By Thomas Gerbasi
The confidence of Teofimo Lopez isn’t obnoxious. It’s matter of fact, and if you don’t believe him, it’s almost confusing to him that you can’t see what he’s seeing.
But the thing is, there are starting to be more believers than skeptics when it comes to the unbeaten lightweight, who looks to move to 13-0 as a pro when he faces Edis Tatli on the Terence Crawford-Amir Khan undercard this weekend in New York City. But still, no one believes more than the 21-year-old Brooklynite.
“I have faith in God and I’m trusting his timing and doing what he has planned out for me to do,” said Lopez. “It’s a lot on my plate, but I know God wouldn’t have put me in these situations and these circumstances if he didn’t think I was ready for any of them. I know deep down in my heart and in my soul that I’m ready for this.”
The fact that he has to address such questions about his ambition shows you just how far the 2016 Honduran Olympian has come in just a dozen fights. And that’s a good thing for Lopez, who has taken the sport by storm over the last couple years, so much so that there was a debate whether he should have been given 2018 Prospect of the Year honors when many believe he already advanced past that stage.
“I must have been on everyone’s radar for Prospect of the Year, but some didn’t think so because they believed that I’m already a contender, and I appreciate that a lot,” he said. “I’m not even mad.”
Why would he be? Already top five across the major sanctioning bodies, Lopez is making his second start of 2019 on Saturday, and he expects that by the end of the year, he’ll be fighting for a belt. Yes, the ambition is clear. Just don’t call Lopez impatient.
“It’s nothing about being impatient; it’s nothing about jumping into deep waters,” he said. “It’s more so the fact that my skills are setting the tone already for me. My skill set and my skill level are setting that pace to where we will fight for a world title this year. All these other prospects, they still have to show the fans – and so do I – but I’m looking impressive and I’m looking ahead of all of them right now. So this is why we’re getting our shot.”
It’s difficult to argue with Lopez. In 2018, he made the walk to the ring four times, and after decisioning 44-fight vet Juan Pablo Sanchez, he blasted through 14-1 Vitor Jones, 25-1 William Silva and 34-3 Mason Menard. In February, he knocked out 31-2 Diego Magdaleno, and there aren’t too many 21-year-olds with less than 20 fights keeping a schedule like that.
And it’s just the way Lopez and his father / trainer Teofimo Lopez Sr. want it.
“We tell them (promoter Top Rank) we want the toughest guys out there and we want fights that will give us challenges,” said Lopez. “And we have the best matchmakers in the boxing game – Brad Goodman and Bruce Trampler – so they know what they’re doing, and we leave it in their hands for the most part. They know that I’m gonna accept any fight that comes in line. We tell them that we want tough fights and that’s what they look for, to see if there’s a fighter that can go the distance with Teofimo Lopez. And they can try, but that’s the thing, that’s why we’re changing the game.”
But has Lopez been getting what he wants? Has he been challenged yet, has he had one of those nights where he’s thought that things might get interesting?
“Each fight is interesting,” he said. “I get to learn something new each time, and as I fight these opponents and these guys that are ranked higher, of course it’s interesting to see what they can come up with next. What style are they going to bring to me that I already know, but I haven’t fought in a while? Or what’s interesting is the fact that they have so many fights and I take them out so quickly, things like that.
“I’m impressed by how everything’s been going and I’m impressed with myself knowing that I can bang it in there with these guys that have so much experience as professional fighters and with the amount of fights that I have. I’m doing what I have to do,” Lopez continues. “This guy that I’m fighting, Edis Tatli, he’s 31-2 and this is another guy with a lot of experience. The same thing with Diego Magdaleno. He was no pushover. So I learn each time I fight these dudes.”
So what’s the problem? Why has Lopez become a lightning rod for nitpickers on social media? It may be his post-fight celebrations or his precocious nature. But it’s likely because he has made no secret of his desire to fight one of the best in the game – WBA / WBO champion Vasyl Lomachenko – sooner rather than later. And despite Lomachenko’s dominant efforts and otherworldly skill set, Lopez doesn’t waver from his belief that he has the goods to put it on the Ukrainian star.
“There’s only one God, and that’s not Lomachenko,” laughs Lopez. “Lomachenko is just a guy that has everyone under this type of illusion. He’s doing this stuff with his legs and everything just to trick all you guys into thinking he’s the best fighter in the world. You guys will see. If they let the fight happen between me and him, you will see that the man just had you under an illusion.”
Lopez is everything you want to see in a prizefighter. He’s confident, he knocks people out, and he wants it all…now. And he won’t argue with you.
“It’s about doing something different,” he said. “Each fighter that was outstanding and great – Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, Sugar Ray Leonard, Floyd Mayweather, Oscar De La Hoya, Roy Jones Jr., Hector Camacho – they all had their unique style and unique flavor. And the whole thing is that Teofimo Lopez has that, that charismatic feeling to the crowd when he fights. And I’m just being myself. That’s who I am and I’ve always been like that.”
His time is coming, and whether you like it or not, he’s enjoying every step of the ride.
“I love my job,” Lopez said. “I love what I do and that’s the thing that keeps me excited and keeps me entertaining the fans. I have fun when I’m in that ring, I feel free and I feel like I can do anything at that moment and no one can tell me what to do. I do listen to my father and things like that, but he understands me and I understand him and we go about our way. So I’m enjoying it, and I’m so grateful and blessed to be where I’m at today. I didn’t think I would be at this point right now in my career until later on, but it’s happening now. I believe that God believes that I am ready for all these challenges and what’s coming next. So all I can do right now is enjoy it, enjoy all that’s coming, maintain it and keep it.”