April 24, 2014

Is Fort Worth’s Tony Lopez the next big thing?

Charismatic and determined, Tony Lopez has all the tools to be Fort Worth’s next big boxing champion.

Tony Lopez’s American story, like all but those of our indigenous neighbors, is an immigrant story.

His life and his hopes and dreams are all of this land, which probably ultimately saved his American boxing dream, which takes a giant step Saturday.

Lopez, 20, will fight Isaac Torres for the WBC Intercontinental super bantamweight (122 pounds) title Saturday at the Amon G. Carter Jr. Exhibits Hall on the grounds of Will Rogers Memorial Center.

The Alvarado High School graduate, 9-0 with three TKOs and poised to become Fort Worth’s next boxing champion, will have experience in his corner under the guidance of trainers Vincent Reyes and Paul Reyes, trainer to Fort Worth world champions Paulie Ayala and Donald Curry.

“I have all the tools to win,” Lopez said. “Our training camp has gone great. I’ve done everything we needed to do. We’re ready to go.”

Saturday’s fight card begins at 7 with six undercard bouts, including the co-main event involving Tony Mack of Dallas defending his super middleweight Texas title against James “Boogie” Freeman of Vernon.

Lopez, the boxer that he is, spoke effusively about his speed and power, assets that without question will play roles in Saturday’s fight.

He spoke, too, of his mental toughness and motivation, the qualities that those closest to him said might take him the furthest.

While in this country legally from Mexico since he was a baby, Lopez lived in amateur boxing’s shadows because he wasn’t a U.S. citizen. Because of that he wasn’t allowed to compete in many of this country’s premier amateur events.

As a high school senior, his regional Golden Gloves title in 2012 was stripped when it was discovered he wasn’t a citizen. Asked to check a “citizen” or “noncitizen” box, Lopez didn’t check either.

Confronted with the duplicity, Lopez acknowledged that he wasn’t an American citizen. He would have been a favorite to win at the state Golden Gloves.

Only a few months later, his problems became much worse. At 18 years old, he was detained behind bars on an alleged immigration violation and faced deportation, he said. Lopez, who said he speaks “conversational Spanish,” was faced with going to a world that would have been as foreign to him as Mars.

He had no family or friends in Mexico.

Everything he had ever known was Fort Worth, Texas.

The family’s story was a common one. Poor and with nothing but hope and prayer, Lopez’s father tried to do the right thing when young Tony was a baby, saving enough money to go to a lawyer in hopes of securing his child’s path to American citizenship.

The money paid, though, was wasted. The lawyer disappeared. Papers later obtained to show legal status were stolen during a home invasion, Lopez said, probably used to obtain fraudulent legal status for someone else.

“If you were to pick me up and drop me in my hometown where I was born (Queretaro, Mexico), I wouldn’t know what to do,” Lopez said. “Everything I’ve ever known is here.

“I was being looked over [by an angel] during that time.”

And a judicious immigration agent, who saw that Lopez was a kid who graduated near the top of his senior class, had never been in any trouble and had goals. He was an American asset, doing good for the general welfare and raising a family.

They cleared him of any wrongdoing. Today, he has all the proper documentation and is working on becoming a U.S. citizen.

“It was crazy,” Vincent Reyes said. “He was in there with a bunch of criminals when he didn’t commit a crime. When I went to see him, it broke my heart. Lots of prayer, lots of prayer.

“That made him stronger. Everything happens for a reason.”

The reason for Lopez is the here and now.

He does charity work, including motivational speaking tours in the city for at-risk kids. He has a wife-to-be and supports a newborn while working as a personal trainer for Title Boxing.

And there’s this bout on Saturday.

Torres (5-0-1) has won 14 national amateur titles and competed in the U.S. Olympic Trials in 2012, a place Lopez probably would have been also if not for his situation.

Lopez is not angry about it, but it drives him.

“Do I believe I could have made the [U.S. Boxing] team? Yes, I think I could have,” said Lopez, who lost only three times as an amateur. “I wasn’t able to. That’s why I had to bite down on my mouthpiece and perform in the gym.

“To this day, I’m keeping that in my back pocket and using that as motivation.”

“I think he’ll be Fort Worth’s next champion,” Vincent Reyes said. “I’m not just saying that because he’s my guy. I think he has all the tools.”

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