Teofimo Lopez Jr. had a slightly different plan for his full-blown introduction to the 140-pound division.
Once upon a time, the goal was to parlay his lineal and unified lightweight championship title reign into a shot at the undisputed crown at junior welterweight. That dream was on the vision board following his 2020 Fighter of the Year campaign that saw him dethrone Vasiliy Lomachenko to unify the lineal/WBA/IBF/WBO lightweight titles.
It was significantly altered after his one fight in 2021, a twelve-round split decision defeat to George Kambosos last November at Madison Square Garden Hulu Theater in New York City. The goal of becoming a two-division champ remains in place, though just not with any of the momentum he previously expected to enjoy.
“Failure is my best friend,” Lopez told BoxingScene.com. “It doesn’t mean that I want that. But failure is the experience that I needed to grow. It’s all about changing the negative to a positive, and how I can better myself. The best project you can have in this world is ourselves. I had a change a few things, the diameter of my team and what is needed not only to make a great champion but leave behind a great legacy.”
The next step in that journey comes this weekend. The Brooklyn-bred Lopez will fight in his adopted Las Vegas hometown against Mexico’s Pedro Campa (34-1-1, 23KOs) in his first fight above lightweight in more than four years. The feeling of entering on the heels of a defeat and coming in with something to prove is not lost on the brash but humbled 24-year old, whose pro career began three months after a controversial loss while representing Honduras in the 2016 Rio Olympics.
This one is a bit different, as Lopez was viewed as the king of the lightweight division at the time of falling short versus Kambosos. To this day, he still contends that he won their Fight of the Year-level slugfest, though two of the three judges felt otherwise—as did most observers.
Of greater concern to those around him than Lopez suffering his first defeat as a pro was the physical and mental recovery process.
Medical reports show that Lopez suffered from pneumomediastinum, a condition in which air leaks from the lungs or airway into the mediastinum. It was believed that Lopez—a longtime asthmatic who tested positive for Covid last summer—entered the fight with a small esophageal tear, as he was complaining of shortness of breath prior to the pre-fight weigh-in.
The physical rehabilitation coupled with mentally getting back where he needed to be prompted Lopez’s handlers to reevaluate the approach to his junior welterweight grand arrival. It led to settling on the 30-year-old Campa, a noted puncher whose lone defeat came more than four years ago and who has spent his entire career at or above the 140-pound divisional limit.
“I trust Top Rank and my matchmakers. I’m moving up to 140, plus all the complications I had, they just want to see where I’m at,” accepted Lopez. “This guy is 34-1, big puncher and very aggressive. Not a lot of fighters walk into a fight like that after the layoff I had. Just moving forward, I want to fight other guys at the top tier. I’ve always been the guy, I look at the guys in the top 15, top ten. I’d rather look for that than anything else.
“After my first failure, my first defeat in the pro game, they didn’t give me much of a say so in who I fight this time. It’s OK, we take what it is. We do what we got to do and then move forward from there.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox