Teofimo Lopez Back On Big Stage
When Top Rank and ESPN began putting on annual boxing cards at Madison Square Garden in New York immediately following the network’s presentation of college football’s Heisman Trophy, the exciting Teofimo Lopez was a natural for the show and he has not disappointed.
The former unified lightweight champion has appeared twice on those undercards and was sensational.
In 2018, he was a 10-0 fast-rising prospect when he obliterated Mason Menard with a right hand in 44 seconds of what was supposed to be a step-up fight on the Vasiliy Lomachenko-Jose Pedraza undercard inside the Hulu Theater at MSG. Menard went to sleep and Lopez struck the Heisman pose.
Lopez was back again on Heisman night in 2019, this time in the main arena on the Terence Crawford-Egidijus Kavaliauskas undercard, and he scored a sensational second-round knockout of Richard Commey to win the IBF lightweight title and posed again.
Since then, Lopez beat Lomachenko to unify lightweight titles and then lost the belts by close decision to George Kambosos Jr. in an action-packed split decision at the Hulu Theater last November, after which Lopez wound up in the hospital due to a serious issue with his esophagus that he went into the fight with.
Now Lopez is healthy and back on the winning track after moving up to junior welterweight and knocking out Pedro Campa in the seventh round in August to set up his Heisman night appearance on Saturday (ESPN, ESPN Deportes, ESPN+, 9 p.m. ET). The four-fight broadcast begins immediately following the presentation of the Heisman Trophy.
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Lopez will take on former European champion Sandor Martin in a 10-round WBC 140-pound final elimination fight that will make the winner the mandatory challenger for Regis Prograis, who won the vacant title by 11th-round knockout of Jose Zepeda on Nov. 26.
As always, Lopez’s goals are to win and to entertain.
“It’s all about giving the fans what they really want, which is entertainment,” Lopez said. “We are in the entertainment business, not the boxing business. That doesn’t mean I have to showboat like crazy. However, it’s all about giving the fans what they really want.”
While Prograis’ will be ordered to face current mandatory challenger (and former unified titlist) Jose Ramirez, the Lopez-Martin winner will be next in line.
That Lopez has the opportunity to earn another title shot and to do so on Heisman night is very meaningful to the 25-year-old Brooklyn, New York native.
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“I feel like I’m in a dream, like you have to pinch me or something,” Lopez told Fight Freaks Unite. “It’s the Mecca of boxing, Madison Square Garden. That’s where legends are born. They’re not made there, they’re born there and I think being the headliner and having all these great young prospects on the undercard (Jared Anderson, Keyshawn Davis and Xander Zayas), I’m truly appreciative of everything.
“It’s been a long journey and lot of hard work. Blood, sweat and tears to get to this point to be the headliner on Heisman Trophy night. I’m truly thankful. I can’t wait. I’ve been busing my ass, busting my butt training hard, working hard, harder than ever because I understand the magnitude of this fight and what it’s going to do for me in the beginning of 2023.”
Lopez (17-1, 13 KOs) was initially scheduled to fight Pedraza but a little less than a month ago he became ill and withdrew from the fight. As it happened, soon after the fight had been signed, the WBC mandated Lopez-Martin as a final eliminator at its recent annual convention.
Martin (40-2, 13 KOs), 29, had been training for another fight and when Pedraza dropped out, the match was made ahead of when either camp thought it would happen.
“Luckily we were able to have Sandor Martin, who says he has been training. This guy is not coming in on three weeks’ notice. He’s been in the gym, so I don’t want to hear excuses when we beat this guy, when we beat this clown and send him back to Spain, humbly.”
Pedraza is right-handed and Martin is left-handed, but Lopez said he will have no issue making the change.
“You guys have seen what I do with southpaws (like Lomachenko). I love southpaws, really,” Lopez said. “I am actually more comfortable (fighting) southpaws and I am orthodox (opponents).”
In Martin, Lopez will face an opponent filled with confidence. Two fights ago, at 144 pounds, he traveled to Fresno, California, in October 2021 and pulled a huge upset, beating four-division titleholder Mikey Garcia on his turf via majority 10-round decision to send him into retirement.
Martin will be aiming for another upset.
“I am absolutely ready for this fight,” Martin said at Thursday’s pre-fight news conference. “That’s why I have come. It was a preparation that was done on three weeks’ notice, but I had been training because I’m an athlete 24/7, every day of the year. For me, this is the biggest thing that has ever happened to me in my career as an athlete. Basically, in my country, it’s very difficult to be a boxer and come out of Spain. It’s taken a professional career of 42 professional fights across 11 years to have an opportunity like this. As soon as I got the opportunity, I couldn’t reject it. Teofimo Lopez. Madison Square Garden. Top Rank. It’s about making history.
“I’ve come to win. I respect Teofimo Lopez very much and the career that he’s had as a professional athlete. I respect him a lot as a boxer. I only hope that we deliver a great fight and we come out the ring healthy on Saturday. This is a special moment for me. But I don’t look beyond this fight. At the end of the day, he and I live in two different worlds. He lives in the world of entertainment and I live in the boxing world. When he was recording interviews, watching the Knicks and shopping, I was training. That’s the difference you will see on Saturday.”
Lopez said he watched highlights of Martin’s win over Garcia and sounded unfazed about what was in front of him.
“He retired Mikey Garcia but he’s not going to retire Teofimo Lopez, I promise you that,” Lopez said, going on to detail the kinds of fights he wants after Saturday.
“I’m very excited that the winner (of the vacant WBC title) was Regis Prograis,” Lopez said. “This guy talks a lot. I want his world title. I want everybody’s world title. I want Josh Taylor’s. These are the guys we’re looking forward to fighting next year and beyond and putting on a show at 140.”