Jose (Toluco) Lopez
By Dan Cuoco
Following his graduation from school, he worked as a plaster’s helper, than a journeyman plasterer, but found that he enjoyed plastering opponents better than walls.
He won all 15 of his amateur fights and was state champion in 1953. He made his professional debut just 17 days shy of his 21st birthday against journeyman Baby Garcia on June 4, 1953 in Cuernavaca, Mexico. He stopped Garcia in the 8th round. A strong willing mixer, he quickly reached main bout status and by the end of 1954 had established himself as one of the best 118 pounders in Mexico. His record stood at 14-3, with 5 knockouts.
At this stage of his career he was more of a scientific boxer and realized that if he was going to continue to grow and reach the next level he would have to adapt his style. So he adopted a more aggressive style and started to sit down on his punches more. His new exciting style started to pay off immediately and he became a tremendous drawing card in Mexico City, La Laguna and the Mexican Provinces.
1955 was his breakout year. When Raul Macias gave up his national title, Jose was matched with Fili Nava for the vacant crown. He came through with a victory. In 29 bouts he had only lost four decisions, and reversed three of those losses. Lopez had stopped 11 and was the seventh rated challenger for the world bantam title by “The Ring.”
Toluco started off 1956 impressively, knocking out Emilio de la Rosa in eleven rounds to defend his national title and Joey Benson in one round. These two victories catapulted him to the number three ranking by “The Ring.” He was riding high. But that was about to change – quickly!
On August 14, 1956, Toluco made his highly anticipated debut in Los Angeles to face Billy Peacock at the Olympic Auditorium. The gallery was sold out a half-hour after going on sale. Mexican fight fans felt that the colorful Lopez was the fighter to avenge Peacock’s recent mastery over Mexican fighters. In previous appearances, Peacock had knocked out Raul Macias in 3, Pimi Barajas in 4, Memo Sanchez in 3 and Kildo Martinez in 6. But Peacock continued his mastery by winning a lopsided decision over ten rounds. Peacock repeatedly nailed Toluco with crushing rights hands. Lopez took every one of those right hands and came back fighting. Lopez put on such a gutsy performance that he received a standing ovation from the crowd when he left the ring. Bud Furillo of the Herald-Express said in his column the next day “Toluco Lopez is the most courageous fighter I’ve ever seen!” All in attendance including the promoter agreed that he would be heartily welcomed back at any time.
Toluco unwisely decided to return to the Olympic just five weeks after his grueling loss to Peacock to meet featherweight Rudy Garcia. The hard-hitting Garcia entered the ring with a record of 35-10-1, 20 kayos. His kayo victims included Harold Dade, Chico Rosa, Gene Smith and Nate Brooks. He held decision victories over Jackie Blair Lauro Salas, Auburn Copeland and Carmelo Costa. Garcia never looked better as he scored a 50-second knockout over Toluco. The echo of the opening bell had scarcely died away before Garcia drilled Lopez with a two-punch combination sending Lopez down for an eight count. Toluco bravely got up and ran into a savage left hook, followed by three hard rights sending him down again, this time for the full count.
The losses to Peacock and Garcia dropped him to the seventh spot in “The Ring.”
The resilient Toluco wasn’t discouraged by the losses. Less than a month after the Garcia loss he was back in the ring again winning a ten round decision over Joel Sanchez in Mexicali. He continued to fight up and down the Mexican provinces winning 19 of his next 20 fights, 14 by kayo. His only loss – a close decision to Havana, Cuba veteran Manuel Armenteros, later avenged. He also avenged his loss to Billy Peacock by beating him twice – by decision in Tijuana and by knockout in Los Angeles. A month prior to his knockout of Peacock he scored the biggest victory of his career when he kayoed Memo Diez in five rounds to defend his national bantam title. The knockout defeat was the first of Diez’s career. Only a year before Diez had been “The Ring’s” number one ranked flyweight before losing his lofty position by upset decisions to Dommy Ursua and Ramon Arias.
Once again, Toluco was ranked the third rated challenger for the world bantam title by “The Ring.” His ring record stood at 46-7-0, with 27 kayos. Of his seven defeats, five had been avenged.
Jose, however, couldn’t handle prosperity. On May 11, 1958 an out of shape Lopez took on lightly regarded Willie Parker in Acapulco. Parker in only his second year as a professional came into the fight with a record of 5-6-1, with no kayos. Two of his six losses had been by kayo. Parker surprised everyone by giving the out of shape Lopez a thorough beating and stopped him in the seventh round. Lopez dropped in the ratings from third to sixth.
Lopez was so embarrassed by his performance he demanded a rematch. He got himself in shape taking on two tune-up fights – winning both by knockout. His rematch with Parker took place before a large crowd at the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles. Lopez turned the tables on Parker by winning an easy ten round decision.
Lopez stayed in shape and ran off another string of impressive victories culminating with a third round knockout of 23-year-old hard-hitting Mexican prospect Carlos Cardoso on December 3, 1958.
On February 1, 1959 Lopez returned to California to face Horace (Boots) Monroe for the North American Bantamweight Title. The 21-year old Monroe was the hottest prospect in California. His ring record was a gaudy 20-1-0, with 16 kayos. His only loss was a four round decision in his third professional fight – later reversed. He held knockouts over Willie Parker, German Ohm, Willie Lucedo, Roberto Hernandez, Nacho Esclante and Herman Marquez and outpointed Kid Irapuato, Billy Peacock and Joe Medel.
Before a capacity crowd at the Hollywood Legion Stadium Lopez shocked the crowd by stopping Monroe in only two rounds. Monroe got off to an excellent start, utilizing his superior height and reach and employing the long left jab for which he was noted. Near the end of the round, however, Toluco stepped in and nailed Monroe with a hard right and visibly shook him. In round two, Lopez came out quickly and dropped a still dazed Monroe three times before the referee mercifully stopped the fight. The win catapulted Lopez to third in “The Rings” world ratings. Again, he was on top of the world!
Negotiations were underway for Lopez to fight bantam champ Alphonse Halimi at Wrigley Field. While negotiations were taking place, Toluco returned to Hollywood on March 24, 1959 to take on unranked Danny Kid of the Philippines in a tune up fight. Before a near capacity crowd at the Hollywood Legion Stadium, 6-1 underdog Kid employing an excellent left jab and superior ring generalship had the better of the first seven rounds. Lopez realizing he was behind came out for the final three rounds with everything in his arsenal and engaged Kid in an exciting toe-to-toe slugfest. But his rally was too late and he left the ring the loser of a majority decision and a title shot with champion Halimi. The title shot instead went to fellow Mexican Jose Becerra. This was the closest Lopez would ever again get to a title shot. Toluco would remain in the top ten ratings until April 1961 by going 29-5-1-1, with 20 kayos. During that stretch he beat Danny Kid twice by decision and outpointed Eloy Sanchez and Manny Elias. But, he also lost his Mexican Bantamweight Title to Joe Medel by decision on August 1, 1959 and suffered knockout defeats to Medel and Otilio Galvan in 1960. He was dropped from the ratings for good after suffering a seventh round knockout loss to Hector Agundez on April 2, 1961.
In his last two years in the ring (1962-1963) he went 10-7, with six knockouts. His final ring ledger was 99-20-2-1, with 62 kayos. He was stopped seven times.
NOTE: IBRO Mexico Boxing Historian Roberto Valero states that Lopez had many pro fights in El Toro in 1952 that are not recorded. The Ring magazine’s Mexican boxing correspondent reported that Lopez was the Mexican Amateur State Champion in 1953. So there is some confusion as to when he actually turned professional.