September 14, 2018…. Gustavo Lopez is called to accept a title fight on short notice, against Jose ‘Pochito’ Alday as part of the Combate Americas promotion. In an exhilarating, controversial fight that went the distance, Lopez lost, via split-decision. Less than three months later, as part of the ‘Copa Combate’, Lopez defeated Vicente Marquez, via a Von Flue Choke, just 50 seconds into the first round. Finally, Lopez had his sights back on Alday, and the belt. Both fighters wanted the rematch, and there was a lot of heat and some trash talk too. Fast forward to March 29, 2019, more than six months later. Six months of grueling training, determination, and hunger. Gustavo Lopez got his rematch, and stopped Jose Alday, at the 2:19 mark of the very first round. Euphoria. Lopez was a Champion. A long time coming for te veteran fighter who has fought for a title multiple times, and finally achieved his dream.
Now, on Saturday night, Gustavo Lopez will defend his belt for the very first time, in Tahoe, California against Joey Ruquet, a fighter he defeated in 2015, via second-round submission. Even as a veteran, Lopez continues to evolve his game, incorporating different methods in his training camps. For this particular fight, Lopez has included altitude training, to prepare for Tahoe.
“It’s called Hypoxico Altitude Training,” Lopez said. It’s like a training tent. You put your bed in it, and the altitude goes from 2,00o all the way up to 9,000. In case you are wondering, according to sierrasun.com, the altitude in Tahoe is listed at 6,224, where there is approximately 20 percent less oxygen per breath than there is at sea level. “I sleep at 9,000 in it,” Lopez said. “When we go up to Tahoe, the elevation is not going to affect me. At all.”
As the Champion, Lopez’ fame in his hometown of Yakima, Washington has only grown even more. “Maybe a few years ago, my elementary school teacher got ahold of me, because I had a fight in Washington. He called me and said hey do you want to come talk to the kids. I went down there to talk to the kids, and the kids knew who I was already.” Now, as the Champion, the light shines even brighter on Yakima’s biggest star.
The former Miesha Tate managed fighter has always been true to his roots. “It’s always nice to see that, regardless of where you come from, even a small town, you can make it out of there,” Lopez said. “You can make it to bigger and better things, and now as the World Champion, I feel like I’m an inspiration.”
The title fight with Alday had so much hype to it. Ruquet however, is a different opponent who brings his own set of unique challenges to ‘La Jaula.’ “I think Alday is the better fighter,” Lopez said of Ruquet. “He has better striking. He fought [John] Castaneda and put it on him. That fight went back and forth. Castaneda is no joke, too. Alday is a great fighter. Joey is a little bit different. He’s a little bit longer. I fought him before. When it hit the ground I felt like I completely dominated. He couldn’t get out of my top game. Repeatedly mounted him, until he gave me his back and then I choked him.”
Both fighters have improved considerably since that first fight back in 2015. “I’ve seen him fight, he’s gotten much better, but I don’t think he’s fought anyone at my caliber,” Lopez said. “He’s tough. Tough dude, but I feel like I come with a different style, a different pressure that no one has. The level of my grappling is insane.”
Lopez was a purple belt when he fought Ruquet the first time. He’s now a high-level brown belt. “I’ve grown so much more,” Lopez said. “If they thought I was good back then, now, I feel incredible.” Lopez says he has “100% improved” since we last saw him in ‘La Jaula’, and as I said, that fight lasted just over 2 minutes. What at one point seemed to people like a one-dimensional grappler, has now evolved into a well-rounded machine.
Still, it’s weird to not hear the back-and-forth that we heard against Alday. “I feel like he’s been pretty quiet,” Lopez said. “It’s funny because, the fight that we had, there was one punch that he got me really good. The photo, looked like he hit me really well, and they ran with that photo. Every time they post the photo, I’m like, I’ve got to remind him what happened in that fight.”
Both Lopez and Ruquet are Vegas residents. While it’s a stretch to call them ‘friends’ they are certainly friendly with each other. They share mutual friends, and Lopez has even met Ruquet’s family. But, as the Champ puts it, once that cage closes, it’s “all business.”
For so many years, for Lopez, it was all about that quest for the belt. Now that he has it, Lopez turns his sight to something different. His legacy. “I want to continue to grow as one of the best fighters in Combate,” Lopez said. “It happened at the right time. I feel like once I became champion, it started booming.” Lopez is an especially big fan of Kate Del Castillo, who recently came on board with an ownership stake of Combate Americas.
If Lopez wins this fight, I think the question remains, would he entertain a trilogy fight with Alday? “He looked good in his last fight,” Lopez said. “He’s a very game opponent. Hits hard. I’m excited to see him continue to fight and then maybe do a third one later on throughout the year.” “I want to fight the best.”
Combate Americas doesn’t currently have published rankings for weight divisions, but it’s assumed that Alday would be near the top of that list of contenders.
“I feel like I’m going to finish him,” Lopez said of Ruquet. “I’m predicting I’m going to finish Ruquet again.”
Combate Americas is a booming MMA Promotion, and within the next few months, will be home to the return fight of Tito Ortiz, who will take on ex-WWE Heavyweight Champ, Alberto Del Rio. When the fight was announced, it seemed as if every person had something negative to say about Del Rio’s chances against Ortiz. However, those close to Del Rio, who also serves as an Ambassador for Combate Americas, see things differently
“He’s fought before in PRIDE,” Lopez said about Del Rio. “He’s been a fighter. I’ve worked with him a few times, and he looks good. It’s Tito Ortiz. Not to take anything away from Tito, but to say Alberto has no shot? I feel like that’s wrong. I don’t think it will be a one-sided fight. Heads are going to be rolling.”
You can catch Gustavo Lopez and Joey Ruquet fight tonightt, August 23 at 6 pm MT, 9 pm ET. Also on that card is a title fight at 145lbs. A rematch between Andres Quintana and Bruno Cannetti. Quintana won the first fight in December en route to winning the Copa Combate Tournament.