavy bag continuously until I literally put a dent in it. I think it just developed from there.

DH: You turned pro in May of ’71 with Howie Steindler as your manager. Who else was part of the team?

DL: Memo Soto was my trainer and we also had Teddy Bentham in the corner as my cutman.

DH: I know Howie was also managing Ernie at this time, but did he have anyone else in the stable?

DL: He also managed Albert Davila and then Jamie Garza came along a bit later.

DH: I was always curious, do you feel being ‘Indian Red’s’ little brother hurt you or helped you when you were starting out?

DL: Oh, I think it helped me. See, suddenly ‘Little Red’ was a name and it got publicity and helped the gate. Of course there was an expectation of me now, so if I didn’t produce, that expectation would have gotten old really quick.

DH: You took off with 10 straight KOs, all under the banner of the Olympic Boxing Club, when you took on local rival Tury ‘The Fury’ Pineda, who was 13-0. First of all, today they would never match two hot prospects together, but this was common practice back then, wasn’t it?

DL: All the time, and why wouldn’t you? We packed them in and made terrific paydays. Tury and I were both about 19 years old and they called this fight ‘The battle of the teeny-boppers’.

DH: Tell me about the fight.

DL: Tury was easy for me, and by that I mean I had no problem finding him. The fight wasn’t easy, though. I got hit and hurt, but I finally took him out in the 4th round.

 DH: You continued your KO streak – taking out excellent opposition along the way like Benny Rodriguez and Jose Luis Valdovinos – when you took on Japan’s ‘Ace’ Endo in March of ’73 at the big L.A. Sports Arena card. Was this the first time you were ever dropped?

DL: I believe so. I just recall getting so mad at going down in front of that big crowd. I got up, went after him and took him out in the second round.

DH: After this bout the Forum Boxing Club offered you and Bobby Chacon $40,000 apiece for another undefeated prospect showdown. However, I recall reading how Howie turned it down saying that he was looking for a world title fight with Jose Legra, not a 10 rounder with Bobby Chacon. You were only 17-0 at the time. Was this being a little over-ambitious?

DL: Kind of. But Howie always knew what he was doing and if he did line up a title fight, I would have been ready.

 DH: Your KO streak ended at 21 when Genzo Kurosawa held you to a decision. But your next fight was a real scare down in Mexicali. I remember a fight report at the time with the headline, “Danny Lopez walks into a Mexican ambush.” Tell me about your fight with Memo Rodriguez.

DL: It was very scary down there and believe me, (laughing) I didn’t get much applause. If I hadn’t stopped him in that last round I think they might’ve stolen the fight from me.

 DH: The fight all the west coast was waiting on finally took place in May of ’74 at the Sports Arena against Bobby Chacon. Leading up to this bout it seemed like all of California was divided on if you were for Lopez or Chacon. Was there a mutual rivalry between you?

DL: No, this was just business. Bobby and I were friends before this and after. To tell you a funny story about me and Bobby and how far back we go; we were representing Los Angeles in the AAUs in New Orleans as amateurs. Well, budgets were small so Bobby and I bunked together in the same bed. He was sound asleep and dreaming when his arm came around me, so (laughing) I shoved him out of the bed. Man, he must’ve thought I was his girlfriend.

 DH: Tell me about the fight.

DL: Bobby was just too good for me that night. I got in a few, but he hit hard and was just too much fighter and it was stopped in the 9th.

Danny Lopez (left) dropping Jose Torres enroute to a 7th round stoppage in his September 13, 1977 featherweight title defense.

Danny Lopez (left) dropping Jose Torres enroute to a 7th round stoppage in his September 13, 1977 featherweight title defense.

DH: You started experiencing a real murky time in your career after that fight. And none stranger than the fight with Shig Fukuyama in Sept. of ’74. What happened in that one?

DL: Well, it was a tough fight, but I was just starting to get to him in the 8th. I had a cut on one eye and the other eye was swollen and in between rounds Howie attempts to treat my cut when he accidentally dumps the entire bottle of cut medicine into my eye. I was completely blind and the fight had to be stopped between rounds. Y’know, Howie was an excellent cornerman, so this was really unlike him. (laughs) Maybe he had a couple of bucks on the other fella.

 DH: It seemed like it all came apart in your next fight when you lost to ‘Famoso’ Gomez in Anaheim. What did he present that you couldn’t handle?

DL: Movement. I just never could get a bead on him for 10 rounds and he took the decision.

 DH: So many publications were writing you off at this time, but you simply exploded back on the scene in your next fight when you took on former bantamweight champ Chucho Castillo at the Olympic. Tell me about that fight.

DL: He came right at me, which (laughing) he really shouldn’t have done. I caught him coming in. Man, I remember the fans rioting that night. They really tore up the place. See, the Mexican fans were fickle. They would always be cheering for me, but when I would fight a Mexican National, the cheers went to the other fella.

DH: After several more wins you took on the great Ruben Olivares at the Inglewood Forum in December of ’75. First of all, was it true that Ruben was your boxing idol?

DL: Oh, yeah! I wanted to be like him so bad. I would read every magazine piece on him. But this was business and we went at it pretty good. I finally knocked him out in the 7th with a straight right.

 DH: You were decked early in this fight. You were also cut and sampled some amazing right hands during the bout. By this time you were really getting a rep as a guy that would get dropped early only to come back to knock out your opponent. As a result you had a lot of guys gunning for you early.

DL: I know what you mean, but that was just the way I was. I had to get started and it always seemed like I had to get dropped or hurt before I got going.

 DH: You kept knocking them dead, including future lightweight champ Sean O’Grady and a little revenge on Famoso Gomez when the fans were treated to another west coast showdown in August of ’76. You took on the #1 contender Art Hafey of Canada who had been fighting out of San Diego. First of all, wasn’t the winner of this bout promised a shot at the world title?

DL: That’s correct, the winner of this bout was guaranteed a shot at the WBC featherweight title.

DH: Tell me about the fight.

DL: Well, the best way I could describe Art was tough. He was short, only like five foot two and he had these short arms, but he could really hit. And the way he kept his jaw tucked in it was really difficult to catch him. We both took some shots that night, but I finally caught him by going sort of over and under and stopped him in the 7th.

DH: Your last four fights had taken place at the Forum. Had you a falling out with Aileen Eaton and the Olympic? 

DL: It wasn’t me. I always got along good with Aileen, but I think Howie was having some issues with her at the time.

DH: In November of ’76 you received your long awaited title shot at the featherweight championship held by David ‘Poison’ Kotey. But it was to take place in his hometown in Ghana. First of all, I understand Howie was not in your corner for the fight.

DL: That’s true, his doctor refused to allow him to travel. Howie was 72 years old with a heart condition and they thought the long trip to Africa and the change would be too much for him. So, Norm Lockwood came in his place.

DH: Tell me about the fight.

DL: It was a very good fight. I was in the best shape of my life, but the conditions were rough. It was 90 degrees in the shade over there and as the fight wore on I was really exhausted, but I wasn’t going to blow this chance. I cut him bad and had him down in the 11th and won the title with a unanimous decision. We fought in front a of a massive crowd in an outdoor soccer stadium and when I was announced as the new world champ there was dead silence except for about 15 Americans. Man, (laughing) I tell ya, that was scary.

DH: It was shortly after this – in early ’77 – that tragedy struck when Howie was found murdered. Did they ever come close to solving this case?

DL: I don’t believe so. They still don’t even have a motive. I was very close with all the Steindlers, so this was a very rough time.

DH: With Howie gone, did you ever consider packing it in?

DL: No. I loved the game and I was world champion now after a long struggle getting there. With a real chance of making money and making things comfortable for my family I was going to keep going, but I needed a manager. Howie’s daughter wanted to take me over, but I decided to go with Bennie Georgino. I worked in his brother’s pizza parlor when I first came out to L.A. and got to know Bennie when he would come around. And he was always in the gym giving instruction. So, this was a good fit.

DH: It was 10 months before you put the title on the line and it was against Jose Torres of Mexico. Now, I knew quite a bit about Torres and his punching power, so I gotta tell you, I was really worried about this one after that long layoff with only a couple of non-titles in between. Tell me about the fight.

DL: Oh, man, Torres was one tough fighter. He dropped me in the second round and we went at it toe-to-toe after that. But I dropped him a couple of times and finally stopped him in 7 rounds.

DH: You really strayed from the safe confines of L.A. after this, putting your title on the line in Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, New Orleans and in Italy before landing in San Antonio to defend against Mike Ayala. Danny, this was 1979′s Fight of the Year. You stopped him in the 15th round, but I always wanted to ask you what happened in the 11th round? It seemed like the fight was over when you dropped him, but then the referee restarted the fight.

DL: Dan, to tell you the truth, I don’t know. During a fight I would stay so focused that I’m not seeing what’s going on. Until they tell me I won I would just keep my head down and fight. But it was a good fight.

DH: In your 9th title defense you met Salvador Sanchez in Phoenix and lost your title on a 13th round stoppage. Now, I always followed the game very closely, yet I knew next to nothing about Salvador Sanchez. Were you fully prepared for this unknown counter-puncher?

DL: Dan, I never realized what a good fighter he was until we went at it. I just couldn’t do a thing with him. I couldn’t hit him. But he hit me good. (laughing) About 1,000 times he hit me good. He was just a great boxer.

 DH: The two of you rematched four months later in Las Vegas. How differently did you prepare for the rematch?

DL: I sparred extensively with fighters who could move, but it didn’t help. He beat me good just like before, this time with it ending in the 14th round.

DH: You packed it in after that fight at the age of 28. Was this a difficult decision after all those years of swapping leather?

DL: It was kinda hard. There was only one thing I had been doing for the last dozen years or so.

DH: Tell me about your wife Bonnie. How did you two meet?

DL: Well, when I got to L.A. I moved in with Ernie and his wife in Arcadia for a short while. Bonnie was a neighbor who would baby-sit their kids. Well, (laughing) I would always find a reason to stick around when I knew they were going out. We hit it off and we’ve been married 42 years now. Or, as Bonnie says, “Too long!” But she always supported me when I was boxing. Even when I decided to give it another go.

DH: Let’s talk about that for a minute. In 1992, a few months shy of turning 40, you came back for one disastrous fight. Was this just a lark or were you serious about it?

DL: Oh, I was serious. I had been working construction and it was just something nagging at me. I wanted to find out if I still had it. But (laughing) I found out in a hurry that I didn’t. It was a complete disaster. A 40 year old man has no business in there. But one good thing came out of that. I had to prove I was fit to the State Athletic Commission, which was in Sacramento, before they would grant me a license. I got the license and on the flight back I was sitting next to Joe Valverde of Valverde Construction. He was a big fight fan and we had a great conversation and he told me to give him a call if things didn’t work out. And I ended up working for Joe for 20 years. He was a great guy. He and his son even made the trip to Canastota to see me inducted in the Hall of Fame.

DH: Danny, do you have any regrets about your career?

DL: Y’know, my biggest purse was about $130,000 for the first Sanchez fight. We invested my ring earnings well and they’re still working for us today. But, if I had gotten past Sanchez, I was looking at a $1,000,000 payday to defend against Wifredo Gomez. And that would’ve been nice.

DH: Danny, at 62, how do you feel today?

DL: I’m doing alright. I took an early retirement at the age of 60 because I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. I didn’t want to end up hurting someone on the job site, or (laughing) me, for that matter. But Bonnie and I are doing very well. We have 3 boys, 6 grandchildren and I couldn’t ask for much more.

#   #   #

Danny Lopez (left) and the author at a 2012 event in Los Angeles.

Danny Lopez (left) and the author at a 2012 event in Los Angeles.

Danny Lopez had a very unique style and fought before a very unique crowd. His style was sheer box office and he would regularly pack the respective arena. However, these were not arm chair cable-TV fans, but those who would voice their displeasure over anything less than an honest effort. Those who considered being cantankerous an obligation. Picture a penned up herd of cattle suffering from claustrophobia and you get the picture of how volatile the west coast fan was. And they never doubted Danny’s effort.

Danny, today, has been feted by way of induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, the World Boxing Hall of Fame and on April 26th, will be inducted into the West Coast Boxing Hall of Fame’s inaugural class. And I for one, wouldn’t miss it for the world.

See ya next round.


Dan Hanley



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