How Hector Lopez Gave Sammy Fuentes a Watermelon Head and Still Lost — a Boxing Story


By Ivan G. Goldman

In many cases it’s not anything inside the ropes that hurts a fighter’s career. It’s something out there, in his life. Lots of trainers will tell you that the most talented kids they ever had, for one reason or another, just stopped showing up in the gym. Even trainers who worked with lots of champions will tell you that.

Fighting is a loony sport, and the kids it attracts tend to have more serious problems than Jacks and Jills chauffeured around by their suburban moms. If they weren’t abused at home or out on the street by bigger kids they’re pretty much of an exception. So they do loony things for loony reasons.

One such fighter was Hector Lopez, a junior welter and Olympic Silver medalist who made it to the edge of the Land of Milk and Honey but never quite across the frontier. And it wasn’t for lack of talent. He was gifted. The problem? I’m no psychiatrist, but I’m fairly certain he was a genuine sociopath. The law pretty much agreed with me. He did about ten years in two prison stretches.

In June 1995, after Hector’s first jolt in the can, he and Sammy Fuentes fought one of the greatest, most savage fights I’ve ever seen for Sammy’s WBO title, but it was their bad luck to be viewed only by fans on the scene in Las Vegas and on a local L.A. channel. Had more fans seen it, it might have been Fight of the Year, and both their careers would have been enhanced. They murdered each other for twelve full rounds with no break in the action, and with tact and skill, punching, countering, and countering the counters at breakneck speed. Hundreds of the two or three thousand watching in Caesars Palace that night were L.A. gang members who came to see Hector, one of their own. Sammy was an L.A. guy transplanted from Puerto Rico. His fans were outnumbered but vocal.

When I described the fight to my East Coast editors at Ring I detected a hint of disbelief, so I shipped them a videotape. After viewing it, of course they were enthralled, and asked me to write a feature. I should have demanded an apology too.

It was Hector’s bad luck that Sammy’s trainer was savvy Charlie Gergen, a good friend of mine. At the weigh-in Hector stripped down naked, so when he mounted the scale two members of his entourage shielded him with a towel. Suspicious, Charlie slipped back there and caught one of the two manipulating the scale with his foot. Charlie slapped him away.

Hector had to work off about two and a half extra pounds in a few hours, weakening himself. He’d cut corners in training because that was his way. He got a kick out of breaking rules. Inside the ring he was dirty as hell, and very good at it, employing a repertoire of elbows, low hits, head butts, and other mayhem. He fought like he had a third eye to watch the ref, who was almost always on the wrong side to see his fouls. I remember another trainer telling me Hector had “a very educated head.”

Sammy was no slouch himself in the nasty department. He’d once broken another fighter’s jaw with his shoulder. But referee Mitch Halpern (who a few years later tragically committed suicide) kept catching Sammy, who lost two points for his fouls. Mostly they were crushing shoulder thrusts.

When it was all over Sammy won a close split decision. Neither side had any juice in Vegas, so I believe the scoring was legitimate. It was a hard call. Hector wilted just a little in the last two rounds, probably from making weight. Both fighters, of course, left everything in the ring.

At the press conference you could watch Sammy’s head swelling from all the shots he’d taken. I mean it was growing bigger while you watched. Terrifying, like looking at a horrible traffic accident. You wanted to turn away but couldn’t. After an hour or so he looked like an extraterrestrial with a watermelon head.

Hector, who would later become my friend, had absorbed an equal barrage but looked like he’d just played maybe nine holes of golf. Not a scratch or a welt. It was supernatural and in its way, even more terrifying to see than Sammy’s head. What manner of man is this?

More on the late Hector Lopez in another column.

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Goldman’s next novel, Isaac: A Modern Fable, will be out next month from The Permanent Press. It can be pre-ordered at Amazon HERE.

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