Teofimo Lopez tells Danny Flexen why 2019 will be his year and hopefully end with a showdown against Vasyl Lomachenko
Teofimo Lopez appears to tick virtually all the boxes. The 2016 Olympian boasts speed, power, poise beyond his years and amateur pedigree. He is also invariably entertaining, displaying a rare charisma both inside the ring and out. Question marks of course remain about a Brooklyn lightweight who has only competed 12 times as a pro thus far (all wins, 10 inside) - how will he react under sustained and intelligent pressure, how robust is his jaw – but 21-year-old Lopez has already sparred an impressive variety of top boxers, including Shawn Porter and Guillermo Rigondeaux, and has defeated Mason Menard and Diego Magdaleno in his last two outings. In a division which boasts pound-for-pound contender Vasyl Lomachenko as a unified champion, Top Rank’s Teo is the outstanding contender. Lopez is already ranked in the top five of all four major sanctioning bodies and when he faces twice-beaten former European champion Edis Tatli of Finland on the Terence Crawford vs Amir Khan MSG show on April 20 – a PPV card on both sides of the Atlantic via ESPN and BT Sport – Lopez will be looking to emphasise his claim for a world title shot before the year is out.
“You know what’s crazy,” he told me over the phone from Vegas, where he trains under father Teofimo Sr. “I’ve had 12 fights and I’m already in the top five; all the other [ranked] guys have had anywhere from 18 fights. We’re doing big things. Our goal is to become world champion, after this fight – which could be an IBF eliminator – if everything goes to plan, there is a possibility Teofimo Lopez will be fighting for a world title in July. Then I’d like to defend it in December, so it could be Lomachenko then or early next year. This is my last year at 135lbs. I plan to win it then tell Bob Arum [who promotes both Lopez and the Ukranian] and Lomachenko, ‘Let’s make the fight happen.’ The July challenge would be against IBF champion Richard Commey, if he takes it. Or if Mikey Garcia vacates the WBC belt, possibly Luke Campbell [another former sparmate] for the vacant title.
“Tatli is ranked in two or three organisations, he has a name and he’s gonna bring it, but I don’t whatsoever look at videos of upcoming opponents, as they can always change their style. I leave that to the backroom of my team, let them take care of that as I I adjust quickly, having fought so many styles. Edis Tatli never fought a guy like Teofimo Lopez and that’s a thing a lot of these guys are starting to realise. They’d fought names, [July 2018 victim] William Silva had fought Felix Verdejo, Menard had fought Devin Haney and Ray Beltran and look what I did to them [RSF 6 and KO 1 respectively]. We’ve already won, we win the fight mentally before it even happens, so he better be ready for it.”
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Lopez is a veteran of 170 amateur fights, competing around the globe, winning several national titles and representing Honduras – his parents’ home nation – in the Rio Games, but his initial exposure to the sport that would consume him came almost by accident.
“I was born in Brooklyn, but we left at the age of six to go to Florida, where I started boxing,” he revealed. “The way I started was crazy. My father was training for himself [as a boxing enthusiast who had an amateur bout], and he would take me to the gym just because he had to take care of me while my mom was at work. I’d just watch my father train. He was a limousine driver at the time, he brought me with him and asked the coach, ‘Can you watch my son till I come back from parking the limo?’ The coach was like ‘Put on some gloves’, I wasn’t taking it serious, but by the time my dad came back I had done mitts with the coach – it was five minutes once he had parked – and I had already learned two or three combinations. That’s when my dad decided, ‘This ain’t for me, it’s for him’, and he refocused himself to helping me.”
In case it appears Lopez may be too nice to reach the highest level, there is a latent ferocity that bubbles away close to the surface, ready to be brought out by foolish rivals. This came to the fore against Magdaleno when pre-fight rancour led to a brutal left-hook knockout and Lopez proceeding to taunt his prone foe, an action that drew criticism from some quarters. Lopez admits he may have exceeded the realms of good taste but remains unapologetic.
“It was the heat of the moment,” he reflected. “Every time, I finish with a backflip, but in the Magdaleno fight I did a little something else afterwards. I guess some things were said, there was so much heat between me and him, it got to me and I did something out of the ordinary; some people got upset but it’s a learning experience for me. The man asked for it, at the end of the day. I don’t want people to see me as that type of fighter but in the moment… if you disrespect my culture or my family, I have no remorse or sympathy.”
A complete fighter with no compunction is a formidable proposition for any opponent. Tatli is the unfortunate next target in Lopez’s crosshairs and Teo aims to put on a show.