For The Madera Tribune
Joel Lopez and fans celebrate after he won his 559 championship bout.
“I just stopped hanging around my friends,” 559 fighter and Madera resident Joel Lopez said. “Some of them got shot. There has been instances where if I was in the car, I might’ve been hit by a bullet. It just saved my life. I left that negativity and that environment.”
It has paid off in more ways than one for the mixed martial arts fighter. The undefeated 559 fighter won his last match in less than a minute.
“The fight ended in 48 seconds. We knew he was going to be a striker and Joel is good on his feet and taking people down,” said Christopher Arias, Lopez’s coach . “His opponent wanted to stand, and Joel wanted the ground and that’s what he did. I’m a pretty hyped up guy and I use the term, ‘train hard, fight easy.’”
It’s safe to say Lopez hit the ground running. Four of his five decisions have all been TKO’s, leading to a championship belt for the 559 fight series.
While the glory and fame might be a force for some fighters, making his family proud is one of Lopez’s highest concerns.
“I was helping Joel to make T-shirts for the last fight. He wanted the pink ribbon for breast cancer, for his mom. He wanted to dedicate it to them,” Arias said. “His last fight was for his family. It was the driving force. He wants to make his family proud.”
When Lopez was a kid, he always envisioned himself as a fighter. Whether it was the cartoons he was watching or just the environment he grew up in. The idea of fighting was always there.
“Growing up as a kid, I always wanted to fight. I watched a lot of karate movies like the Ninja Turtles, but it was always in my head,” Lopez said. “I watched boxing matches and I would always see myself on television fighting.“
But for Lopez, making that a reality took a combination of dedication and patience.
Lopez hung around a group notorious for fighting. The drama that came along with partying and drinking eventually consumed Lopez.
“I used to get into street fights in high school, usually at parties or when my friends didn’t like certain people. I would always get involved in that drama,” Lopez said.
It didn’t feel right, so a change was made. Lopez took up boxing and after a few years, his old ways were a thing of the past. The ability to channel his focus of fighting into a creative and healthy way proved worthwhile.
Being a professional fighter was the goal, however, it wasn’t easy.
“I did about two years of boxing and I kind of like got tired of the drinking and partying. My vision kind of changed. I wanted to live a healthier life,” Lopez said. “I sacrificed a lot. I was a crab in a shell. When they were doing family parties I wouldn’t go. I didn’t want to be around that kind of food and stuff.
“There was a point where I didn’t drink for over four years. I was just dedicated to my fitness.”
When Lopez won his first fight, it signaled a change in him.
“After I won my first fight, that was probably the first time I hugged my sister. I’m not an emotional and affectionate person, so the first time I really hugged my mom was when I fought,” Lopez said.
Since his debut fight, Lopez has a 5-0 record along with a No. 5 ranking on camo.com.
For many fans of the sport, the behind-the-scenes-work is often overlooked and for Lopez, the time put in before the fights is the reason the results pan out in his favor.
“Joel’s biggest strength is his hard work, he’s a grinder. He does a lot of running, about five to six miles, but he does a lot of hands on training,” Arias said. “He’s just an all-around good fighter.”
Arias went on to say how Lopez rubs off on the whole gym.
“His hard work rubs off on everyone,” Arias said. “His hard work is going to take him places. I see him going pro if he keeps it up. I don’t see why he wouldn’t be in Bellator or UFC in the future.”