In April of 2019, Teofimo Lopez was a little perturbed. Not upset, really, just a little bit annoyed that he was being called the Prospect of the Year by many in the boxing world.
Simply put, in his eyes, he was already a contender and moving fast towards championship level despite only having 12 pro fights. That wasn’t an outrageous ask, considering that the man in his sights – Vasiliy Lomachenko – had 13 bouts in the punch for pay ranks at the time.
The thing was, though, Lomachenko was already a three-division world champion with names like Linares, Rigondeaux, Russell, Pedraza and Walters on his victims’ list. Lopez? He was just a brash kid from New York with some power, panache, and a dad who some believed was writing checks his son couldn’t cash.
Oh, how the Lopez family is laughing now.
By the end of 2019, Lopez was a world champion, taking less than five minutes to beat a world-class foe in Richard Commey. Then all eyes turned to a class between Lopez and Lomachenko, the biggest fight in the sport for diehard fans in a 2020 that was anything but normal.
Then “The Takeover” did just that, outboxing the master boxer over 12 rounds to take all the belts in the lightweight division. Mission accomplished. And he saw it all long before it happened. Just read what he had to say before his fight with Edlis Tatli.
“There’s only one God, and that’s not Lomachenko,” said Lopez. “Lomachenko is just a guy that has everyone under this type of illusion. He’s doing this stuff with his legs and everything just to trick all you guys into thinking he’s the best fighter in the world. You guys will see. If they let the fight happen between me and him, you will see that the man just had you under an illusion.”
The fight happened, and Lopez was right. Maybe we were under an illusion, because despite the myriad of excuses Lomachenko has for his lackluster performance in October, the bottom line is that it was Lopez who took control of the fight from the opening bell and maintained it for most of the ensuing 12 rounds. Not bad for a young man in a hurry who lived up to everything he said he would do. In fact, when he was miffed about the prospect tag in early 2019, he was just surprised that no one was keeping up with him and his plans.
“It’s nothing about being impatient, it’s nothing about jumping into deep waters,” Lopez said. “It’s more so the fact that my skills are setting the tone already for me. My skill set and my skill level is setting that pace to where we will fight for a world title this year. All these other prospects, they still have to show the fans – and so do I – but I’m looking impressive and I’m looking ahead of all of them right now. So this is why we’re getting our shot.”
And this is why, 20 months after scoffing at any Prospect of the Year talk, he’s already starting to compile Fighter of the Year awards, as well as back-to-back covers of The Ring magazine. It’s a classic example of “Who Dares Wins,” and the crazy part of it all is that the 23-year-old looks like he’s just getting started.
I spoke to his father and trainer, Teofimo Sr., shortly after his son’s win in October, and I wondered how he will get his son up emotionally for the next fight and the fight after that and so on and so on, after being so invested in that one fight with Lomachenko for so long. Senior seemed amazed by the question before letting me know that the next big task on the “to do” list is getting all the belts at 140 pounds.
All this, and his son isn’t 24 yet.
Is it too good to be true? Only time will tell that tale, but for the moment, let’s look at Lopez, the rise most of us made snarky comments about, and hope that this seeming bout of madness continues.
Because Teofimo Lopez could take boxing to where it used to be.
There was a time when chasing greatness was a normal thing. Sure, future hall of famers like Leonard, Duran, Hearns and Hagler wanted to get paid the highest purse possible. But they realized that fighting each other was the best way to get that done. And who looks at those fights and says, “Oh, well Duran got knocked out by Hearns” or “Leonard got a gift against Hagler”? Well, in this day and age I’m sure someone does, but for most rational folks, all they cared about was the fight and these fighters’ willingness to put it all on the line while daring to be great.
Lopez is one of the rare fighters doing that today. And some ridiculed him for it. On paper, should he have been ready for Commey in his 15th fight? Probably not. And if you broke down the Lomachenko fight before it happened, it was a classic case of too much too soon.
You know what, though? If Lopez did lose either of those fights, I would still be invested in seeing what happened next with his career because he had the stones to risk it all against the best in the world.
That’s what’s largely missing in this sport today. Do we need to see mandatory after mandatory, excuse after excuse, and more and more posturing on social media?
We needed to see Terence Crawford vs Errol Spence Jr. yesterday.
We need to see Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury in a ring, and not in 2022.
Why not throw in Canelo Alvarez against Gennadiy Golovkin for the third time or Jermall Charlo or Demetrius Andrade for the first time instead of the fights all four had in 2020?
Give us all those fights and the state of the game will be a lot different than it is now. Then again, maybe boxers need to follow the lead of Teofimo Lopez. He was already ahead of the game and he told us about it, but we didn’t listen.
I bet we’re all listening now.