It wasn’t a typical day in the Blue Moon Boxing Gym a couple months back when Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales showed up and chatted with a young man doing his part to keep the featherweights relevant in 2021, Adam Lopez.
“They're living legends, and it was pretty cool to have them right there in the gym and being able to ask them questions,” said Lopez. “It was a blessing. That was cool for them to come in and talk to us and share stories.”
If you’re wondering, Lopez didn’t have to play referee between the two Mexican icons.
“What was crazy was they said they're good friends now,” he said of the rivals who engaged in one of the greatest trilogies in boxing history. “Each other's kids call them uncle and stuff, and from what they're saying, they're good friends.”
I remind him that wasn’t always the case in retirement, with Barrera more amenable to mending fences with his former nemesis than Morales was.
“I got that same vibe, like Morales was a little on edge,” Lopez laughs. “You can tell he just ain't giving it up.”
The 25-year-old Lopez has a similar vibe, at least in the ring, where he returns this Saturday to face Ghanaian tough out Isaac Dogboe. Simply put, if an opponent dares to step through the ropes with him, it’s a fight, and if you dare hit him, well, it’s on. That’s not only earned him the NABF 126-pound title and a world ranking, but it’s led Top Rank’s ace publicist Evan Korn to dub him “The Glendale Gatti.”
Yeah, that’s gotten back to Lopez.
“I've been in some tough fights, and I haven't really turned down any type of fight,” he said. “I feel like I'm still building my name and showing people what I'm really about, but I do put on exciting fights and I go to war. It's something that's in me that I can't really help, to be honest. I'm still trying to balance it out - going to war and fighting smart. I'm trying to get a good balance to it, but it's hard to do.”
Harder than it is for most, perhaps because of his DNA.
“It's something my dad always put in my head and I've always been willing to die on my shield,” said Lopez, whose father Hector was a 1984 Olympian and a two-division world title challenger in the pros.
Hector Lopez isn’t here to see his son carry on the family name in the ring, as he passed away in 2011, but he would certainly be proud to see what’s gone on over the last couple years, as “Blunose” has gone from local California favorite to contender. Now the kid wants to add world champion to his resume, but what will likely take him to the superstar level will be finding a rival like Barrera and Morales found in each other.
“I never really thought about it like that, but I feel like there's gonna come a time when there's gonna be some type of rival,” said Lopez. “It might be Dogboe, who knows? It's the even matches and back-and-forth fights that are entertaining that the fans want to see and that they want to pay for, and I feel like that's what builds a great rivalry. There's a lot that goes into it, but they (Barrera and Morales) just hated each other back then, so it was pretty easy for them to build that rivalry. Today, there's not too many rivals like that. I feel in today's boxing world, it's so much of a business that fighters are like, 'Well, why would I fight him again? How much am I gonna get paid?' That's what it's like nowadays; everyone's just here for the money, they're here for the checks. It's a dangerous sport and I feel like fighters should get taken care of, but you have to have a balance between both.”
No wonder “The Baby-Faced Assassin” and “El Terrible” got along so well with Lopez, who has an old-school approach to his day job. So YouTubers need not apply.
“The boxing world is in a weird place right now, especially with the YouTubers and Logan and Jake Paul and all that,” he said. “It's a weird place and there's very few fighters that are really trying to keep the sport alive and you've got to honor those guys.”
Lopez deserves that tip of the cap, for sure. As for that great rival, maybe he’s already found him in unbeaten WBC 130-pound champion Oscar Valdez. The two met once before, in November 2019, with Lopez taking the fight on one day’s notice, and the Glendale product almost pulled it off, dropping Valdez in the second round before getting controversially stopped in the seventh. It’s a fight that begs for a rematch.
“That would be great,” said Lopez. “I feel if we met again, that's a big money fight, a big rival fight; there's a lot of history between Valdez and I from when I was a kid and he was going to the Olympics. I could definitely see that happening, but I've asked for the fight and they said no right off the bat. Maybe they're waiting for the right time once I become a champ. He's a champ right now, so once that time happens, I feel like now there's a lot of money to be made, so there's no reason why we shouldn't make this fight happen again.”
No reason whatsoever, but if Valdez is waiting for a reason to give Lopez another crack at him, Lopez is on the hunt to give him one by picking up a 126-pound title and using that as a bargaining chip for a Champion vs Champion rematch. And with the NABF belt already in his possession, a win over Dogboe could move him closer to WBC champion Gary Russell Jr., but Russell, who has fought only once a year every year since 2015, isn’t exactly the most promising option.
“Russell just doesn't fight much, and I don't know how he can still keep the belt without fighting like that,” said Lopez. “It blows my mind. But I've been hearing he wants to move up and take bigger fights and he's kind of getting older now and he probably just wants to get some good paychecks before he retires, so he's probably gonna move up - that's what I'm thinking. But I still feel like that fight's not in arm's reach, me being with Top Rank, him being with Al Haymon. I know it's tough to make those type of fights. The fight that I feel is right there is for the WBO title – Emanuel Navarrete - and I've been hearing that he might be moving up to 130 to take bigger fights as well, so if that happens, there's not too many names at 126 and it opens up the division for me and I feel like I can get a title in the next couple fights after this one.”
He first has to get past “this one” against Dogboe, who bounced back from the only two losses of his career against Navarrete to halt Chris Avalos in eight rounds last summer. Win or lose, Lopez will likely be forced into deep waters with his opponent, but he’s unconcerned with whatever Dogboe has done or will do. This is Lopez’ show, and he’s running it.
“I'm fighting my fight, I'm gonna do my best and he's gotta worry about what I'm bringing to the table,” he said. “That was my mindset against Valdez. I didn't really care who he was and what he brought to the table. I just said, 'Well, I got two hands, you've got two hands, let's see who can use them better.' And that's always been my mindset. I don't really care what you've done or who you've fought or who you beat or any accolades you bring; you've got a new fighter in front of you and I'm gonna test you and I'm gonna see what you really got.”