Southeast Texas is no stranger to a good storm. Well, good might not be the best word. Last August, the Houston area suffered a natural disaster when Hurricane Harvey hit the area and caused catastrophic flooding to the tune of about $125 billion in damage. While this was the most publicized flooding disaster in that area in recent history, a lesser-known catastrophe happened just one year prior in April 2016 when flooding caused over $2.5 billion in damage.
A storm, by definition, is a phenomenon. No two are alike, and even though every corner of the globe has various storm seasons, nobody ever really knows what is going to happen. It’s a lot like mixed martial arts. Time and time again, expectations are completely upended in this sport. Even the most likely of outcomes does not always come to fruition, and so has been the career of Chris “Lefty” Lopez.
When Lopez was on the come-up, he was already in his early 20s. In the MMA world, this made him a late bloomer.
“I started training MMA to lose weight when I was around 22,” Lopez told Combat Press. “I didn’t want to be going out as much or drinking as much. I actually started boxing at first at a boxing gym in San Antonio, where I’m from. I started boxing for about two years. I won the Golden Gloves and stuff on the amateur scene, but I realized I got a late start, and if I wanted to pursue any combat sport, it wasn’t boxing, because it’s one of those things that you had to be doing your whole life. Once I figured that out, I started doing jiu-jitsu at an MMA gym, and it just kind of took off from there. I jumped right into the amateur MMA scene.”
San Antonio does not have as big of a wrestling scene as one might find in the Midwest, so that was never really an option for Lopez growing up. After his start in boxing and the switch to MMA, he was still getting the hang of things. That’s when he landed at the well-known camp of an iconic fighter.
“Back in the day, I was staying at [Donald] ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone’s ranch,” Lopez said. “I gave up my job to train full-time, and I was a 3-0 amateur. I met [Lowrant-T] ‘LT’ Nelson at Cowboy’s. Cowboy was flying out LT from Colorado to be one of his kickboxing training partners. At the time, LT was only like 18 years old. He has a bigger name here in Colorado. He’s been around the scene for a real long time.
“Me and him just hit it off, and he invited me to come train out here in Colorado. At the time, he was training at Grudge [Training Center], and that’s when Grudge had all the big names training there. That’s when I made my first trip out here. After the first time I came out here, I came back a couple times and then eventually made the move out here. I made the move to live in Colorado my last amateur fight. I got ‘Amateur Knockout of the Year’ in Texas, and I went on to get ‘Texas Rookie of the Year’ as a pro. I went 3-0 in Legacy [Fighting Championships], but I was training all out here.”
Lopez’s career was off to a great start in his newfound passion, but, as is to be expected when toying with phenomenon, the all-too-familiar injury bug struck.
“I had been out here a couple years, and I tore my ACL, so I went home,” Lopez explained. “After I went home, I didn’t actually get back here until last year.”
Lopez calls San Antonio home, but there was not a huge MMA scene there. If he was going to make a move up the ladder, he needed to get more exposure. A training partner was there to help.
“I came up training in San Antonio, but when I was training full time, I was training with one of the best lightweights in the state at the time — his name is Adam Schindler — and, he’s the one that got me into Houston,” Lopez said. “It was a bigger MMA scene. I was there, and a couple years went by, and he ended up retiring, but I kept going. I had met my fiancé down there fighting for Fury FC. The Fury FC guy is her brother-in-law. I met her, and I was living in Houston, and that’s when I got stuck in those floods.
“It wasn’t the floods last year, because they got hit two years in a row. It was the very first year, and it was just the rain floods. I was chilling out there and I had just had a fight, and it was raining, and we thought it was going to stop, but it didn’t stop. Like, it was going to be a real thing, you know? It ended up flooding Houston, and the area that I lived in was the worst that got hit. My fiancé works for an oil company, and she had a brand-new Honda and I had a brand-new Nissan, and both of them were covered in water.”
It is unfair to compare MMA alone to a storm. As Lopez found out the hard way, life is a storm. At this point, he felt stuck. However, a good athlete will typically have an even better support system. Longtime sponsor Kevin Astala, owner of Ace Office Furniture in Houston, was not about to let Lopez sit on the sidelines.
“At the time, I got offered a fight with [Resurrection Fighting Alliance], and it was one of their last fights before they became the [Legacy Fighting Alliance],” said the Texas native. “One of my sponsors from Houston was living out in Colorado, and he said he was going to get me out there. I kind of just put it off and didn’t think anything of it. Sure enough, [Kevin] kind of held me accountable for it. That was about a year and a half ago.”
Finally, the storm was starting to subside. Lopez was finding some level ground. He had a direction to go, and that direction was northwest. He and his fiancé Melanie moved up to the Denver area.
“It’s weird, because the first time I came out to Colorado, I was all about it, but every other time, it was like I was afraid and didn’t know how I would survive,” said Lopez. “When this disaster happened, my friend told me he’s not going to sit here and watch me waste my time in Texas. I hit up LT and told him I wanted to rent a room, and he told me to get out here. I haven’t been home since.”
Now Denver residents, Lopez and his fiancé bought their own place. Lopez works full-time in downtown Denver. He likes the way Colorado supports the MMA scene, and he feels that support personally. He is able to work full-time around his training schedule. This allows him to spend time at his home camp at Factory X Muay Thai in Englewood and get supplemental training at Jubera Jiu-Jitsu in Broomfield.
Lopez is currently 9-1-1 as a pro. His one no-contest was due to an illegal knee that he threw accidentally, and his only loss was a split decision in Fury FC almost two years ago. He has a whopping seven knockouts, plus two decision wins, which happened in his first two pro fights. He is a stopping machine. His next fight takes place on Sunday. Lopez headlines Fury FC 23 in San Antonio and fights for the promotion’s inaugural welterweight title. His opponent is Brazil’s Washington Luiz.
“He’s a kickboxing guy that turned to MMA,” Lopez said. “I guess there’s not a lot of kickboxing out there. I heard he has a win over Cosmo Alexandre in Muay Thai, but Muay Thai is not MMA. I feel like my skills in MMA are a lot better than his skills in MMA. I just feel like he’s a very dangerous striker. He’s 4-3, and he’s got a little more height coming in. He knocked out Pete Spratt — and Pete Spratt is a really good striker — so they’re hyping him up a little bit, riding that train. I’m not getting on that train.”
Lopez is confident he has what it takes to win the Fury FC title. He is 4-0 across the Legacy FC and RFA promotions, which have now combined into the LFA. So, why does a guy with that pedigree still have to fight on the local circuit?
“I fought for Legacy FC three times early in my career, and I won ‘Knockout of the Week’ on AXS TV,” Lopez said. “I’m 3-0 in LFC [and] I’m 1-0 in RFA, so I don’t know if I ruffled some feathers. I’ve been a little outspoken throughout my career on some politics I thought was going on. That might have set me back a little bit.
“Back in the day, I was supposed to fight Sage Northcutt in Legacy, and, basically, he didn’t want to fight me. His dad was dodging me and came up with every excuse in the book. They pretty much fed that kid all the way to UFC. They let him pick his weight classes, and they let him pick who he fought. I was told I was fighting him on a card in Houston, and I was told it was my fight. I had this all in text messages.
“Then, he goes to Louisiana, and Legacy knows he got signed that night for Dana White’s Lookin’ For a Fight. They knew the UFC signed him that night to fight some kid with a lopsided record, and they acted like nothing happened. They pulled the fight from me, and the excuse I have in text messages is that his son has no body fat to lose, and he needs to fight at 160 [pounds]. I said that’s not a weight class. When I got the fight pulled, I said how I felt about it, and I didn’t get a call after that. I feel like that hurt me a little bit. I’m 9-1-1 and not on the radar. I got a step in the right direction this Sunday.”
Northcutt, one of the golden boys to come out of Texas into the UFC, has had many questionable performances, even for a young fighter. Lopez, on the other hand, is a 32-year-old wrecking machine who is still swimming in the shallow end of the MMA pool. However, as Lopez has shown time and time again, no storm can keep him down. Nobody has ever come close to stopping him in the cage. Come Sunday night, fans will certainly know why “Lefty” Lopez deserves a shot at the big show.
“I feel that my style is what fans like to see,” said Lopez. “I’m going to go for broke every time. I’m going to be there in the third round. I’m always going to be in shape, and there ain’t no quit in me. If you watched my last three fights, I came from behind to win in the third round and drowned ‘em. I feel like I have an exciting style for the fans, and, if you look at my record, we don’t go to the cards too much. I believe it’s kill or be killed.”