Teofimo Lopez seems to have finally found his peace. He’s saying mostly all the right things in the lead-up to his Thursday bout with Jamaine Ortiz, the family drama that has often dominated pre-fight headlines in the past is absent, at least publicly, and with his short-lived retirement a thing of the past, he can finally move forward with his career.
“It’s been a long journey,” Lopez said. “And I know what it takes. I don’t want to be known as a fighter who knows how to get to the top but doesn’t know how to keep it. So, I want everyone to tune in so they can see how much I truly love the sport of boxing.”
Quotes like that illustrate that when the 26-year-old puts aside the usual bravado associated with life at the top in boxing, he gets it. Clearly, he knows the perception people have of him, that he is an ultra-talented fighter capable of brilliance and of something less than that, sometimes in the same fight.
Yet as he approaches the first defense of his WBO junior welterweight title in Las Vegas, he’s back in the brilliant category thanks to a career-best win over Josh Taylor to win that belt last June. It was a far cry from the Lopez who showed up against George Kambosos in November of 2021, a night when he suffered the lone loss of his pro career just a year after he sailed to the top with a win over Vasyl Lomachenko.
Subsequent victories over Pedro Campa and Sandor Martin were expected, but the Martin fight pushed Lopez to places few thought he’d have to go to after he toppled Lomachenko. Maybe he was done before the age of 30. Maybe his flashes of brilliance were just that, flashes.
Then came Taylor, and Lopez put it all together for 12 rounds in Madison Square Garden’s Theater. He was back, and this time, he was determined to stay with the elite.
“Before all of this and before I fought Josh Taylor, I used to take a break,” Lopez said. “I used to not really train so much. I used to not always be in the gym. But after I got everything back and became a two-division world champion, I started staying in the gym. My trainer, who is my father, always wanted me to stay in the gym. So, I started doing that last August. Since then, I’ve gotten faster. I’ve gotten much stronger. My IQ is much sharper. And it’s because I haven’t stopped training since August of last year. And I’m not going to stop. After I beat Jamaine Ortiz, then I will keep staying in the gym.”
See, all the right things.
“It’s a super fight,” said Lopez. “It’s great to be back. I’m here to do it for everyone and the next generation. I’m excited. Everybody is here to see greatness.”
We wanted to see greatness in 2021, we didn’t. Yes, George Kambosos is a good fighter. So is Jamaine Ortiz. Plus, the New Englander has even more incentive for this one, considering Lopez beat him when the two were amateurs.
“I’m bringing my heart,” said Ortiz, who gave Lomachenko a good fight in 2022 before losing a decision. “I’m bringing everything, my soul, my whole body. I’m willing to risk my life in the ring. He beat me before. I still have that in mind. So, I’m going to avenge that loss.”
Lopez will share the same sentiments about going all-in on fight night, with his focus only on the man in front of him.
“Talk is cheap,” said Lopez. “He can say what he wants, but it’s a lot different when they feel these punches. I love guys like him who think they can take this. But I’m ‘The Takeover.’”
But there are those moments when Lopez shows signs of the pre-Kambosos “Takeover.” He’s doing a lot of smiling, apparently has a lot of good energy around him, and he’s talking about the future – not the Thursday future, but everything beyond Thursday. That’s partly our fault as we ask about resurrecting the “New Four Kings” series with Gervonta Davis, Devin Haney and Ryan Garcia. Then there are the questions about a clash with pound for pound boss Terence Crawford, ones that Lopez is only too willing to answer.
There aren’t too many queries regarding the man attempting to take his title this week, and no one in the Lopez camp seems too concerned. This is a payday, a formality, another night in the office,
“There will definitely be a knockout,” said Lopez. “It’s not going the distance. I’m not going to leave it in the judges’ hands at all. So, everyone tune in, and get your popcorn ready.”
Sound familiar? Like I said, Lopez gets it, but that doesn’t mean lightning can’t strike twice. He knew what was facing him in 2021, something made clear when we spoke, and he quoted Bruce Lee to me:
“‘It’s like a finger pointing away to the moon; don’t concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory.’ That’s one of the best quotes,” Lopez said. “So it’s the bigger picture. I’m not looking at the smaller things. I’m looking at longevity. Boxing is temporary; anything can happen in this sport. We’ve seen many tragedies happen, but it’s a blessing to carry all those belts that I dreamt of as a little kid. And at 23. I’m not even 24 yet.”
Lopez is 26 now. And there’s nothing wrong with looking at the future. But not at the expense of the present. We’ll soon see if Lopez learned the lessons of 2021.