No one’s boxing crystal ball saw this one coming.
Terence Crawford vs Errol Spence Jr. taking forever to get made? Absolutely.
Tyson Fury retiring, then announcing his return? No and yes.
Canelo Alvarez losing to Dmitry Bivol? Maybe
But Teofimo Lopez Jr. promoting a comeback fight against Pedro Campa at 140 pounds in August of 2022? Few would have believed that one when the New Yorker completed his self-described “Takeover” by defeating Vasiliy Lomachenko on October 17, 2020.
That night in Las Vegas, in the heat of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lopez lived up to all the hype, using a disciplined and intelligent attack to beat the Ukrainian and take his lightweight belts. It was one of those rare moments when a fighter who talks a lot actually delivered on those words. If you weren’t impressed, well, I think the kids call those folks haters.
As for everyone else, they believed they were witnessing a changing of the guard, not just at 135 pounds, but in boxing. There were four young stars about to put on fights among each other that we hadn’t seen since Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, Roberto Duran and Thomas Hearns battled among themselves, becoming royalty in the process. These new “Four Kings” were led by Lopez, who was expected to wage war in the next few years with Gervonta Davis, Devin Haney and Ryan Garcia.
The Takeover, indeed.
But as the Summer of 2022 winds down, all the high hopes were dashed. Lopez lost to George Kambosos, Kambosos lost to Haney, Davis and Garcia keep winning against everyone but each other. And while the apparent dashing of hopes for a modern-era version of the “Four Kings,” it’s Lopez’ fall from grace that may be the most disappointing.
Love him or hate him, Lopez made you watch him, and even if you didn’t want to listen to what he or his father had to say, there was no question that in wins over Lomachenko, Diego Magdaleno and Richard Commey, he was something special.
Then came the oft-postponed fight with Kambosos, which finally took place in Madison Square Garden’s Theater on November 27, 2021. It wasn’t the venue you wanted to see Lopez in after his stirring win over Lomachenko, but after the mess to get the fight done, the apparent idea was, fight Kambosos, get it over with and move on to bigger and better things.
The Aussie had other ideas, fighting his own version of the perfect fight to drop Lopez and rise from the canvas himself en route to a split decision victory. It was close, but it was Kambosos’ night. There was no robbery, no reason to dispute the verdict, but that didn’t stop Team Lopez to do just that.
That’s no surprise, as some fighters are so competitive that they can get knocked out and believe they deserved a draw. Sure, that can be annoying and often delusional, but it’s also admirable in a sense. So we can give Lopez that right. But the shocker after the fight was the revelation that he entered the ring with a small tear in his esophagus that could have become a life-threatening situation if not for pure luck.
That news put a new light on the loss and on Lopez. That’s not to say he would have won. Kambosos might have beaten any lightweight on the planet that night. But what it did was show how this sport – and any sport for that matter – is a game of inches, both literally and figuratively. If Lopez pulls out of that fight, maybe he still has his belts today and maybe the new “Four Kings” fantasy becomes a reality.
But the world moves on, and the what ifs don’t matter now. As Saturday night approaches, Lopez is getting ready for his full-time move to 140 pounds to face Mexico’s Campa, owner of a stellar 34-1-1 (23 KOs) record that will be proven to be legit or smoke and mirrors soon enough.
“I’m thankful to be back August 13,” said Lopez. “I’ve been looking forward to this since my last fight. I’ve had a lot of complications, but we’re looking towards the future and are on to bigger and better things. I’m here to take over the 140-pound division just like I did at 135. Like always, I’m going to bring excitement to the sport of boxing.”
That last sentence is true. Fans are curious to see what Lopez has after the first loss of his 17-fight pro career, and there is a buzz about his return. Or more accurately, what happens after this return. Campa has the style Lopez can take advantage of if he’s on top of his game, and maybe even if he’s not. But the point is, this is the fight that gets him back in the win column and sets up bigger paydays and more important matchups down the line.
“I am calling this fight the 'Take Back' because I am coming to regain what I’ve lost,” he said. “One defeat does not define a fighter, and it won’t define me.”
And with a win, it makes us bring out that crystal ball again.
Does he move back down to 135 to face Lomachenko again? Will his fellow “kings” join him at 140, or will they do their own thing at 135 and leave him stranded? Is Josh Taylor the ultimate play in the junior welterweight division, with intriguing fights against the likes Jose Ramirez, Regis Prograis and Jose Zepeda also available?
Whichever way the wind blows for Lopez, the future may still be bright for a young man who is still only 25 years old, even if it’s not the future he initially envisioned. The Lomachenko fight wasn’t a mirage. It was real. Now we’ll see if Lopez was a one-hit wonder, or a king who will reign once more.
“My best years are in front of me,” he said. “Pedro Campa is the start of a new chapter in my career. I will be a two-weight world champion very soon. Every contender and champion at junior welterweight better watch out because I am coming to clean out the division.”