What does it take to be a superstar in the sport of boxing? At least three things– Next-level talent, crossover charisma, and a deep body of work that demands respect.
Brooklyn’s Teofimo Lopez has the first two in spades and has a legitimate path to establishing the third. The problem may be that his biggest step on the path to stardom is his first step, this October 17 on ESPN against pound-for-pound darling and two-time Olympic gold medalist, Vasiliy Lomachenko. If all goes according to Team Lopez’s plans, the 23-year-old undefeated slugger will be THE name in the lightweight division with a legacy-defining win very early in his pro run. If things don’t go well, Lopez will have his name dragged through the mud after all the trash talk he’s been doing during the lead-in to this big upcoming bout.
This is all a huge gamble for the young, brash fighter. Not that Lopez is shying away from the challenge, of course.
“We don’t respect him,” Lopez Jr. recently told Fight Hype. “Everybody he’s faced, everybody believes the hype train. Everybody believes that, and it gets them shook. I’m the type of fighter that doesn’t give a s–t. You can say that this guy is ‘the man of steel,’ and I don’t care.
“I’m the type of fighter where I don’t respect no man when I’m in the ring. I’m a dog, and I’m going to fight for my life. There are many things that we can cap off.”
Lopez has faced some good competition on his road to an IBF 135 lb. strap. He’s beaten fighters such as Diego Magdaleno and then-reigning IBF champ Richard Commey. And he’s done so convincingly. Lomachenko, however, is a way different obstacle to overcome.
Lomachenko is often referred to as a generational talent, meaning, he’s a once-in-a-generation presence. The Ukrainian three-division world champ, who currently holds three of the four recognized title belts in the lightweight division, has a much deeper resume than Lopez and has made top shelf fighters look like novice patsies with his unique blend of skill and talent. There’s nothing really concrete in Lopez’s body of work leading one to believe that he’d be able to overcome what Lomachenko has to offer.
Lopez, though, is not impressed and definitely not intimidated.
“Everyone has seen [Lomachenko] at his peak,” Lopez said. “I’m not even at my peak yet, and that’s the thing I’m very happy about. And I’m doing all these things, and the way I’m doing them, what’s going to happen when I am in my prime?
“People have only noticed Teofimo through a few fights of mine. The ones that have followed me have seen me for three years.”
Eager to show his main stage worth, Lopez is gambling big-time on himself, betting that he’s more than ready for a monumental jump up in class, right now, on the first step of his road to stardom in a bout he’d probably be better advised to pursue two or three years from now.
Fans have to respect that kind of moxie from a fighter who already has a world title and could probably squeeze in a handful of soft touch, bank account-padding defenses before going after the undisputed top dog. It’s this kind of gamble that makes big-time boxing truly big-time.