By Jeff Zimmerman
At 24, bantamweight Tony Lopez (12-3, 4 KOs) is already an “old pro” in the fight game. The Fort Worth native has fought for smaller WBC or WBA belts in five of his last six fights and will do so once again when he fights Max Ornelas (10-0-1, 4 KOs) Friday, April 20th for the vacant NABA Bantamweight Title in Las Vegas at the Cox Pavilion and shown live on beIN Sports.
It’s an amazing accomplishment for any fighter to get that many opportunities to fight for a title, especially someone with only 15 career fights. Lopez had a stellar amateur career before turning pro in 2012 at only 18. And although he is 3-3 in his last six fights suffering losses against the likes of Oscar Cantu, Stephon Young and Rico Ramos, he will get another crack at a title when he takes on Ornelas.
Lopez is not satisfied with what he could have accomplished thus far in his career due to those defeats but feels great on where he is today.
“The answer is no, definitely. We have had a few losses but so, no, to answer your question. No, because I think we could have done some things differently and got to a better place.”
Lopez added, “But as of right now I’m happy with my current situation and I could not have asked for a better training camp or a better team, better people around me.”
Lopez also believes the experience he gained from his losses will be the difference against Ornelas.
“Every one of those fights, I have grown, so I think the experience is definitely in my favor in this fight. Because I have taken those fights and learned from them, grown from them, I feel I’m the plus side as far as boxing IQ, boxing experience, the rounds I have fought with those type of guys, it has definitely given me new weapons that I will be able to use. I’m happy the way things turned out and ready to put on a show.”
The “better team” Lopez refers to is his manager Casey Gutierrez and his head trainer, Raymond Barrera, better known as Ray Ray around Dallas Fort Worth. Ray Ray is also the brother-in-law of former world champion Paulie Ayala.
Lopez is excited to go to battle for the first time with these guys in his corner.
“I started boxing when I was 6 years old. I was with my former coach up until now and my current situation this is my first fight, my first training camp with FHG, Faith Hope & Gloves Boxing, I am trained by Raymond Barrera, my head coach, coach Ray Ray and Casey Gutierrez is my manager. So, this is going to be my first fight with FHG, with Coach Ray Ray, with Casey as my manager, this is the first.”
“And to be competing for the NABA title with them has been tremendous and camp has gone exactly how I wanted it and this camp has been damn near perfect. So, this is my first camp, first fight with them, I’m excited, I’m at peace, I’m ready to go get the win.”
It’s no secret that Roy Jones Jr. Boxing Promotions has been signing several top fighters the last couple of years, led by their CEO Keith Veltre, out of DFW to help build their stable. And fighting under the legendary Roy Jones Jr. is not lost on Lopez.
“They definitely have been making a lot of noise and everybody over there is great. I have always had a great relationship with them since I signed with them. It has been fun, a lot of fun, especially representing the name that is on that banner, which is Roy Jones Jr, arguably one of the greatest to ever put the gloves on, that moment of getting signed was surreal in itself, so every chance I get I try to represent the team well, the stable well and I am getting that opportunity this upcoming Friday.”
Lopez is also representing his hometown of Fort Worth, historically known as a great fight town that produced the likes of former world champions Donald Curry, Stevie Cruz, Paulie Ayala and Gene Hatcher. Plus, current junior middleweight contender John Vera Jr. is also from Fort Worth and promoted by Roy Jones Jr. and now shares the same team as Lopez. Vera Jr. recently fought in a title eliminator in France coming up just short.
“Yea I feel like we are very underrated, North Texas and Texas in general. We have a lot of great fighters, especially right now. And it feels good to be making some noise amongst all these guys and I am looking to make my mark as well, so I definitely have a great opportunity to do that.”
“I am taking it day by day and April 20th I will throw my name in the conversation to compete in the title chase so I’m definitely looking to get mentioned with those guys as well and it is good pressure, good pressure to have, good motivation and It fuels the fire where I’m from having those guys come out of here as well,” continued Lopez.
Lopez feels he has the playbook on Ornelas, who also happens to be promoted by Roy Jones Jr. Boxing, and he will be ready for anything he throws at him.
“Max is somewhat of a clean fighter, by clean I mean he goes by the book. He’s more of a boxer, he relies more on movement and he is pretty tall for this weight class, so he relies on distance, his reach. I don’t see him really getting in there to throw down and exchange, bang and I think there’s definitely a lot of holes in that he’s so young and I plan to go in there and expose those little areas, those little flaws that he has and I like to think I am very versatile so if I got to move or take it to him, I can do both. And that’s what we’ll do.”
Lopez knows the opportunity he has in front of him with his new team and is fortunate to once again be fighting for a NABA title. Another loss against a tough opponent could finally see those chances start to dwindle.
He’s now no longer the young, rising star but instead the experienced, savvy veteran. At 19, that title now belongs to Ornelas.
And if Lopez decides he could use some extra motivation for his fight with Ornelas, he could certainly look no further than new coach Ray Ray to put a call into his brother-in-law and Fort Worth legend Ayala for some tips.
After all Lopez is a southpaw at bantamweight just like Ayala was during his illustrious career. Now that’s one hell of a connection for Lopez to have going into perhaps the biggest fight of his career. Hopefully for Lopez, Friday night in Vegas is when he begins to create his own legacy much like Ayala and others before him and his experience begins to pay off.