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TEOFIMO’S PSYCHO CIRCUS || FIGHTHYPE.COM

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NOTES FROM THE BOXING UNDERGROUND: TEOFIMO'S PSYCHO CIRCUS

For boxing writers looking to post more than simple, boring fight reports, Teofimo Lopez is a gift from the gods. 

I mean, telling an audience to “go suck a dick, no homo” and then following that up, seconds later, with “Jesus is real?” Seriously. That’s putting a 16-inch softball on a tee. And who quotes “Rosa Park” [sic] and (mis)quotes the ancient Egyptians, before declaring that “Satan lost tonight” in that same post-fight interview? From a purely selfish perspective, all I can say is God bless that glorious weirdo.

But, yeah, okay…the fight. 

Dressed as a big top ringmaster in keeping with the promotion’s circus motif, Lopez made his ring walk through a sword swallower and other assorted circus acts before Thursday’s junior welterweight title fight on ESPN. Top Rank live-tagged the defending WBO 140 lb. champ on social media with the bold “This is the Greatest Showman” as he smiled and glibly show-bizzed his way through the entrance.

But what ensued in the ring was less Barnum & Bailey “Greatest Show on Earth” and more like the lame casino circus acts over the slot machines at Circus Circus. 

Challenger Jamaine Ortiz fought in retreat over twelve rounds, but managed to negate everything that makes Lopez an entertaining fighter. Lopez, meanwhile, did nothing to turn the tide on an opponent who was clearly focused on being a spoiler. 

With nothing much really going on, it didn’t take long for the restless 6,206 who paid to see this Super Bowl week event at the scaled-down Michelob Ultra Center in Las Vegas to start voicing their displeasure. The boos rained down early and returned throughout this fight that never actually turned into a fight. 

At the end of the evening, Lopez walked away with a unanimous decision, winning by two tallies of 115-113 and an I’m-giving-Teo-every-benefit-of-every-doubt 117-111 score from judge Steve Weisfeld.  Lopez probably deserved the decision– slightly so– but it’s hard to care all that much about who gets his hand raised in a bout where both fighters average about 6 punches landed per round. 

Make no mistake about it, though, even with the official “W,” Teofimo walked away a big loser on Thursday night.

“Hey people, people! Humans, humans, listen up, man. Listen up,” Lopez shouted during his in-ring post-fight interview as fans booed the decision. 

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, ya’ll can boo all you want. Suck a dick, no homo,” he added as father and trainer Teofimo Sr. lamented with a ‘no, no, no, noooo’ off camera.  “Relax, relax. Let me go back on this, ok? We can not, for one second, claim these people, these fighters that don’t want to come and fight. You go to blood, sweat and tears. The three code of conduct. Sugar Ray Robinson award. If you ain’t ready for this life, get the “f” outta my sport. I am a champion. I bleed for this. I sweat for this. And I cry for this, every time. Jesus is real and all I can say, may God giveth, God taketh, blessed be the name of the Lord.”

If anything showcased to the world Teofimo Lopez, the man, it was that jumbled mess of a post-fight monologue.  Equal parts angry, vainglorious, insecure, and delusional, the 26-year-old, who has undeniable world class ability as a fighter, has often been his own worst enemy.

With superstardom aspirations and a career trajectory that seemed to be taking him there up until late 2020, the Brooklyn-based fighter has self-sabotaged his rise to crossover success with poor decisions and inconsistent ring showings. Once the most commercially promising of the young crop of talent from 135 to 140 lbs., he’s fallen behind all of them now and is actually further away from a big ticket mega-fight than he was three or four years ago.

Following a true breakthrough victory over Vasiliy Lomachenko in October of 2020 to capture the IBF, WBA, and WBO world lightweight titles, the young fighter stalled contract talks with top contender George Kambosos Jr., forcing a purse bid in hopes of a bigger payday away from Top Rank.

He got his wish as upstart streaming service Triller would win the purse bid, thereby taking him away from his promoter and the all-important ESPN spotlight for the first title defense of his reign. 

What ensued, though, was a mangled mess of incompetence and delays from Triller, which fumbled logistics at every turn and was eventually forced to forfeit its right to stage the fight to second-highest bidder, Eddie Hearn. 

By the time Lopez finally got into the ring to face Kambosos, more than thirteen months after the Lomachenko win, he had suffered through one frustration after another. He had contracted COVID along the way and walked into that initial title defense with a COVID-related and potentially fatal pneumomediastinum bogging down his losing efforts. 

The loss would stop “The Takeover” in its tracks and send Lopez up to 140, where a somewhat uneven performance against limited Pedro Campa made way to a really bad performance against spoiler Sandor Martin, who many feel deserved to take the decision. After that outing, Lopez was caught on camera, clearly dejected, asking his people if he still had “it.” 

He would then carry out a comeback of sorts by dominating a spiritless Josh Taylor, who once upon a time was unified junior welterweight champ, but had slipped into inactivity and looked remarkably NOT world class in his one bout since unifying the belts. 

Teofimo was BACK…or, maybe, not.

This Ortiz bout was supposed to be a showcase for Lopez’s main stage, star-level chops as contemporaries such as Gervonta Davis, Ryan Garcia, and Devin Haney already flex their big-fight muscles. Instead, it affirmed his limitations and character flaws. 

He can’t switch things up and make adjustments. He can’t cut off the ring and force his will on an uncooperative foe. And when his failings are spotlighted for the world to see, he lashes out at the world, curls up behind comforting, but ultimately delusional thoughts, and blames everyone but himself for how badly things turned out. It’s a pattern we’ve seen several times already in his relatively short career.

This brings into question why Top Rank keeps matching him with guys who will show the chinks in his armor and deflate his rise. Ostensibly, pitting a guy who struggles with movers and spoilers against movers and spoilers could be seen as a developmental strategy, a way to have a fighter get better at what he struggles with. But we all know that’s not how Top Rank, nor boxing in general, works. 

Headliners, two-division world champs with potential crossover star power, are not usually treated as works in progress at the pinnacle of their physical prime atop ESPN shows. At this point in Teofimo’s career, the idea would be to make him look good and build his brand in pursuit of a blockbuster pay-per-view fight. Top Rank, however, has endeavored to make him look bad. Or, at least, that’s how it looks. 

Bob Arum and his matchmakers are geniuses at matching their fighters. They showed some of that genius in pitting Keyshawn Davis against a faded, one-nudge-from-a-spectacular-fall Jose Pedraza on the Lopez-Ortiz undercard. It was a bout that promised threat to the young Davis, but was really a calculated gimme. It was classic Top Rank matchmaking and the kind of stuff that effectively builds stars. 

So, the matchmaking brain trust at Top Rank knows better when it comes to matching Lopez. 

It’s almost as though the promotional company is harboring a grudge against Lopez, possibly for forcing that Kambosos purse bid back in 2021, which ultimately derailed their plans to build his star the way they wanted. Lopez has also taken a handful of mean-spirited shots at Top Rank as well as ESPN over the last few years. 

Harboring a grudge against the fighter you’re working to promote would be an absurd idea, if Arum didn’t have a history of stepping on and smothering “uppity” fighters. This was demonstrated most recently by his efforts to bury a vocal, dissatisfied Terence Crawford when he was under contract and his sudden lack of support for Shakur Stevenson after Stevenson mentioned his desire to pursue free agency when his contract expires later this year. 

But, whatever the case, Teofimo Lopez is ultimately responsible for everything happening with Teofimo Lopez. 

The uneven performances, the lapses in judgment, the unwillingness to really and truly take the personal inventory needed to grow as a fighter (and maybe as a man). That’s all on him. And while Arum/Top Rank could hide most of that if they wanted to with smart promotion and clever matchmaking, they’re not doing so. They’re giving the young fighter all the rope he needs to figuratively hang himself– and that’s exactly what he’s doing. 

Got something for Magno? Send it here: paulmagno@theboxingtribune.com

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