World champion boxer Alfonso Lopez has travelled more than 4,500 miles to spar with some of the best fighters Stoke-on-Trent has to offer.
The American, hailing from Corpus Christi in Texas, visited the city this week and joined local boxing stars Nathan Heaney and Luke Caci in the ring.
Known as ‘El Tigre’, Alfonso is the current WBO Light Heavyweight champion and was brought to the Potteries by talent-show winner turned boxing commentator Dan Hewitt.
Dan, the first winner of Stoke’s Top Talent in 2008, swapped singing for commentating with his Facebook show ‘On The Box’ where he has also interviewed some of the sport’s top names.
The 33-year-old was delighted to bring Alfonso to his home city and believes the experience will benefit all three fighters.
He said: “It’s good for Alfonso and it’s good for the locals here. The lads he’s sparring with – Luke Caci and Nathan Heaney – they’re both unbeaten.
“To have a world champion come from so far to spar with them, it really develops them. Nathan is my best friend so I speak to him pretty much every day.
“They’re all excited because it’s a highlight for them to learn from someone like Alfonso. And the gym we’re using is an amateur gym but they have about four or five professionals there.
“It’s gonna be good for them to take some pictures and give out some signed bits. It builds up their reputation and it’s really good for them.
“At the same time it develops Alfonso for when he’s getting used to this time difference.”
Alfonso, aged 37, has been enjoying his time in Stoke-on-Trent and was also excited to spar with Luke and Nathan at Orme in Newcastle-Under-Lyme.
He said: “It’s a controlled scenario of fighting, it’s technical and you’re working on little things, each one of us is trying to get the better of the other but in a professional manner.
“Everyone has their own unique thing that they can do. You get together, practice against each other and then you discuss and learn from them. It’s how you become a better fighter. I’m excited.
“Dan takes care of me, everything has been on point and we’ve been having a good time.”
Alfonso’s trip to the city has been part of his process of acclimatising to the time zone, the conditions and the food in the UK – although he has yet to sample an oatcake.
He added: “I think there’s a lot of things fighters don’t prepare for when they’re travelling, like jet lag, different food, things like that.
“It’s all part of the job, especially when you’re developing and travelling more. It’s important to have an understanding of what your body is feeling and take notes.
“This is just the beginning. We’re not afraid to travel, we’re ready. Boxing is an art that can help any child with mental health problems or low self-esteem. It builds up their discipline and self-confidence.
“It’s not just a competition to beat another man up, it’s a sport that really brings a lot of people together, especially when you meet the right people and can have a good time.
“That’s what I feel with Dan, I think he’s done an amazing job, he’s a best friend of mine. I call him, he shoots it straight and gives me constructive criticism. He comes over for the shows we promote in Texas and we have a great time. It’s a good family.”
Dan, who was a fighter himself until injury forced him to retire at 26, also believes Alfonso has the beating of British boxers in the super middleweight and light heavyweight divisions.
He said: “There’s super middleweights and light heavyweights in the UK, such as Billy Jo Saunders, Callum Smith, Chris Eubank Jr and I think Alfonso could beat every single one of them. They’re next.”