By Michael Rosenthal
Some people want to reserve judgment on Teofimo Lopez, which makes sense. He has fought only 12 times as a professional. We won’t know how good he truly is for at least two or three more fights. And he probably shouldn’t be described as a star quite yet. Again, too few outings. He might pack arenas (stadiums?) and be featured on pay-per-view shows one day but we can’t be certain about that.
This is what we know now: Teofimo Lopez has the boxing world abuzz, a phenomenon that is reserved for few boxers – even those with much more substantial track records – in each generation.
In other words, the beast has been unleashed.
Many fighters have high knockout percentages but Lopez’s stoppages are different somehow. In December, he gave us a one-punch version. An overhand right instantly rendered capable Mason Menard unconscious and took our collective breath away in the process.
And on the Sergey Kovalev-Eleider Alvarez card last Saturday, he gave us a prolonged-beating version. Veteran Diego Magdaleno managed to last six-plus rounds before two left hooks took him out but he might never be the same, the result of a merciless assault and the misguided unwillingness of the referee (Gregorio Alvarez) or Magdaleno’s corner to stop the fight earlier.
Those are the kind of knockouts that people remember. And Lopez’s list of them is growing.
The ability to stop opponents isn’t enough to engender the excitement that surrounds Lopez, though. His demeanor and his post-KO celebrations are also key to his rapid rise in our consciousness.
The viciousness with which he tore apart Magdaleno reminded me of Roberto Duran, a cold, calculating assassin with no sympathy for his victims. You can interpret that as you please but it’s compelling.
The moments after the Magdaleno fight was stopped also helped shape our perception of Lopez. During his celebration, with Magdaleno still on the canvas and hurt badly, he taunted his fallen foe with a sweeping motion as if to say dismissively, “I’m rid of you.”
The unsportsmanlike move was criticized by many afterward, including Magdaleno’s angry family members in the ring. And justifiably so: You don’t belittle a warrior moments after he had demonstrated uncommon courage in a fight he had no chance of winning, even if he was disrespectful to Lopez before the fight.
That said, Lopez’s gesture probably enhanced his growing image as an unapologetic killer, a la Duran. Again, that might be unsettling for some, but it taps into fans’ primal desires.
The celebrations are just fun. The back flips are his trademark, although I wonder whether he’ll break an ankle one day. Fans seem to love the “Fortnight” dances. And the Heisman Trophy pose in the ring, to honor 2018 winner Kyler Murray, undoubtedly amused the many boxing fans who also like football.
In other words, he understands the value of entertainment and knows how to provide it.
The combination of these factors – the knockouts, the menacing presence and the celebrations – have sparked an undue amount of interest in a fighter who only turned pro in November 2016.
“He stands out because nobody expected him to excel this early,” Bob Arum, his promoter, told ESPN.com. “But this is not a sprint, this is a marathon. I'm very high on him, I think he has enormous talent, he has a lot of marketability.”
Of course, Lopez’s ultimate success or failure is predicated on what he does in the ring.
The Honduran-American, who is trained by his father, Teofimo Sr., seems to have all the tools required to succeed. One might forget amid the knockouts that he can box, which is in part a product of his substantial amateur career. And he has the kind of hand speed that makes it difficult to see those crazy punches coming.
There are no guarantees, though. Menard and Magdaleno are good fighters but not the tests Lopez must pass to join the best of the best in boxing. Those lie ahead.
A lightweight title fight could come as soon as this year. That could be for the WBC version if Mike Garcia vacates after his welterweight showdown with Errol Spence or one of the belts belonging to Vasyl Lomachenko – yes, THAT Vasyl Lomachenko – if the Ukrainian wins his April 12 fight against an undetermined opponent.
Lopez is scheduled to fight next on the Terence Crawford-Amir Khan pay-per-view card on April 20. One possible opponent: Talented British Olympian Luke Campbell, who would be a step up from Magdaleno.
Thus, we’ll learn a lot more about Lopez in his next few fights. Is destined to reach pound-for-pound status and become a (the?) face of the sport? Or is he merely a shooting star whose light will be dimmed when he faces the likes of Lomachenko?
It would a lot of fun if it played out in Lopez’s favor.
Michael Rosenthal was the 2018 winner of the Boxing Writers Association of America’s Nat Fleischer Award for excellence in boxing journalism. He has covered boxing in Los Angeles and beyond for almost three decades.