On June 15th, 1991, in a packed Hemisphere Arena, the San Antonio boxing community was, at long last, hosting a Championship title bout between undefeated Nigerian fighter Akeem Anifowoshe and the first World Champion in San Antonio boxing history, Robert Quiroga. The highly anticipated Championship bout was for “El Pikin’s” IBF super-flyweight title. On this night, Quiroga was a finely tuned instrument of the “sweet science” and couldn’t be denied. He not only fought the fight of a lifetime, the San Antonio champion retained his title and cemented his legacy as one of the toughest fighters of the modern era by giving the fans the “Fight of the Year” for 1991.
Alongside Quiroga, during his entire journey to greatness, stood Joe Angel Lopez…dubbed by most in San Antonio as the “Trainer of Champions”.
Lopez was the champ’s primary trainer throughout Quiroga’s entire amateur and professional career. He is the owner and operator of the famed Angel’s Boxing Club, located on 135 Bowdoin St, San Antonio, TX, and has been training fighters there for the past 30 years.
“I was playing basketball at the Peacock Community Center and they wanted to start a boxing club, so I started one and really struggled at first,” explains Lopez. “People would tell me that the gym wouldn’t last longer than a year, and that really motivated me. After thirty years, I’m still here.”
What originally started out as a single boxing ring in Lopez’s backyard has turned into an entire gym…which still resides in Lopez’s backyard.
“I actually want to expand, but that costs money…money that we can’t seem to generate.”
Joe Lopez exposes a problem that most boxing gyms have in the city of San Antonio; a problem that remains unrecognized by the vast majority.
“I really wanted to buy the lot on the corner of Bowdoin. It’s 100ft x 130ft and it is selling for $14K. Also, it would cost an additional $70-80K to build a proper facility with 2 rings, one for the adults and one for the kids. We’re looking at almost $100K. We can barely raise enough revenue to keep the lights on,” explains Lopez
Anyone who visits Angel’s Gym quickly realizes that Joe’s involvement with the sport of boxing is nothing more than a “labor of love”.
“I used to allow every fighter to train here for free, but I was forced to start charging all of my fighters here $20 per month just to pay the water, the electricity and supplies needed for the boxers.”
When asked if any local businesses were ever interested in sponsoring the gym, Lopez started to laugh.
“Our efforts have always gone unnoticed. No one really has any idea what we are doing for the kids in the city,” proclaims Lopez. “This gym takes kids off of the streets and teaches them discipline. Most seem to think that boxing simply promotes violence, but if everyone discovered what a difference the sport has made in so many kids’ lives, they would support the gym and other local programs.”
“The coaches, the fighters, and everyone involved know the truth and really believe in our cause,” declares Lopez. “We see how it builds character in these kids, who would otherwise be tempted to get into trouble.”
“I just wish that more people believed in what we’re doing,” states the legendary boxing trainer.
One person who believes in Joe Lopez’s cause is undefeated junior welterweight prospect James Cantu, who is competing this Saturday at the San Antonio Events Center on 410 & Marbach Road.
“Joe is the best,” proclaims the 21 year old fighter. “He’s a perfectionist. He isn’t happy until everything is perfect.”
“Joe always stresses the importance of being used to thinking while you’re tired,” states Cantu. “He says that it’s the key to success.”
James is scheduled to face Mississippi fighter Robert Hill in this Saturday night’s main event. When asked if he was nervous or concerned about the fight, Cantu responded, “Not at all.”
“I don’t know anything about my opponent, but it’s Hill who should be concerned with what I’m bringing to the fight,” proclaims the undefeated prospect. “This fight isn’t going the distance. I’m going to give the fans in attendance a proper stoppage.”
James Cantu is an example of the program at Angel’s Boxing Club and is the latest in a long line of contenders to come out of the legendary gym.
Raul “The Cobra” Martinez, a product of Angel’s Boxing Club, is currently the number one ranked super-flyweight in the country and ranked number 17 in the world. He is also the current mandatory challenger for IBF Super-Flyweight Champion, Cristian Mijares. Raul’s only loss is to the current number 3 “Pound for Pound” fighter in the world, Nonito Donaire.
Can James Cantu be the next contender to come out of the famed Angel’s Boxing Gym?
Lopez seems to think so.
“He is a murderous puncher to the body and is a very hard worker. He is a great student and has a lot of potential. I believe that James can be a champion if he believes in himself.”
This Saturday, James takes another step towards achieving that goal.
Support undefeated Junior Welterweight James Cantu in “Unfinished Business” live at the San Antonio Event Center at 8111 Meadow Leaf Drive, San Antonio, TX, on Saturday March 26th. Tickets are on sale now at Knock-U-Out Barbershop and Angel’s Boxing Club. For more information or to purchase tickets, please call 210-325-0140, 210-902-8558, or 210-633-4840…tickets are $20-$50…gates open at 6:30 PM.
For fundraising interest, please contact Joe Lopez at (210) 435-1837.
This article is written in memory of Robert Quiroga – (1969-2004)
“Forever a Champion in the Heart of San Antonio – Rest in Peace, El Pikin”