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Teofimo Lopez Jr.: I have to beat the best version of myself

15
Jun

Teofimo Lopez Jr. has playfully devilish eyes. He can wear a goofy, wise-ass grin on occasion. Though while he’s talking, the lightweight world champion is constantly thinking. In many ways, he’s 23 going on 43. He has the ability to peer through anyone, dissect their motives and answer questions before they are asked.

He loves being underestimated.

These days, however, Lopez suffers from a major dilemma: The boxing world has caught up. It doesn’t undervalue him any longer, though some still might. He’s far smarter than people know. For his victory over Vasiliy Lomachenko back in October, which made him the 2020 Ring Magazine and Boxing Writers Association of America Fighter of the Year, he had tunnel vision on tunnel vision.

The cloud he carries into his first lightweight world title defense, where he’ll be defending the Ring, IBF, WBO, and WBC franchise belts, is that focus waning against Australian George “Ferocious” Kambosos Jr. this Saturday night from Miami’s loanDepot Park on Triller Fight Club via FITE mobile and Smart TV apps (12:30 p.m. PT/3:30 p.m. ET/).



Lopez (16-0, 12 knockouts) said his biggest surprise against Lomachenko was just how focused he was in a strong performance against who many thought was the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world. Kambosos (19-0, 10 KOs) is a formidable opponent, Lopez acknowledges, and it’s time to retune his attitude towards keeping what he’s worked so hard to achieve.

“The Takeover” has had his share of distractions—some self-imposed, some not. He’s had an ongoing feud with his own promoter, Top Rank, which now seems rectified with an amended three-year deal that Top Rank announced on ESPN’s undercard broadcast of the Shakur Stevenson-Jeremiah Nakathila last Saturday.

Much of the drama stemmed from this very weekend, when Triller ($6,018,000) outbid Matchroom Boxing ($3,506,000) and Top Rank ($2,315,000) for Lopez-Kambosos, Lopez’s IBF mandatory.

Said Lopez: “People were saying all of these things about Loma, but that motherf—r sensed me. He felt my energy. I may be calm, cool and collected, but I have a lot of rage and anger in my eyes. I have a lot of pain (Photo by Mikey Williams/Top Rank via Getty Images).

There is supposed to be an estimated 30,000 fans at Miami’s loanDepot Park for the Lopez-Kambosos fight.

Lopez can’t wait.

“Beating Lomachenko was a whole different ballgame for me, because I fought without fans there, and I get energy from the fans,” Lopez said. “I’ll be fighting before 30,000 in Miami and I would have beaten Lomachenko far worse than I did if that fight took place before fans.

“I love taking the energy from the crowd and if there were fans, Lomachenko wouldn’t haven’t lasted after the ninth round. When I’m set and focused, no one in the world cam beat me. I wasn’t at my best, I wasn’t as focused as I should have been against (Masayoshi) Nakatani and not many people know this, but I broke his eye socket—not at my best.”

Lopez is rated No. 5 in the BWAA’s top-10 pound-for-pound list and No. 7 by The Ring. Lopez is the world lightweight champion, while Kambosos is rated No. 8 by The Ring. Lopez’s last three victories have been over top-10 Ring fighters (No. 1 contender Lomachenko, No. 4 Richard Commey and No. 9  Nakatani).

“There are two guys that I really want to face—Devin Haney and Josh Taylor, who beat Jose Ramirez. Those are the two guys that I really want. I don’t want to put out any dates, but it will be a quick turnaround. Everything is all talk. I smell fear in these guys. Those are the guys next.”

“Honestly right now, not even the sky is the limit anymore,” Lopez said. “I feel great, I feel like a Ferrari, I feel like a Bugatti, and when I train, I train not for the fighter I’ll be facing, I train for myself. I train to be the best me. I didn’t watch film on Loma, I didn’t watch film on Nakatani or Commey. I didn’t watch film on Kambosos. I don’t overlook anyone. I have worry and train for myself.

“I have to beat the best version of myself.”

Lopez used to play the “clown.” Well, he’s not a “clown” anymore. It’s an act that has been exposed. Lopez, reportedly through sources, could make as much as a career-high $8 million off this fight.

He’s closing in on being an eight-figure fighter—and he drives a $50,000 black Dodge Ram—the same truck he drove prior to beating Lomachenko.

“I want to take their soul. I want to chop their heads off and put on it a spike with their tongue sticking out. This is life or death for me. They don’t respect boxing like I do. I box because I love it—not for the glory or the money.”

“I make money, I don’t let money make me,” Lopez said. “I’ve been rich my whole life. I wear the clothes, the clothes don’t wear me, and I’m proud of that attitude. I can’t lose who I am. The people that know me, they know me. No one else needs to know me. Let people continue thinking I’m a ‘clown’ or a ‘joke.’ That’s fine.

“I don’t know or what Kambosos will be on Saturday night. A lot of people don’t credit him for what he has done. I give him credit for having the balls to step up. No one else did—and they had time to do it. They had four months and no one stepped up—Kambosos did.

Could undisputed junior welterweight champion Josh Taylor be next for Teofimo Lopez Jr. (Photo by Mikey Williams/ Top Rank via Getty Images).

“There are two guys that I really want to face—Devin Haney and Josh Taylor, who beat Jose Ramirez. Those are the two guys that I really want. I don’t want to put out any dates, but it will be a quick turnaround (which looks like October). Everything is all talk. I smell fear in these guys. Those are the guys next.

“I always tell people that at the end of the day a real fighter knows a real fighter. Real recognizes real. People were saying all of these things about Loma, but that motherf—r sensed me. He felt my energy. I may be calm, cool and collected, but I have a lot of rage and anger in my eyes. I have a lot of pain.

“I want to take their soul. I want to chop their heads off and put on it a spike with their tongue sticking out. This is life or death for me. They don’t respect boxing like I do. I box because I love it—not for the glory or the money.”

Lomachenko felt more than Lopez’s energy the last time The Takeover was in the ring. He says he tries to slow down everything around him. Since beating Lomachenko, he’s stepping back and is living more in the moment.

He’s still trying to deal with the rather large chip on his shoulder. But he likes it.

He says he’s in a better place—and that even means with Top Rank.

“We appreciate everything, and by we, I mean Team Lopez, David McWater, my manager, my father, my whole team, we appreciate everything Top Rank has done for me ,” said Lopez, and this was told to The Ring a month before the new deal was announced. “We thank ESPN for the platform, and these were all steps. I can’t be more grateful. I think they’ve come to appreciate me, especially these last few years.

“This fight with Kambosos means a lot to me. I have to perform. I know I risk myself and my family each time I go into the ring. If you want to make your fighter happy, you show him that you miss them. Top Rank has shown that they missed me.

“I wouldn’t be where I am without Top Rank and ESPN. But I have had a hell of lot to do with that, too. People don’t like me sometimes, because I am misunderstood. All I want is what will be best for my family. It’s really that simple. Kambosos is in my way of achieving that.”

Lopez says he’s aware that Kambosos will come after him. He says Kambosos won’t back down.

“I know where I am, I’m the guy who beat the guy, now everyone wants to beat me,” Lopez said. “It’s why I’m pushing myself even more. I’m doing different things than I did before. I’m writing more. Yes, believe it or not, I’m writing more. I’m going to take your job one day (laughs). I’m trying to grow and keep a journal, whatever you want to call it.

“At the end of this camp, I’ll go back and read back what I wanted to do for this fight. Writing the journal has opened a third eye. I get to spill out everything on my mind. I think back on how I used to think when I was young, like I’m getting a second chance at life and correcting all of the things I did wrong.

“I am who I am and I know myself.”

No one, right now, seems to be in his way.

Featured on the Lopez-Kambosos undercard will be for The Ring womens’ super middleweight and undisputed 168-pound world championship between WBO/WBC titlist Franchon “The Heavy Hitting Diva” Crews-Dezurn, (7-1, 2 KOs) and WBA/IBF title holder Elin Cederroos, (8-0, 4 KO) over ten rounds. Cederroos is rated No. 1 by The Ring and Crews-Dezurn is No. 2. The winner brings home The Ring Magazine title belt.

The chief undercard fight will feature undefeated 2016 U.S. Olympian Charles Conwell (14-0, 11 knockouts) taking on southpaw Mark ‘The Bazooka’ DeLuca (27-2, 15 KOs), of Whitman, MA, in a 10-round junior middleweight clash. Top featherweight prospect Haven Brady Jr., (2-0, 2 KOs), of Albany, GA, takes on Manuel “Gansito” Lara, (2-6), of Ciudad Victoria, Mexico, in a four-rounder.

Also on the undercard, a crossroad fight between middleweight division two-time world title challenger Willie “El Mongoose” Monroe Jr., (24-3, 6 KOs), of Rochester, NY against Juan “La Amenaza” De Angel, (22-13-1, 20 KOs), of Barranquilla, Colombia in a 10-round bout.

Monroe is currently riding a three-fight win streak.

Undefeated heavyweight Zhilel “Bang Bang” Zhang, (21-0-1, 17 KOs), of Zhouhou, China, battles upset-minded veteran Daniel “The Mountain” Martz, (20-9-1, 17 KOs), of Clarksburg, WV in a 10-rounder.

Promising 19-year-old junior welterweight Aaron “The Alien King” Aponte, (3-0, 1 KOs), will face fellow undefeated prospect Gerardo Contreras Gonzalez, (2-0, 1 KO), of San Diego, CA, in a four-rounder.

In a battle of junior middleweight southpaws, Ray “The New Ray” Robinson, (24-3-2, 12 KOs), of Philadelphia, PA, will face Ramal Amanov, (16-3, 5 KOs), of Ganja, Azerbaijan, in an eight-rounder.

Undefeated junior middleweight Nikoloz Sekhniashvili, (7-0, 5 KOs), of Gori, Georgia (country), will see action in against an opponent to be determined in a scheduled six-rounder.

In a four-round welterweight bout, New York City’s Arnold Gonzalez, (6-0, 2 KOs) fights Gabriel Gutierrez, (7-9, 5 KOs), of El Paso, TX. In a 10-round WBA heavyweight title eliminator, Las Vegas’ Michael “The Bounty” Hunter II, (19-1-1, 3 KOs), will battle Michael “White Delight” Wilson, (21-1, 10 KOs), of Medford, OR. Hunter is currently ranked No. 7 by The Ring.

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.

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