Arturo “Sapo” Lopez, a Muscatine boxer whose life was full of heart, toughness, and courage

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By Juan Fourneau, DiscoverMuscatine.com

My son and I saw the new “Big George Foreman” movie Sunday night at The Palms Theatre. It was great, and we both enjoyed the flick. It also got me thinking of an old friend, Arturo “Sapo” Lopez.
I first heard the name Sapo when I was a kid in the 80s. He competed in the recreational Sunday baseball league at Kent Stein Park my dad sometimes coached or played in. His boxing career was only part of his life but one to remember and celebrate.

After I graduated high school, I’d heard Sapo took up boxing. I was surprised since it’s a young man’s sport and a dangerous one at that. He began to have professional fights in 1992 after taking up the sport two years earlier, despite being over 30 years old.

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I was fascinated watching that chapter of our local George Foreman’s life. Sapo had a few extra pounds but developed a following in the area as a blue-collar fighter who worked at the local Heinz factory. He was a box office draw who sold tickets and delivered exciting fights. Like Big George, punching power was his biggest weapon in the ring.

He fought in Muscatine a few times along with another local fighter, Craig Sulzberger. I remember for one fight, he got t-shirts designed and sold them as a fundraiser to help local youth. He was a great mentor, coach, and friend to many young folks here and always had time for them.

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The coolest part of his boxing career for me was talking to him when he returned from Los Angeles after fighting at the legendary Grand Olympic Auditorium. The Olympic Auditorium was a historic venue that was one of the few constructed with a ring as the focus of its events. All the great pro wrestlers of the era performed there, such as Mil Mascaras, Andre The Giant, and Roddy Piper, but its history as a boxing arena was a who’s who of great prize fighters beginning in the 1930s. Carlos Palomino, Fernando Vargas, Joe Frazier, Muhammad Ali, Julio Cesar Chavez, Salvador Sanchez, Roberto Duran, and countless other legends fought at the Olympic Auditorium, and so did Muscatine’s own Sapo. Cooler yet, the guy who headlined the main event Sapo fought at was none other than Oscar De La Hoya. The date of the historic card was March 5, 1994, and the main event was featured live on HBO.

Sapo

Sapo told me about being part of that night’s card as a last-minute replacement. He got first-class treatment from the flight to Los Angeles to the hotel he stayed at. Sapo got to chat with the rising boxing star De La Hoya the evening before the fight at a star-studded dinner.

Sapo had his last fight on April 11, 1995, in Levallois, France, just three miles from the Eiffel Tower in Paris, finishing his pro career with 17 fights total. Not bad for a kid raised in Rio Bravo, Mexico, who traveled with his father doing seasonal work before settling in Muscatine in 1975.

After retiring from the ring, Sapo continued to help coach and mentor young folks in our community. He was even asked to travel the country to be a boxing judge, something he was very proud of. He retired from his job at Heinz in 2014 after a 30-year career.

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Sadly, Sapo passed away in July 2020 at 61. I remember him as a guy who made time for us younger folks and showed me that it was never too late to have some big dreams in life. Sapo’s boxing career spotlighted his big heart, toughness, and courage in and out of the ring.

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