Teofimo Lopez vows he won’t allow Vasiliy Lomachenko time to breathe
Labor Day is a national holiday designated to celebrate the contribution of laborers in the United States. Yet, it was 10 a.m. Monday morning, September 7, and Teofimo Lopez Jr. seemed to have already put in a full day. He finished a film session with an ESPN crew, did an hour with a Mexican sports station and wore a weary look on his face by the time his father and trainer, Teofimo Sr., known as “Junior,” arrived lugging a bag of gear over his shoulder.
As soon as he walked through the doors of the New Jersey training facility Team Teofimo was using, Teofimo Sr. quickly recognized his son’s expression. It prompted him to ask his son, “How do you feel?”
“I’m a little tired,” Teofimo Jr. admitted to his dad. “But let’s work through it. I’m ready.”
Teofimo Sr. softly suggested they come back later in the day.
“No, I’ll work through it, because no one is going to give me any breaks once I’m in that ring,” the son said in a measured, respectful tone to his father. “You know that guy isn’t going to give me any breaks, and I’m not going to allow him to breathe.”
“That guy” is WBA and WBO lightweight titleholder Vasiliy Lomachenko (14-1, 10 knockouts). The fight everyone in the boxing world is waiting for arrives this Saturday, October 17—the most anticipated bout since the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Lopez, the IBF lightweight beltholder, plans to make the show on ESPN from the MGM Grand in Las Vegas his personal world stage.
Lopez (15-0, 12 KOs) knows the so-called pundits don’t give him much of a chance. He loves hearing it. Lomachenko is a danseur noble in boxing gloves and trunks. Lopez is deemed the caveman with a club. Teofimo scoffs at the notion, then bellows out a laugh as he sits ringside wrapping his hands.
There are a few things you notice about Lopez in these intimate settings. One, he’s far, far more intelligent than he gets credit for. Two, he’s also far more relaxed. His public demeanor is of a raucous, boisterous hype machine. The real Teofimo appears a bit more calculating, someone who’s cool and embraces being underestimated.
Alone, Lopez doesn’t refer to himself in the third person. Alone, he speaks in an audibly even tone. Alone, he radiates a sincere belief in himself.
Part of that derives from preparation.
“We never change our training camps when it comes to anyone I face, but the only difference is I’m getting stronger and I’m getting faster,” said Lopez, flanked by his father and Joey Gamache, a new addition to Team Teofimo. “I have this. I’m more mature. I’m always relaxed. The boxing gym is my home, and this is something that I’ve always known. This is what I love to do.
“This is nothing new to me. I know (Lomachenko) is the biggest challenge of my career. I’m in a good place right now. I look at everything like a puzzle. I like to put the pieces together and camp for me is very laid back. I hate it, but I love it at the same time. It’s a great outcome for all the riches that will come to me.
“This is the best and most active camp that I’ve ever had. This is more structured camp that I’ve ever experienced. This whole situation put me at ease. I know I can beat this guy. I don’t lose sleep over Vasiliy Lomachenko. If that’s the way some people want to see it, that’s fine, but that’s hype. I don’t go to bed thinking I can beat him, or questioning will I beat him. I just go to bed. That’s it. I only have myself to look at myself in the mirror. As long as I’m mentally, physically, emotionally ready, then I know I’m ready and I know that I’m in a right state of mind.”
Lopez, 23, feels Lomachenko is taking him lightly. He reminds you again in an easy voice that Lomachenko is 32, that he’s had over 400 fights combined as an amateur and a pro; that his physical clock is ticking. Teofimo Sr. sporadically interrupts to remind you that his son is a stylistic nightmare for Lomachenko. He stresses his son is a large 135-pounder, whereas Lomachenko is fighting for the fifth time as a lightweight—and that Lomachenko can be repetitive.
“People say Vasiliy is ‘unstoppable,’ this guy is ‘a god,’ but no one sees what I see,” Teofimo Jr. said. “He has that sidestep of his, and I have a mean-ass left hook, and there is a chance that sidestep of his is going to be greeted by my mean-ass left hook. His sidestep won’t determine how the battle is won.
“I have boxing skills. No one has seen that complete side of me yet. No one has seen anything yet. I do have power in both hands, but I also know how to box. I can say Luke Campbell, (Jorge) Linares, (Anthony) Crolla, they all gave Loma too much respect. If I hit him like Linares did (when Lomachenko was knocked down in the sixth round of their 2018 WBA lightweight title fight), he won’t get up. I prepare myself for everything. If he gets knocked down by me, it’s over. If it is a knockdown. I’m prepared for everything though. He’s underestimating me, but I’m not underestimating him.
“Right now, as we’re speaking Labor Day morning, I don’t have a clear mental image of how this fight will play out. But I will guarantee it is a fight everyone will have to watch. This will be a very different fight than any fight he’s ever had, and I will say it’s a very different fight than I’ve ever had. But I will say this, I’m knocking this motherf—– out. I’m hurting him. That’s all I know. When it comes to hurt, I’m going to smell that blood in the water.
“It’s Labor Day. I’m ready to do some hard labor. The easy part is ahead.”
This is the first in a series of stories from Camp Lopez that The Ring has exclusively.
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter who has been working for Ring Magazine/RingTV.com since October 1997 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be followed on twitter @JSantoliquito.