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Original Issue

Master of a Small Domain World champion Ricardo Lopez of Mexico rules the lightest weight classes

Time is the essence of Magdaleno Lopez's watch-repair business.
Inside his cramped storefront cubicle on a backstreet in Mexico
City, minutes are measured in a cacophony of ticks. "My father
has had this shop forever," says Magdaleno's son Ricardo. "One
needs patience to last so long." Right eye framed by a loupe,
Magdaleno carefully lowers a pair of tweezers into the movement
of an ancient Mido wristwatch. Delicately, he places a tiny
screw into a tiny hole. The 31-year-old Ricardo looks on with
the wide-eyed wonder of a six-year-old. "When I was little, my
father let me hang out here," he says. "I didn't fix watches, I
destroyed them."

Ricardo is still little, at 5'5" and 105 pounds, and still
destructive. Only now he demolishes prizefighters in boxing's
lightest divisions. The undisputed strawweight champ is unbeaten
in 48 pro fights, 36 of which he has won by knockout. He has
successfully defended his WBC title 22 times, a record surpassed
only by a 200-pounder named Joe Louis, who successfully defended
his heavyweight title 25 times. "I am so happy Ricardo is not my
weight," says six-time world champ Julio Cesar Chavez, whose
lowest weight class was bantamweight (118 pounds). "I could
never have beaten him."

On May 15 Lopez will balloon to 108 pounds and take on WBC
junior flyweight champ Saman Sorjaturong, a Thai fighter who
lasted two rounds at strawweight against him in 1993. "For the
boxing purist, to see a Ricardo Lopez fight is like savoring el
pastel de tres leches," says countryman Jose Sulaiman, the WBC's
longtime president. He's referring to the delectable three-milk
dessert that's a specialty of Mexican cuisine.

For a guy roughly the same weight as George Foreman's last
room-service order, Lopez is a deadly puncher who launches his
blows from long distance, thereby staying clear of punishment.
"Ricardo has perfect range," says Joe Goossen, who has trained
three world champions. (Lopez is trained by Ignacio Berisdian.)
"He's tall for his weight and never lets you get too close unless
he wants you to. He has a variety of punches and throws them
nonstop from a variety of angles. Roy Jones Jr. is the best
pound-for-pound athlete in boxing, but Ricardo is the best
pound-for-pound boxer."

Like his idol, Sugar Ray Robinson, Lopez has a lithe grace, a
bashful smile and a broad brow. He doesn't drink or smoke, but
he loves to talk. He's serious but never dull. "I love fighting
in New York City," he says solemnly. "But when I drink the
water, I get diarrhea. In Mexico we call it Washington's
revenge." Lopez wears the same sober expression whether he's
telling a joke or saying a prayer. Of the two, saying a prayer
is more likely, since he celebrates each victory by praying to
the Madonnas at four Mexico City churches.

"Before each round Ricardo looks up at the heavens, then goes
out to kill, kill, kill," Sulaiman says. "It's like he's asking
permission from God to annihilate the other guy."

Lopez is modest of mien even in prefight press conferences, in
which combatants typically provoke one another, as much to hype
the fight as to gain the upper hand psychologically. "How can I
hurt my opponent with my mouth?" says Lopez, who usually behaves
himself at such events. "My education and my feelings cannot
allow me to do that. I will hurt him in the ring with my hands."

Any challenger who carries the fight to Lopez does so at his
peril. Backed to the ropes, Lopez plants body blows as precisely
as his old man resets a mainspring. "Ricardo has the surgical
expertise to dichotomize and disassemble a man," says Don King,
the Professor Irwin Corey of boxing, who promotes Lopez's
fights. "He dissects an opponent's bilateral angles methodically
and calculatedly, wreaking devastation with a fury that is
incredible. Starting with the abdomen, he inoculates his foe
with power injections to the kidney, liver and solar plexus
before moving up the chest to the cardiovascular system and
other interminable organs. When he reaches the cranium, the
opponent responds with little grunts and moans, which tell
Ricardo that the message is going home. In Mexico he's called
Dr. Finito. In English that's Dr. Finish, bro. God may have your
soul, but Ricardo has your ass."

Ricardo was delivered by cesarean section--possibly the only
time he didn't go the distance. He was a heavy baby, almost nine
pounds. "The problem is that I stayed that weight for the rest
of my life," he says. Ricardo's upbringing was decidedly
middle-class, and he attended military school for six years.
Perhaps because schoolmates called him Frijolito (Little Bean),
he spent his childhood raising lumps on them. "I used to get
into two or three fights a week," he says. "I was never
expelled, but nobody went out of his way to welcome me back each
year, either."

Young Lopez modeled himself after the incomparable Robinson. "I
heard that as a teenager Sugar Ray made money selling milk," he
says. "I told myself, If he started out selling milk, I can,
too." And he did, working part time as a delivery boy for a
dairy. Lopez also screened videos of Robinson's fights and aped
his footwork. One thing he didn't copy was the size of
Robinson's entourage. Team Lopez is limited to Magdaleno, two
family friends and Ricardo's older brother, Sergio.

Ricardo, who started boxing when he was 10, had 41 amateur bouts
and lost one, a 3-2 decision at the 1984 Mexico City Golden
Gloves when he was 15. "I learned more from that loss than from
all my other fights combined," he says. "It made me aware I was
human and fallible." Unable to sleep after that bout, he stayed
up all night sobbing with his mother, Ana Maria. "I realized
that victory brings people, while defeat brings emptiness and
loneliness," Ricardo says. "You're left only with those who love

But Ana Maria considered denying him a boxing career. Sulaiman
still remembers a phone call he got from her almost nine years
ago. "Do you believe Ricardo can be a champion?" she asked him.

"He has all the makings," said Sulaiman. "But tell me, why are
you asking such a question?"

"I don't want him to continue in boxing if he has no future," she

Ana Maria had hoped Ricardo would study law, but he told her, "I
have a lion in my heart, and I want to box. I want to win and
find respect from others." Sulaiman told Ana Maria not to worry,
Ricardo had vast potential. She thanked him and said, "Please
take care of my son."

Two months later she died from a heart attack. Since then
Sulaiman has had a special affection for Lopez and tried to point
him in the right direction.

Another of Lopez's ardent admirers is Mike Tyson. Though they
are friends, Lopez gave Iron Mike an earful, face-to-face, about
treating Evander Holyfield like a teething ring. "I can neither
accept nor excuse what Mike did," Lopez says. "His reaction was
not human. However, I can sympathize. Holyfield kicked and
head-butted him again and again and got no warning from the

Lopez knows how Tyson felt. In his third title defense, in 1991,
Lopez says, he was continually fouled by Kyung-Yun Lee of South
Korea. "Lee bit me, spit at me, rabbit-punched me in the
kidneys," Lopez says. "I wanted to kick him. I wanted to kill
him." But Lopez kept cool and won a unanimous decision.

Still, he has his limits. In 1997, in Round 4 of a title fight,
Alex Sanchez shoved Lopez to the canvas and belted him when he
was down. "Hey, come on!" Lopez protested. "Fight clean."

"I'm going to kill you, you son of a bitch!" Sanchez countered.
That did it. A round later, Lopez took him out.

Lopez's commercial appeal in Mexico owes as much to his
rectitude as to the contemptuous ease with which he flattens
foes. He endorses everything from shoes to tortillas and has
even appeared on national lottery tickets--an honor usually
reserved for folk heroes such as Benito Juarez, Emiliano Zapata
and Pancho Villa. Lopez plans to parlay his fame into a
recurring role on a nightly soap opera, El Alma No Tiene Color
(The Soul Has No Color). He will portray a playboy named,
coincidentally, Ricardo Lopez. "I will support my husband's
acting career with one condition," says his wife, Enriqueta.
"Not too many kisses."

Despite all the hoopla, Lopez isn't a national treasure as
Chavez is. "Mexican boxing fans are mostly men, and Mexican men
want to see a boxer who likes to drink and live the good life,"
says Mexico City sportswriter Ricardo Castillo Mireles. "Ricardo
is too dedicated and goody-goody for them. No regular Mexican
wants to be all that nice."

Lopez made his final appearance as the straw who stirred the
drink in November in Las Vegas. Eight months earlier, in Mexico
City's main bullring, he had fought WBA champ Rosendo Alvarez, of
Nicaragua, to a technical draw. Referee Arthur Mercante stopped
the bout in the seventh round after an accidental head butt, the
third of the fight by Alvarez. Lopez was in trouble early,
getting nailed with a counter right in Round 2 and hitting the
canvas for the first time in his pro career.

The rematch in Vegas was no less fierce, and equally bloody. Cut
above and below both eyes, Lopez persevered for 12 rounds to win
a split decision. The day before the fight, Alvarez had angered
him by tipping the scales at 108 1/4, more than three pounds above
the limit. "I sacrificed myself for 60 days, training very hard,
away from any temptations," Lopez says. "Rosendo's failure to
[make weight] bothered me so much I couldn't sleep. On the day of
the fight, I decided to fight no more at 105."

If Lopez makes it through 1999 untarnished, he will have gone
nearly 15 years without a defeat. That's longer than any world
champ in boxing history. "Ricardo might well win the 108 (junior
flyweight)--and the 112-pound (flyweight) titles," says Sulaiman.
"I can't think of a fighter in either division capable of beating

Which raises the question: Can anyone conquer him? "There is
always Enriqueta," Ricardo offers with old New World gallantry.
"She is very beautiful, and I cannot fight beauty."

COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKES Like Sugar Ray Robinson, Lopez has a lithe grace, a bashful smile and a broad brow.

COLOR PHOTO: WILL HART "How can I hurt my opponent with my mouth? I will hurt him with my hands."