A Tale Of One City

Pete Ranzany’s 1980 fight with Sal Lopez reminded Ranzany’s manager, Joey Lopes, of his own similar experience, when he fought Al Medrano in 1963. In both cases, the fight was promoted as the beloved and accomplished Sacramento boxer, clearly on the return home phase of his career, fending off a rising star, the future of local boxing. Lopes had nearly 90 professional fights in a 14-year career, including a 1957 loss to Joe Brown for the lightweight championship of the world, and might be forgiven for confusing a few facts. He remembered his fight with Medrano occurring in 1960, and Medrano was not so much a rising star as a middling lightweight with a record of 12 wins and 12 losses.

But the spirit of the contests was the same, a younger man hoping to unseat the current king and make a name for himself. Both stories ended similarly, too, with youth being overwhelmed by experience and skill. Although both Medrano and Lopez would continue boxing, these fights would be the pinnacle of their careers.

Lopez had won close to 90 amateur fights and, like Ranzany, had twice reached the finals of the AAU championships. He signed as a professional in 1978 with Lupe Sanchez, the manager of then welterweight champion Pipino Cuevas, and his professional debut — a 3rd round KO of Roland Brookter — was on the undercard of Cuevas’ defense of his title against Ranzany in Sacramento. 

He would fight underneath Cuevas again a few months later when the champion KO’d Scott Clark in Los Angeles, and it appeared he had a very exciting future ahead of him. The plan was for Lopez to train with Sanchez and fight on Cuevas’ undercards as the champion traveled the world defending his title. A manager with the stature of Sanchez wanting to showcase the young Lopez on the world’s stage with Cuevas was evidence of his potential.

Sal was becoming known, after only two fights, as a “taquiero,” a fighter with box-office appeal. Harry Kabakoff described him as having the fastest hands since Willie Pep. Don Chargin said Lopez reminded him of former lightweight champion Mando Ramos. 

Lopez was handsome, intelligent, and articulate, and presented himself well, in a manner consistent with how he fought. Erect, almost regal in appearance, his stunning jab set up gracefully powerful punches delivered with either hand. In the same way it is a pleasure to watch great horses run and great dancers dance, it was a pleasure to watch Sal move in a boxing ring.

But training fulltime with Cuevas in Mexico City left Lopez homesick for Sacramento. He wanted to attend classes at Sacramento City College while boxing. He missed his mother’s cooking. He wanted to return home and train locally, even though he was still contractually connected to Mexico through Sanchez. This is when the non-fighting part of Lopez’s boxing career becomes interesting. When his father, Sal Lopez, Sr., interjected himself more fully into his son’s career, becoming, possibly, as much the story as was his son. 

Lopez moved back to Sacramento.

Sanchez was well aware of Lopez’s potential as a crossover star, someone who could excite both American and Mexican fans — which would mean a lot of ticket sales — and was willing to give up the opportunity to train Lopez. But he was less interested in relinquishing his rights as manager, which is what Lopez, Sr. had in mind.

Sacramento attorney Frankie Reynoso was hired by the father and, along with financial assistance provided by local businessman Jimmy Anderson, negotiated Sal’s release from his contract with Sanchez. Reynoso was to represent Lopez in a legal capacity with Sal’s father making boxing-related decisions. Reynoso and Lopez, Sr., were contractually co-managers.

Lopez continued to be impressive in his progression from prelim boy to main-event status, fighting regularly at the Olympic in Los Angeles and also at home in Memorial Auditorium. He fought 10 times in 1979, and at the end of the year was 11-0, with nine KOs. The only close fight was a split decision victory of Fresno’s Joe Maldonado in Oakland. People were already talking about Lopez one day fighting Ranzany. 

Ranzany, although still world-rated, was somewhat tarnished with his devastating losses to Cuevas in 1978 and Sugar Ray Leonard in 1979. Ranzany himself admitted that with the loss to Leonard he realized he was not going to become a world champion. Lopez was undefeated and confident that he someday would be.

Until the fall of 1979, Lopez was assisted in the gym mainly by local trainer Tony Lopez, who was no relation but appeared to be as close as one could be without being a relative. He had trained early in the year with “Lolo” Lozano and his son Carlos, who had recently settled in Sacramento from New Mexico for Carlos to begin his own professional career. But the Lozanos would re-locate again, this time to Los Angeles, realizing that after Ranzany and Lopez, Sacramento did not have room to accommodate a third major boxer, especially one who was not homegrown.

But then the highly regarded Frank Saracho of Los Angeles began a program of commuter training, flying to Sacramento intermittently to work with Lopez in person, then going home, leaving Sal under the supervision of Tony. This was a unique method of training, but everyone appeared happy, and Sal continued to astonish with his development. 

As the summer of 1980 came to a close, Lopez was 18-0 with 16 KOs, and the talk of him fighting Ranzany for the “city championship” was reaching a fever pitch. Lopez had been fighting professionally for only two years. The boiling point for this excitement, not just for the public but also for the Lopez camp, was Lopez’s 5th round stoppage of Jimmy Heair. Ranzany had decisioned Heair over 12 rounds in 1978 and Roberto Duran also took a 10-round decision over Heair in 1979. Lopez having such an easy time with Heair was intuited by some as evidence that he was prepared for world-class action, having less difficulty with opponents than a future Hall-of-Famer such as Duran.

The drumbeat for the fight was something else. Even after losses to Cuevas and Leonard, Ranzany was still the 6th ranked welterweight. He had been in the top ten since beating Adolph Viruet in 1976. Lopez had recently received a number seven ranking as a junior-welter. Having two world-ranked boxers in the same relatively small town preparing to fight each other was a dream for local media.

Ranzany had fought 56 times as a professional, had fought for the world championship, had fought guys who also fought for the title, and had fought a handful of other world-ranked contenders. Lopez, now world-ranked himself, had yet to face any world-class boxers.

Promoter Chargin, who regarded Lopez as having almost unlimited potential, thought Lopez needed another year of seasoning against increasingly stiffer competition to be ready for someone like Ranzany, who, although not the same quality fighter as Leonard or Hearns or Cuevas, in most any other era likely could have been a world champion. But Lopez’s trainer Saracho thought Sal was ready, as did Lopez, Sr.

Dissension at the managerial level became public, however, when the attorney Reynoso expressed opposition to making the match so soon. Reynoso had two major concerns. First, he didn’t think Lopez was ready for the level of competition Ranzany would prove to be. Second, if the match was going to be made, he wanted to negotiate the best terms for his fighter as possible, and he didn’t think Lopez Sr. was doing that, not because he didn’t have his son’s best interests at heart, but that he was in over his head when negotiating with promoters and lawyers in higher profile fights.

Ranzany’s manager, Lopes, who was being quoted in the papers on an almost daily basis, had something to say about this, too. “You see, there can’t be two managers,” he said. Lopes claimed that he spoke with the Lopez family about becoming Sal’s manager when he was first turning professional, but saw how much control the father wanted to maintain, and was uncomfortable with how the arrangement would have been. “And now look what’s happening to him with his father and Frankie Reynoso, the attorney, both holding co-manager contracts.”

Neither manager was speaking to the other, and each was negotiating the fight on their own with separate promoters. The rift between the two became so troublesome that Saracho said the problem had to be resolved or he would leave. 

So, although the Babe Griffin — Sid Tenner — Don Chargin trio were the traditional Sacramento boxing promoters, Reynoso was negotiating with “outside” promoters, such as San Jose’s Al Gagliardi, hoping to gain a better purse and other contract terms for Lopez than the father was negotiating with the “home” team.

Although Chargin would have liked to see Lopez gain more maturity and experience before fighting Ranzany, other promoters trying to gain a foothold in Sacramento affected his position. Chargin, Griffin and Tenner had to make the fight. Someone was trying to cut in on their business. Maybe Lopez would have been better prepared with another six or seven fights in the next year, and almost certainly the live gate would be larger. But those possibilities go down the drain if another promoter makes the fight.

Ranzany was a concern, too, and another reason to make the fight earlier rather than later. He was 29, had been boxing since he was a teenager, had been in some hard fights, and talked of retirement. There was no guarantee Ranzany would still be boxing in another year. He was still fighting regularly at the club level in Sacramento, no longer trying to position himself within the world rankings as much as he wanted to stay sharp and be prepared if a higher profile fight became available. Ranzany was trying to cash in on the name he had made for himself as he neared retirement, and was quite candid about wanting to make a few good paydays before that time came.

Fighting Lopez was the biggest fight, money-wise, available at that moment, so Ranzany wanted it. But probably not solely for financial reasons. He had been the local hero for seven years since turning professional in 1973, and his pride must have bristled at the thought of being unseated from his throne by a kid who had been in junior high when he began fighting for money.

Lopes often spoke in the first-person perpendicular when discussing the upcoming fight, as sometimes happens with boxing managers. Lopes was allowed this, in my mind, where others are not, because Joey Lopes had paid his dues. “I didn’t ask for this fight,” he said. “If I beat him, I got nothing to gain. But if I lose, I’ve lost everything.” Even Ranzany admitted as much, realizing that if he lost, he would be a “ham-and-egg” fighter from then on, meaning nothing special. “Of course,” Lopes closed, “if the people of Sacramento demand it, I’ll go.”

As much as Lopes thought Lopez would be better served by this fight not taking place, he was also working to ensure Pete had the best chance of winning as possible, refusing a catch-weight, so the fight would be held at the welterweight limit of 147 pounds, Ranzany’s natural fighting weight. 

When Lopes spoke of Lopez being at a disadvantage by moving up in weight class to fight a full-sized welterweight, he knew what he was talking about. Lopes had been an under-sized lightweight throughout his career, giving up strength and power with every fight. But he couldn’t make the featherweight limit of 126 pounds, so had to fight 135-pounders. He knew what the weight difference meant, and said he was going to “knock out Lopez.”

Lopes was working the psychological angle, too. For this fight, Ranzany would receive 25 ½ percent of the live gate, slightly more than Lopez’s 25 percent. Lopes demanded that his guy get the higher purse. “I don’t care if it’s only a dollar,” he said. 

The Lopez camp agreed to these demands. The Lopez, Sr., portion of the camp that is, seemingly so sure of victory that the contractual allowances were considered inconsequential relative to the rewards that would come after Sal beat Pete.

The opening line in Reno was 7-5, Ranzany, but soon closed to 6-5, pick ‘em. Those numbers were a function of the general public. More knowledgeable boxing people had a good idea of how the fight would work out. One major concern was that the elegant, upright posture Lopez carried in the ring with his hands held high might be a problem when he encountered effective pressure, which was the approach Ranzany was going to take in the fight. How would Lopez respond when Ranzany put his head on Sal’s chest and began working the body? Everyone knew how Ranzany was going to fight. What he had to do to win. The question was whether he would be able to impose himself upon a faster, sharper puncher. He couldn’t do it against Ray Leonard, so how close was Sal Lopez in talent to Ray Leonard.

Ranzany’s trainer Herman Carter corroborated what others in town thought. “Sal comes in too straight up,” Carter said, and thought Lopez’s standing tall would be a liability when fighting closely, in clinches and on the ropes. 

They both trained at the Woodlake Inn, a local prominent hotel, in the weeks before the fight, with a ring set up outdoors open to public viewing. It was reminiscent of the old training camps in the Catskills of New York, when members of the public could make an outing of watching the fighters work out. Newscasts each evening would have film of both boxers sparring, interviews with other local boxers and sparring partners offering their views on the fight. Both main newspapers printed multiple articles each day, which provided much of the information included in the perspective you are reading.  One Sacramento Bee reporter’s sole job was to cover the fight.

Bee boxing columnist Ben Swesey wrote that “Lopez has nothing to lose.” I’m not so sure this proved to be true, however. Granted, coming in short on size and experience and with a seemingly long career in front of him seemed to suggest that this fight was not as important to Lopez as it was to Ranzany. But Lopez’s star would never again shine as bright as it did the moment before the bell for the first round rang.

Lopez lost to Ranzany, in the very way most knowledgeable boxing people had figured he would lose. Ranzany weighed 147 ¼ the first time he stepped on the scale, but made weight on his second try. Lopez weighed 146, fully clothed. Unsurprisingly, Ranzany was able to pressure Lopez as he needed to, not allowing Lopez’s jab, fast hands and brilliant combinations to become the factor that would have been trouble. Ranzany backed Lopez up, trapped him on the ropes, and continually worked him over. A bigger, stronger, more experienced boxer who knew how to fight on the inside imposed himself upon a smaller opponent who was brilliant when allowed to fight at a distance. Other than the 1st round, I don’t remember Ranzany allowing there to be much distance between himself and Lopez until the fight was stopped after the 6th round. 

By Saturday afternoon, less than 24 hours after victory, Ranzany was being offered what were for those days big-money fights. Wilfred Benitez and Maurice Hope were two names mentioned, and Ranzany would fight Benitez just a few months later. He would later meet Nino LaRocca in Italy and Milton McCrory in Detroit, fights in which he would lose by decision but receive some of the cash he wanted without tarnishing the memory of what he had accomplished in boxing. In between those two fights he would beat Sean O’Grady.                                      

The wounded relationship between Lopez’s co-managers would never heal, and their contractual arrangement would of course not be renewed. The trainer, Saracho, was fired after the loss and former middleweight champion Bobo Olson was hired as the new trainer. That relationship lasted until a 2nd round knockout loss to Steve Hearon led to Olson being replaced by Saracho. But too many bridges had been burned, it seemed, and Saracho was gone for a second time after a month. Long-time boxing figure Will Edgington was then hired, and would guide Lopez until the end of his career. 

Edgington was a good trainer, and Lopez settled in with him comfortably. The Lopez family apparently liked him so well that when Sal’s younger brother Tony “The Tiger” Lopez turned professional, Edgington was the man chosen to shape a rough and unpolished Tony into a championship quality boxer. But Edgington was something like the sixth trainer for Sal in a five-year career, and changing coaching disciplines that often doesn’t allow for the stability in teaching that is usually necessary for a boxer to fully develop. Edgington was a good fit for Sal, but the match was made too late.

By this time the wear and tear of life as a professional boxer was beginning to show. Lopez was hospitalized in November, 1982, following his bout with Francisco Roche because the fight had been such a grueling affair. Lopez had to rally in the later rounds and dig deep within himself for that win, proving his courage and willingness to get in the gutter to fight when he had to. He was not just a pretty boy. But it proved to me, also, that the ceiling to his career was a bit lower than the excitement of his introduction to the world promised. He struggled with guys like Roche, and other than Hearon never fought anyone close to being a world-beater after Ranzany.

There were cuts and broken noses and probably damage to an orbital bone — which led to ongoing problems with double vision that would end Lopez’s career, which was a good one. He retired with a record of 30-3, 24 wins by KO. 

(Pete Ranzany (l) and Sal Lopez on Jan 23, 2015 at Ranzany’s induction into the Sacramento Sports Hall Of Fame. Lopez presented Ranzany. Photo by Borel Photography)