Report and photos by Felipe Leon
In boxing, the story is as old as the day is long. Young boy picked on my school mates and father walks him over to the local boxing gym to be educated in the art of the sweet science. For Tijuana super bantamweight Alejandro “Alex” Lopez (24-2, 7KOs) the visit turned into a lifelong passion which now has put him on the doorstep of the dream of any fighter that laces up a pair of gloves. This Saturday night, Lopez will face undefeated Jonathan Romero (22-0, 12KOs) of Colombia for the vacant IBF 122 lbs. title at the Tijuana Municipal Auditorium in his hometown. The night is presented by Zanfer Promotions and broadcast live in Mexico by Canal Azteca.
Located among restaurants and mariachi bands in a popular plaza near the San Diego/Tijuana border, a twelve year old Lopez was led to the Chetos’ Gym, led by its namesake, Ricardo “Chetos” Torres, a long time figure in Tijuana boxing. First trained as a glove maker then a trainer and manager, Torres led his only world champion twenty years ago in WBO flyweight champion Jose “Gallito” Quirino and has chased the feeling ever since. In the meantime, Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. passed through the gym in his final tour and Torres’ trained tough Tijuana journeymen Hector Velazquez and Roberto “Pollito” Lopez among others.
After over fifty amateur fights in which “Alex” developed his slick boxing style and garnered silver and bronze medals in National, international experience in Cuba as well as a number of bi-National titles, Lopez went pro as a seventeen year old and scored one of seven knock outs. “It was a quick fight, won by knockout in the first round. I was very well prepared; I had just left the amateurs so it turned out to be an easy fight.”
Soon after, Lopez signed to powerhouse promoter Zanfer and began to travel across the United States building his impressive ledger, a strategy not often seen of Mexican fighters. Usually, the fighter is built in Mexico against soft opposition and then maneuvered across the border to capitalize on bigger bouts.
“I imagine my promoter has wanted to give me a bigger projection in the United States and that is why my bigger fights have been across the border,” the twenty-five year old father of twins explains regarding his career path. “I think I am better known in the United States that in Mexico right now since I haven’t had many fights here. I have fought in Las Vegas and in big fight cards like under Jorge Arce, Julio Cesar Chavez and ‘Kochulito’ Montiel.”
His trainer believes that his travels across the U.S. has led Lopez to be a much more experienced and better fighter, “he hasn’t fought much in Tijuana so he is not a hometown fighter, he feels comfortable in any scenario.”
A scenario in which Lopez might not feel as comfortable is on a losing side of a decision which Lopez has suffered twice. The first one in early ’10, Lopez dropped an eight round unanimous decision to then undefeated Jorge Diaz. A year later, he suffered his only other loss at the hands of former amateur standout Aaron Garcia on the under card of Brandon Rios vs. Miguel Acosta.
“Originally it was going to be for ten rounds in Las Vegas so I got prepared to fight on the undercard of Montiel vs. Donaire but they told us at the San Diego airport that it had been moved a week,” Lopez says with a sly smile of the mishap that can only happen in boxing. “Then they changed it for eight rounds. In the dressing room they made it into a six round swing bout and on the way to the ring, a four rounder. I was prepared for ten rounds so instinctively I began slowly. I still felt that we won but his style was quicker, more of an Olympic style, threw more punches so he got the win.”
Despite the loss which he chalked it off as a hazard of the profession, Lopez was soon offered an interim NABF title fight versus Teon Kennedy. Lopez took the fight and the title with a unanimous decision. Two fights later he defeated tough African Takalani Ndlovu in an IBF eliminator that now has put him in the biggest fight of his career.
“I have only seen one fight of Jonathan Romero,” Lopez said of his taller and rangier opponent. “I know that he is very good boxer but not with too many knock outs. I think he has a good punch but he likes to box more. Same as me, I like to box, I like to study my opponents just like him and use my distance although he is taller than me but I think we have the right strategy to beat him that night.”
Lopez has a much higher opinion of Romero than his trainer since Torres ventured to state, “we have seen some his videos and saw his record on the internet. We discovered that he hasn’t fought anybody but his cousin, his relatives. He is a fighter that only goes hard for about four rounds and then tries to survive.”
Romero to his credit has fought outside of his home country of Colombia four times, including wins over Chris Avalos and Efrain Esquivias.
With styles making fights and bother fighters having a similar one, Lopez is well aware that as the shorter fighter, he must go after Romero to force the action. “He doesn’t like to be the aggressor and since I am the shorter of the two, I am going to be the one the ones that looks for the fight. The one that is going to win is the one that makes the fewer mistakes and I think he is going to make more mistakes than me. I have been working on being the aggressor. Most of my opponents have been shorter or the same size. The fighter I faced, Takalani Ndlovu, was taller but he made some mistakes and I was able to capitalize. I need to take away his jab and make him fight my fight.”
Lopez prepared himself for the championship fight for ten rounds while sparring undefeated Venezuelan Angel Rodriguez, tough Raul Hirales and his younger brother Ray Lopez.
One way that Lopez is expecting to force Romero to make mistakes is the loud and boisterous hometown crowd. Despite not being known much in his hometown, Lopez knows that the hometown fans always get behind the man announced as being from Tijuana, ”my opponent is going to be the one with the pressure and I know because it is here in Tijuana and thanks to the fans cheering me on, my opponent will commit some mistakes that I will be able to take advantage of.”