BROOKLYN’S Teofimo Lopez feels like he has been chosen for something special. Only 12 bouts into a professional career, he will box Edis Tatli on the April 20 undercard of the Terence Crawford-Amir Khan world title fight at Madison Square Garden. Later this year he expects to fight for, and win, a world title of his own. Before the end of 2019 he has targeted a fight with none other than Vasyl Lomachenko, the unified WBA and WBO boss.
“Of course I’m ready, I believe that I am a world champion I just don’t have the belt yet,” he said lightly. “Absolutely. I think the thing is that people put too many fighters on a pedestal too high.
“When it comes to beating him, when we fight, I’ll show everyone what it is, how to beat this guy. He’s been beaten before so why can’t I beat him again?”
The plan is to become a world champion at lightweight. “I’ve got this fight first to show everybody again,” he said. “I believe hopefully after this fight, it could be against Richard Commey [the IBF champion], it could be against Mikey Garcia [who still holds the WBC lightweight belt]. I think they’re going to wait till the end of the year for me and Lomachenko to fight,” he said. “It’s just having faith and all that I’ve been doing and all that I’ve been through and stuff like that is leading me to this path, leading me to the glory.”
Lopez is full of confidence. It’s clear in the way he fights, certainly in how he celebrates. His backflips in the ring and his dance across the canvas, derived from the computer game Fortnite, have all garnered him attention. He thought, “It’s going to be on ESPN, this is the perfect time to do this. Did it, it went viral and that’s where it started. These things, they come into my head, these ideas, celebrations, you put them together and it comes out the way it does.”
Celebrating over a fallen opponent verges on the disrespectful. But Lopez certainly felt no qualms after bludgeoning Diego Magdaleno to a brutal seven round defeat in February. “Some love me, a lot hate me, they’re going to take it as it is. They’re going to take it how they want to take it,” he said. “That’s how I am. I’m ruthless, I’m very ruthless, I don’t have feelings for no man when I’m in that ring. I don’t care about anything in that moment.
“That’s just how I am. I don’t feel no sympathy, no nothing for no man.”
He may feel no pity for an opponent but he does revel in the sensation of fighting. “I feel free. I feel like a bird out of the cage, like a bird that’s about to fly,” he says of his boxing. “I feel like that. I feel like a lion coming out of its cage. I feel happy, I honestly do. That moment, at that moment I feel home. I feel like this is it. The greatest feeling is I get to do whatever I truly want to do.
“I do everything the right way, they can’t tell me anything. At that moment, I’m so happy, so happy. That’s why I perform the way I do.”
At just 21 years old Lopez is still a young fighter. But he left a tumultuous amateur career behind him. He wasn’t selected for the US team and as a dual national turned to Honduras. Representing them he qualified for the Olympic Games but was bitterly disappointed at the decision that eliminated him from Rio 2016. “The sport of amateur boxing, it took all my innocence away,” Lopez said. “That’s why when I fight now I don’t have no type of feelings. I don’t feel anything. All I know is just to win the fight and look impressive while doing it. I try my hardest not to leave it to the judges.”
“I don’t like anybody in boxing. I really don’t, I’ll be honest with you, I really don’t. I do what I do because God gave me a gift and I’m going to use it as a good example,” he added. “I’m always going to use it as a good example, this sport and what it does for me. It’s made me the man I am today.”
He has looked impressive. As well as the recent win over Magdaleno, he knocked Mason Menard cold inside the first round. With his father as his trainer he has been devising his own style. “There are so many things we’re still learning to this day. I’m not perfect. I try to be perfect but I know that there’s no such thing as being perfect. So each and every day we try to learn something new,” he said. “My style and everything, I just learned from watching so many great fighters; Roy Jones Jnr, Pernell Whitaker, Floyd Mayweather, Mike Tyson, Muhammad Ali, the list goes on and on and on. We shake it up and you get Teofimo Lopez.”
If anyone is viewed as unbeatable, or near unbeatable in boxing, it is probably Lomachenko. But Lopez believes he has something special. He too has spent his life in boxing. As a precocious six year old he picked up the skills of the sport easily. “Things that take months to learn, I learned in weeks, like the speed bag, the jump rope, the footwork, the drills, I learned it in weeks not even months,” he said.
He’s not just talented, he warns all his future opponents, “That’s why I say I feel like I’m God gifted.”
He has chosen his path. He expects it to lead to Lomachenko.
Terence Crawford vs Amir Khan will be televised by BT Sport Box Office in the UK on April 20