Teofimo Lopez is boxing’s next superstar.
He solidified that status with a win over Lomachenko – ESPN’s No.1 pound-for-pound fighter – by a clear margin, as the judges scored the bout 117-111, 119-102 and 116-112. Now at 23, Lopez is a unified lightweight champion, and the showmanship he showed on his rise in the sport has now been matched by his accomplishments in the ring.
“I’m a fighter,” he said in the post-fight interview on ESPN. “I have to dig deep. I knew he was coming. I can’t give him that.
Lopez (16-0, 13 KOs) controlled the action for the first seven rounds until Lomachenko found his offense. And after hesitating at the end of the fight, Lopez rallied in the 12th round and responded to Lomachenko (14-2, 10 KOs) by digging deep and imposing his size on the former featherweight.
Lopez didn’t shy away from one of the toughest challenges in the sport, and that finish gave Lopez a payoff well worth the risk. Prior to this weekend, Lomachenko had stopped nine of his last 11 opponents and was arguably the most dominant fighter in boxing. Lopez wanted the challenge of facing someone like Lomachenko, even if it meant risking an undefeated record. Lopez cited some of the historic big names in the sport who have taken this approach.
“They didn’t care,” Lopez said in the pre-fight press conference. “They just wanted to put on a show for the fans and they wanted to show and prove (to) themselves that they are the best in their division. And that’s what it is. ”
By doing this, and winning, the charismatic, marketable and affable Lopez accelerated his path to boxing superstar and made tremendous strides on his path to being one of the sport’s most lucrative fighters.
For years, Top Rank searched for ways to build Lopez’s brand as he laid the foundation for his professional career. Over the past two years, Lopez has stolen the show at Madison Square Garden in the wake of the Heisman Trophy presentation on ESPN, and he has delivered twice.
Not only did he win, including a second round TKO against Richard Commey for the IBF belt which opened up the opportunity for Lomachenko, but he celebrated the wins with backflips while wearing the Heisman winners jerseys. He knew that being a good fighter meant being a great showman.
This was true during the preparation for the fight against Lomachenko. Lopez was vocal in his trashy pre-fight speech. While some feelings of dislike may be legitimate, Lopez more or less admitted that this is the role you need to play to create drama around the title fight.
Teofimo Lopez breaks down his unanimous decision victory over Vasily Lomachenko, saying he had to dig deep if he was to win. He also gets a glimpse of what might be next for him.
“I’m not trying to get under his skin,” Lopez said. “I’m just blunt. Come tonight, he wants to take it out on me, great. I’m trying to take it out on him too. That’s what makes it a good fight. At the same time, we’re trying to promote this fucking fight. ”
With the victory over Lomachenko, the combination of Lopez’s merchantability and pugilistic skill gives him one of the highest ceilings in the sport. Others like Gervonta Davis and Ryan Garcia arguably have a bigger fan base and greater name recognition, but neither of them have the type of victory Lopez has won this weekend, and his performance Saturday’s could easily close the gap in popularity and recognition.
And as Lopez continues to increase in weight and chase bigger names in weight and stature over the next several years, his appeal will only increase with higher level performance. If he steps up to junior welterweight, he could face Jose Ramirez or Josh Taylor, two other high-ranking fighters who could hold the four big 140-pound title belts in early 2021.
Just as he wasn’t afraid of the challenge of fighting Lomachenko, Lopez isn’t shy about taking on either of the guys.
“I’ll have Josh Taylor in the morning,” Lopez said, “and then I’ll have Jose Ramirez at night.
This joke summed up why Lopez has one of the brightest futures in sport. For years, Lopez has displayed elite levels of charisma. On Saturday he matched that with a win over arguably the best boxer in the world.
The takeover is complete. And Lopez’s time at the top has only just begun.