Last Saturday I had the opportunity to sit ringside at the American Bank Center in Corpus Christi, TX for Hall of Fame night. Invited by a family member of middleweight and main eventer Alfonso Lopez, I decided to write a long-form piece about a sport rapidly grabbing at my heart.
Corpus Christi is far from beautiful. An industrial, working-class and all-but-forgotten Mexican-Texan city on a rocky Gulf shoreline, one of the nicest things that can be said about it is “Well, it’s nicer than Galveston.” But after three hours in the car and a few Lone Star tall boys at six in the afternoon on a beautiful Saturday, the Gulf – The Ocean – can look magnificent in Corpus. A cold beer and a Slaid Cleaves record left me relaxed and a little in love with this hard-scrabble town by the time I made my way to the American Bank Center – right on The Ocean, naturally – for what was dubbed Hall of Fame Night. Seven fights scheduled featuring mostly Texan boxers; it was showcase for the locals in a city without much to do on an average Saturday night.
As a boxer, Corpus native and main eventer Alfonso Lopez III is a product of his hometown. Industrious, dogged and capable of beauty in the ring, he perhaps deserves better than he gets. A lean, rangy fighter with good footwork and a jab that snaps heads back like a proper one should, the Tex-Mex (though leaning much more towards the ‘Tex’ of that split) super middleweight has only been stopped once in his career. He has the appearance of an all-American teenager: not quite filled out fighting at 165 ¼ tonight (in fairness, the lightest weight of his career) and with ears that stick out from the side of his head. Lopez looks – and is – friendly in the charming way that most Texans seem to be.
He might also deserve more exposure, or at least more steps up in competition. A well-spoken fighter with a college degree, Lopez has laid waste to most of Texas’ super middleweights and light heavyweights on the way to the Texas state title and WBC Continental Americas belt at the former weight. His only real break so far ended in a majority decision loss his last time out to a dried-out Kelly Pavlik on the undercard of Pacquiao – Mosely.
A significant step up in class for Lopez, the Pavlik fight was a strong showing that was probably closer to the draw he earned from one judge than the near white-washing given by the other two at the MGM Grand. He is lanky, making his 75 inch reach look even longer.
To pay-per-view audiences in May, Lopez (21-1, 16 KO entering the night) was nobody; in his hometown he is the star attraction. A former college football player, he is more of a natural light heavyweight; though he plans to drop down to 160 (a fight against Julio César Chávez, Jr. would be a great matchup.) The opposition, tonight Chicago journeyman Michael Walker (19-9-2, 5 KO), tipped the scales at 169 ½, a full 10 pounds up from his loss to Billy Lyell in July. Walker is winless since 2008 - Ricardo Mayorga standing as the biggest name on his bout list - and is giving up five inches in height and reach. He looks like a French bulldog and just about the last man an angry drunk like myself would want to run into on the South Side of our shared home city.
It was a night full of local fighters on the undercard. Junior lightweight Ramsey Luna bumped his record to eight wins without defeat against the most colorful fighter of the night, Mexican-born Natalio Ponce, who entered the night at 15-29 and did so in the garb of an Aztec warrior complete with an opulent headpiece, though the inverted-pyramid style of his trunks was made even more ridiculous than it sounds with a large ad for an automotive garage plastered on the front. Both spent six rounds on the attack, showcasing strong chins but not very much boxing finesse.
Lightweight Alicio Castaneda (12-1, 5 KO) – perhaps not coincidentally fighting out of Lopez’ home gym in Cut and Shoot, Texas with Roy Harris in his corner – showed the most promise on the undercard. Picking up a tough win in a split decision over San Antonio’s Eddie Ramirez (6-8), Castaneda showcased enough skill to merit another look in a fight that didn’t look as close as the judges scored it (a point deduction late didn’t help, either.)
The final fight of the undercard got the 5,000-plus in attendance out of their seats. Robstown’s Greg Gutierrez (4-0, 2 KO) came into the night without a loss in his four professional fights, though his previous opponents stake claim to just five combined wins. The crowd was solidly behind Gutierrez from the start, booing Bay City’s DeShaun Williams (2-6-1, 1 KO) in the most blatant display of hostility on the night.
Williams played to the crowd, turning some at ringside in his favor. Williams had the physical advantage going in, and it was clear from the get-go that he was the more composed fighter against the tight, nearly hyperventilating Gutierrez.
Scheduled for four rounds, the fight never made a case for going that far. Williams knocked down Gutierrez twice in the first, as the latter dropped his hands repeatedly and showed no interest in defending Williams’ looping crosses. The footwork was the sloppiest of the night – neither fighter looking the role of a man built for a long professional career – and though Williams’ power punches didn’t look to have much weight behind them; he was able to score at will.
Gutierrez hit the ground a final time in the third, standing flatfooted in the center of the ring for interminable seconds before Williams floored him with a final right. Referee Lee Rogers did not even bother to count, though it looked like Gutierrez might have been able to get up before ten. He knew, as did everyone in attendance, that Williams was just going to drop him again. For his part, Williams earned the support of the neutral supporters in the crowd with a good bit of showmanship in the ring before the round, sending them to the loudest cheer of the night with the knock out.
The undercard dispatched with and the 11 o’clock hour rolling around, Walker entered the arena to relative indifference and with an entourage of just three, two clad in the sartorial abomination that is jean shorts. Lopez entered as any good Texas should, slowly and proudly while wearing a black cowboy hat.
Fighting from the blue corner, the crowd was on its feet for Lopez’ introduction and as the bell sounded it was clear that this night was his. Walker may have started his career 18-0-1 before dropping a bout, but the last three years have not been kind to him. He resembles a doughier version of sprinter Ben Johnson, his eyes even looking jaundiced from my vantage point ringside. He carries impressive muscle mass in his arms and has a stocky build that he carries in an intimidating fashion.
That’s all well and good if he needed to get into a fight in the parking lot, but as a boxer Walker leaves much to be desired. A swarmer with flat feet, Walker gave a textbook display of how not to pressure fight against a taller opponent. His feet moved best in the opening two rounds, but even in the first stages of the bout seemed more interested in clinching up than punching when he worked inside. Against a less composed Alfonso Lopez this strategy might have worked – he had a propensity to lunge in from his right earlier in his career, according to Al Bernstein – but the favorite was ready to dictate the pace from the outset, showing off quite a bit of polish in the ring.
Lopez set the tone early with a jab that rarely left Williams’ face when the fighters were outside. The rangy Texan doesn’t quite use the punch to its full ability (it was scoring well against Pavlik before an injury depleted its – and Lopez’ – effectiveness), but he can throw it quickly and with the power a contender needs to have. It snuck its way through Walker’s defense early and often, a recurring theme for the fight.
Walker was able to get inside more than a few times in the first two rounds, while he still had interest in moving. He failed to press the advantage, working Lopez’ left ribs on occasion but generally just clinching up. The uppercut was non-existent.
Catching his opponent slightly out of position late in the second, Walker has his best moment of the fight as he worked Lopez towards the ropes. It all came to naught when Lopez ducked to the right, tripping over his feet and tumbling down while Walker whiffed with a huge cross.
Correctly ruled by referee Freddy Ledesma as a trip, it was the closest Walker came to competing. As the bell sounded to end the second, Lopez smiled and stuck his tongue out in the direction of his wife and children sitting ringside, a moment that repeated itself after each ensuing round. Michael Walker was an inferior fighter. The night belonged to Alfonso Lopez, now it was time to go to work.
Already taking a beating but still with the chance to score a knockout with his occasional power punches that seemed to pack heat, Walker continued his bull rushing in the third, now not even bothering to set up his pressing. For the first time, Lopez took advantage of the sloppy charges and landed a right cross as Walker lunged in unprotected, damaging his opponent for the first time. He scored in this way at least once in each of the following rounds, with Walker presenting a huge target again and again. An accidental head clash followed, however, and it was Lopez who went back into his corner bleeding after the third, sporting a nasty gash over the left eye. Still, he had won all three rounds and the punch counts weren’t even close. The crowd was beginning to get excited for their hometown fighter as the first cries of “Knock him out!” rang out.
Walker did not have the skill or fitness to press the opening presented by the cut, visibly breathing harder as the fourth round began. The next six minutes featured countless examples of the classic one-two combination, with Lopez’ heat-seeking jab and solid right cross scoring at through Walker’s increasingly haphazard defense.
Even when he was able to get inside and play his own game, Walker was being outclassed. Lopez only found himself in the corner a handful of times all night. Not taking many shots, he was able to punch his way out with strong uppercuts and shots to the left ribs that made Walker’s face contort like he was two days deep into a bout with food poisoning. Not afraid to play the inside game now, when not firing his jab Lopez had no fear of punching with Walker in tight, though it is not his best style and he doesn’t look at his most comfortable there. Even with his long arms, scoring inside was no problem. The cut on his eye continued to bleed, eventually marking up his white trunks.
Walker was out of gas for the fifth and sixth rounds, though he attempted to play to the crowd before each. Not yet in danger of going down, the Chicagoan was still hoping for one big punch, though his style now more resembled a labored bending at the waist followed by two hesitant steps towards the inside. Lopez threw his game back at him working inside with more conviction in his footwork and repeatedly pinning Walker against the ropes and into the corner. The jab remained sweet to watch, and if Lopez sticks with it in the future he can have much success. His footwork was in nice rhythm by this point, something he has clearly put some work into. Even the most casual observer could see that he was by far the most polished boxer on the card.
Outpunched at least four to one, with the majority of the damage coming to the head, Walker was well on his way to a unanimous decision against without winning a round. After six rounds, the sequences of jabs and crosses had taken their toll. When he emerged from his corner for the seventh, Walker decided that his blurred vision was enough reason to stop the carnage, turning back towards his cut man (a large man clad in jorts and a Chicago Bears t-shirt) and electing to not continue. The fight officially stopped after 10 seconds of the round, the cheers for Lopez were tempered slightly by boos for a stoppage that had no outward cause for many in attendance.
Still, the locals went home happy and with plenty of pride for their fighters. Alfonso Lopez delivered a clinical beating on Michael Walker Saturday night, displaying a well-developed skill set that will serve him well going forward. Able to use his jab throughout the fight this time, it is a very good punch. Though not yet in the tier of championship contenders, a strong 2012 could go a long way toward making him a bigger name. Antonio Tarver told Lopez after the Pavlik fight that “you have all the tools.” It will be interesting to see how the Texan uses them going forward.
Life for most professional boxers isn’t glorious, but it hasn’t been bad for Alfonso Lopez in 2011. With one fight under his belt under the bright lights of Vegas and the other in front of a solid crowd on a perfect night in his hometown, things are looking up. His move to 160 should be eagerly anticipated, as he has the boxing skill to make serious noise in the division.
George Washington Eagleclaw writes about sports under a different alias for a national publisher. He hopes to become a bigger part of this community going forward and hopes you enjoyed this piece.