- Teofimo Lopez, a 22-year-old American fighter, enjoyed the best year of his career in 2019.
- He ended the year on a high, knocking out Richard Commey in the second round to win the IBF lightweight championship.
- Lopez then went backstage, took selfies with the belt, and embraced his wife who told him he can do anything he wants when he puts his mind to it.
- But Lopez told Business Insider he wants an even bigger year in 2020. He is challenging Vasyl Lomachenko to the biggest fight the lightweight division can offer, and then wants to move a division higher to clear out junior welterweight, too.
- As Lopez is beginning to find out, though, there are some things in the fight game that are never as easy as they seem – and venues bidding for rights and delays to fight dates mean the richest bouts can prove a frustrating part of the business to be in.
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Teofimo Lopez, 22, hit Richard Commey so hard in his world title shot late last year that the tough Ghanaian dropped to one knee, tried to get up, then fell back to the canvas again disorientated, outclassed, and beaten in the second round.
The young American’s thumping victory at Madison Square Garden in New York was a coming-out party. It confirmed Lopez as one of the most exciting young fighters in boxing, earned him a ranking in Business Insider’s list of the best fighters of 2019, and gave him big-money options in 2020 as a star-in-the-making and a new world champion.
He celebrated December’s IBF lightweight world title win with a backflip in the middle of the ring, knowing he had fulfilled his father’s prophecy that he’d be a championship-winning boxer. He thanked God. “Gracias, Dios,” he said. “Anything is possible!”
Lopez told Business Insider he then walked back to his MSG locker room, took photographs with the world title, and snapped selfies with his team.
His wife Cynthia Lopez embraced him, cried, and told him he could overcome any obstacle put in front of him provided he put his mind to it.
His father took a different approach. He told his son, Teo, that it was easy work, just like he always said it would be.
Lopez is now challenging Lomachenko to a fight
Fast forward six weeks and Lopez is beginning to feel frustrated. Not by his family or his status as one of boxing’s most exciting draws, but at the dawning reality that making the world’s biggest, toughest, and richest fights is not easy work. It is hard. Multiple arenas come into play. Potential dates get pushed back.
Lopez, even at 22, wants to fight the world’s best lightweight – Vasyl Lomachenko, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and three-weight world champion pro – because, as he told Business Insider, he “ain’t no bitch.”
Victory would catapult Lopez from one of boxing’s most exciting young talents to one of its pound-for-pound rulers, behind only the more established and experienced veterans like Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, Oleksandr Usyk, and Naoya Inoue.
“A lot of people are talking about the Loma fight,” Lopez told us. “I’m trying to make big things happen like this fight, I’m ready for it. We talked about having it in April but due to the location, the location where it will be at, it will no longer be in April. Now they’re saying May, maybe June, it’s getting pushed back a lot, man, and I’m kind of frustrated about it as I just want to fight, stay active, and be an active champion.”
Booking a Lomachenko vs. Lopez world title unification bout should, one would think, be easy enough to negotiate as both talents are represented by Top Rank, a Las Vegas-based fight firm and one of the planet’s leading boxing promoters.
But Lopez likes to fight four times a year. He’s a young man and wants the paydays.
Lomachenko only fought twice in 2020. As the bout is a coming-together of gifted pugilists, the broadcast partner, ESPN, is a lock. However, there are multiple venue options, from Madison Square Garden because of Lopez’s built-in following with New York’s fight-friendly Latino communities, to Las Vegas, and even Saudi Arabia.
The longer the Lomachenko duel gets delayed, the more likely it is Lopez will demand a stipend to stay inactive.
“Hopefully we can make big fights like me against Lomachenko happen,” he told us. “They have to pay me in advance, Top Rank have always kept me active every few months or so. This, if it happens in late May or June, that’s almost six months or a little bit more inactive, not in the ring.”
He added: “I wish they could do [it] as soon as possible. My team, manager … they’re working on it.”
Lopez says he’s not scared of Lomachenko
The Ukrainian skillster Lomachenko is extraordinarily talented. His jab, combination-punching, and ability to land punches regardless of whether he’s attacking from distance or the inside, have seen him blister many an opponent through the pro game, winning world championships at featherweight through to lightweight.
He is Business Insider’s second-best boxer in the world today, but Lopez is unfazed.
“Just because the man is pound-for-pound, it’s so funny,” he said. “The credentials, yeah, he earned it but men get so scared of him as a fighter and then they have already lost the fight [before the bell rings].
“They lose before they get in the ring and I think that happens with fighters Loma has been fighting, they can’t commit and get all caught up with his footwork.”
Lopez says he is going to achieve great things. He is perhaps emboldened by those positive messages he gets from his wife Cynthia – that he can achieve anything he wants when he puts his mind to it.
What he is putting his mind to now is defeating Lomachenko. “How we look at it is this … I’m going to be a big star, regardless. But the only difference is, facing Lomachenko and beating him will make me rise to the top even faster. That’s it.
“Loma is on his way out soon, he’s been in the pro game seven years, trying to make history as much as possible as he knows his time [to retire] is almost near. Myself, I’m 22 years old, career longevity, facing him, beating him, it’s going to speed up the process of being a superstar.
“I look forward to shocking the world and making history, moreso than I did after the Commey fight.”
But beating Lomachenko is not the only big thing he wants to achieve this year. While a victory over the man so good he’s called “Hi Tech” would elevate him in boxing’s world rankings, he wants to get to the top before 2020 finishes.
He wants to be the best lightweight on the planet, and then move a division higher and clear out junior welterweight, too.
“Everybody stay tuned, it’s going to be a big year,” he said. “I’ll be undisputed champion two times in the same year. Those are the goals. I’ll be moving up to the 140-pound division to face Josh Taylor or Jose Ramirez and unify right there, all those four belts [after the Lomachenko fight].
“Undisputed two-time champion at 135 pounds and 140, too. These are the goals we’re setting out at 22 years old, and those goals are big.
“That’s the thing, I dream big. It’s working. It takes blood, sweat, and tears. But we’re not b——. I don’t pick or choose my fights. I got out there, I like to fight, and I want to fight the best.”
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