Saturday, October 10, 2009

Ernie 'Indian Red' Lopez fondly remembered

by Robert Morales

When Ernie "Indian Red" Lopez was inducted into the California Boxing Hall of Fame in 2004, he spoke humbly and softly during his acceptance speech.

That was not surprising because that's who he was.

Lopez had been a drifter for 10years when he finally was found that year in a homeless shelter in Fort Worth, Texas. He told yours truly he really liked being on his own, but he was happy to be reunited with his family, whom he had not seen for a decade.

Lopez died last Saturday from complications of dementia in Pleasant Grove, Utah. He was 64.

Howie Steindler, who was murdered in 1977, managed and trained Lopez and his younger brother, former featherweight champion Danny "Little Red" Lopez. Steindler owned the Main Street Gym in Los Angeles and after his death - which remains unsolved - his daughter, Carol, took over operations of the gym.

Carol Steindler-Ferris on Friday recalled Lopez, whom she said was a lovable man.

"He and Danny, they were like his (her father's) sons," she said. "He always wanted sons, obviously, because he was in boxing and he had two girls. They were like my brothers.

"Ernie was always a very gentle man. That is what I remember most about him - being kind and gentle. He always made my father very happy, and to me that is very important."

Lopez, an American Indian, was born in Utah on an Indian reservation. Most of the early part of his career, from 1964-74 (he did fight once in 1987, after a 13-year retirement), was spent fighting in Las Vegas. He became a fixture in Los Angeles in the late 1960s, when he fought a trilogy against world-class fighter Hedgemon Lewis.

Lopez stopped Lewis in the ninth round at the Olympic Auditorium in July 1968. Lopez reeled off four more victories, then lost a 10-round decision to Lewis in July 1969 at the Olympic. But three months later, at the Sports Arena, Lopez stopped Lewis in the 10th round and earned himself a title shot at welterweight world champion Jose Napoles.

Lopez was courageous, but Napoles was too much for him and stopped Lopez in the 15th round in February 1970 at the Forum. Lopez got another crack at Napoles' title three years later - in February 1973 at the Forum - but Napoles stopped Lopez in the seventh round.

"He beat good fighters, but he just couldn't beat the best, which was Napoles," said Don Fraser, who promoted both of Lopez's fights against Napoles.

Benny Georgino managed and trained Danny Lopez and was an advisor to Ernie Lopez. Georgino portrayed the latter as exciting in the ring and classy out of it.

"He always put on a good show, he never put on a bad show," Georgino said. "I would say he was an uncrowned champion of his time. He could punch, he could take a good punch.

"He was a terrific guy and he had a lot of friends. He made friends because he was an easy-going guy. He was a credit to boxing. He was the kind of guy you liked to see do good."

Unfortunately, Lopez (47-13-1, 23 KOs) was crushed by a divorce in the 1970s as well as his failure to realize his dream of becoming champion. When the mid-1990s rolled around, he left and didn't tell anyone where he was going.

But 10 years later, he was back in the L.A. area being enshrined in the California Boxing Hall of Fame. He didn't say much, but his smile and that of his children and siblings told the story.

"When he came in, there were television crews waiting for him," said Fraser, president of the California Boxing Hall of Fame. "He became a big celebrity that day at Steven's Steak House (in Commerce, site of the ceremony)."

Danny Lopez could not be reached for comment Friday. But Steindler-Ferris said she spoke with him shortly after his older brother's demise.

"We both thought of the same thing," she said. "Danny said, `Howie is going to be happy because he will see Ernie up in heaven and that will be great.' "

Lopez will be laid to rest today in Utah. He is survived by a son, three daughters and five siblings.

Courtesy: Los Angeles Daily News

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