Nonetheless, Lopez won the title. It took nearly two days for the word to get back to Steindler in Los Angeles that his fighter was the world champion. Steindler, who was 72, had waited 55 years to have a champion, but he never got to see Lopez defend his title. On March 10, 1977, four months after the Kotey fight, Steindler was kidnapped, beaten and smothered to death, then left in his car on the Ventura Freeway. Lopez heard of Steindler's death at 1 a.m. after the body was discovered by the police.
"At about six o'clock the same morning I got a phone call from a guy who I had thought was my friend," he says. "He said it was terrible what had happened to Howie and all, but that before I talked to anybody else about managing me, he would like me to consider him. I got a lot of calls like that before Howie was even in the ground."
Lopez turned to Georgino, a longtime L.A. fight fan and bail bondsman. Georgino at first hesitated to take on any responsibility that might keep him from flying to the Wednesday night fights in Las Vegas, but he finally relented. He has worked with Lopez on his defense to the point where the champ occasionally ducks a punch.
"In all the years I've been in boxing I've never seen anybody who could knock somebody out with a left hook, a left jab or a right hand the way Danny can," Georgino says. "I've seen him when I would have sworn he just tapped a guy on the chin and—boom!—the guy went down like he'd been shot dead. You can't teach that."
Still, Georgino can't help but be troubled by Lopez' willingness to let a lot of people pound on his face. Among the luminaries who have done the above is one Masanao Toyoshima, who was then the No. 1 man in Japan. In 1974, he had Lopez out on his feet in the third round. Rubber-legged and seemingly barely conscious, Lopez somehow contrived to knock out Toyoshima in the same round.
"Danny don't go into the ring thinking he's going to get hit," insists Georgino, "but there's something within him that you have to wake up somehow before he gets mad enough to fight back. That's why he has to get knocked around for a while before he knows he's in a fight. It's almost as if he needed a slap in the face to wake him up. And if that's what it takes, I may slap him."
It has also been suggested, as a less obvious measure, that Lopez should spar two or three wakeup rounds in his dressing room before going out to do battle. It has now been four months since his last fight, in which Juan Malvarez knocked him down in the first round and staggered him again in the second. Typically, Lopez rallied to knock out his man in the same round. Two weeks ago Lopez began serious training for a March 10 title defense in Salt Lake City against the WBC's No. 2-ranked featherweight, Roberto Castanon of Spain. The serious training includes sneaking away occasionally to the mountains for a bit of skiing. Needless to say, this does not thrill Georgino. "Every time he gets on those skis, I can just see the money flying away," he says. Still, Lopez is one of those rare creatures who trains diligently; he honestly loves gymnasiums.
"Sometimes I'll get Danny a workout in the gym with guys nowhere near him in ability—real amateurs—and they'll knock him around for a while," Georgino says. "Eventually he'll wake up and pound on 'em, but even then he'll come back to the corner and ask me if he's being too rough on a guy." Georgino is puzzled by this temperamental flaw. "Sometimes the kid's just too nice for his own good," he says. And almost all of the time he's too good for the good of his opponents.