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Tony ‘The Tiger’ still thinks he’s great

By Tim Parsons Tribune Boxing Writer

Tony “The Tiger” Lopez earned his stripes a long time ago, but

he’s not satisfied.

“I want one more, maybe a few more,” the three-time former world

boxing champion said, referring to world titles.

The 35-year-old Sacramento resident appears Saturday at Caesars

Tahoe when he takes on Jaime Ocegueda.

Lopez, 8-0 in Stateline and 48-7-1 with 33 knockouts overall,

is in an unusual situation. The Tiger is the underdog. And if

Tahoe bookmakers are correct, this cat’s ninth-and-final boxing

life at the lake is about to be spent.

“If I lose this fight, I am going to quit, without a doubt,” Lopez

said. “If I can’t beat this guy, why would I think I would be

fighting for the title.”

The bookmakers may look to several factors for picking Ocegueda:

-At age 29, Ocegueda (20-2-4) is the younger and more active fighter.

Since losing to Hector Quiroz exactly one year ago in the last

fight card at Caesars, Ocegueda has won three straight fights.

-Lopez, once one of the most feared sluggers in the game, hasn’t

scored a knockout in 16 months. According to the record provided

by his promoter, Lopez is 3-0 since beginning his comeback May

30, 1997. However, Lopez says he has won five bouts.

-The one common opponent is Juan Cervantes, who lost to Lopez

by decision 13 months ago. Ocegueda knocked him out in the second

round in 1994.

-Lopez’s family, tired of seeing Tony involved in brutal brawls,

wants him to throw in the towel. “We don’t want him to fight,

but we can’t stop him,” lamented father Sal Lopez.

-Lopez’s trainer, Jerry Jacobs, didn’t want this fight. As a North

American Boxing Union junior welterweight title fight, Lopez must

come in at a weight of 140. He hasn’t been that light since March

1996 when he lost to Charles Murray and decided to retire.

Lopez, relaxing Tuesday in his room at Caesars was surprised and

amused when he learned he was not the favored fighter.

“Tell everybody I’m 150 pounds and am drinking beer and watching

TV,” he laughed.

The fighter, in fact, said he has weighed 143 for three weeks

and is not concerned about making the weight.

Moreover, he didn’t appear overly concerned about anything.

During an hour-and-a-half interview, Lopez answered about a half-dozen

phone calls. Each time, playing a different game. Sometimes he

pretended to be someone else, at others he feigned anger, and

once acted like he didn’t know the person on the other end.

“The most important thing for me (to box well) is if I am a happy

Tiger,” Lopez. “I am a happy Tiger now.”

“Happy” seemed an understatement. From his walking away from a

motorcycle accident a few years ago that should have killed him,

to his view on the President Clinton spectacle, a loquacious Lopez

was happy to talk about any subject.

The last time Tiger was unhappy was when he was lost three straight

fights and endured some “personal problems.” Lopez was stopped

by Julio Cesar Chavez and Fred Pendleton before he accepted a

bout in New York with Murray.

Perhaps in an effort to put some distance from the Tiger and his

problems, Sal Lopez set up a training camp in Bakersfield, Calif.

“I don’t like being cooped up,” Lopez said. “If I’m not a happy

Tiger, I’m not going to fight. I hated Bakersfield. I remember

actually quitting. I thought, ‘I’m tired of this. Screw this.'”

Lopez lost a one-sided fight to Murray and decided to retire.

After about a month, Lopez began training with weights. He bulked

up to 160 pounds.

“I saw myself getting bigger and stronger and I liked it,” he

said. “I was (hanging out with a friend) and he told me, ‘You’re

just as cocky as you were when you were fighting.'”

That’s when Lopez, against his father’s wishes, decided to come

back.

Before his knockout victory over Wilberforce Kigundu, Lopez said

he felt like a slow, fat pig. He then befriended Brian Elkins,

a former Mr. Olympia, who taught Lopez about nutrition and weight

training.

Lopez says he’s also put his personal problems behind him. However,

that’s the one subject he won’t discuss. “People don’t need to

know about my private life,” he said. (In that respect, it’s easier

to be a boxer than a president.)

He did reveal that having a young daughter has changed his lifestyle.

“Instead of going out on the weekends and goofing off, I stay

home with her and we can goof off there,” he said.

Lopez said he has changed his style.

“Before it was, you hit me, I hit you,” he said. “I’d move my

head once in a blue moon when I would think of it. Now I move

my head and keep my defense up. I don’t want to lose any marbles

and not be able to know what’s going on with my daughter while

she’s growing up.”

An argument that has been made to Lopez, who turned professional

when he was 19, is that he has already been through too may wars.

“Wars?” he asked. “After you’ve been in a war, you go straight

home and sleep. You soak in the tub. I’ve only been in two wars,

against (John) Molina and (Rocky) Lockridge. After all my other

fights I go out and have fun all night long.”

That’s what happy Tigers do.


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