Teofimo Lopez says return to ‘Takeover’ form starts with Sandor Martin
Teofimo Lopez Jr. had Thanksgiving dinner for the first time in two years a couple of weeks ago. The former lightweight world champion was killing himself—and almost was killed—by drastic weight cuts to make 135 pounds.
Making 140 is far easier, but his struggles in and out of the ring weren’t simply due to drastic drops in weight. Lopez admits that he has not been “whole” for some time, but says he’s gradually putting the pieces back together to regain the form he had when he blitzed titleholder Richard Commey and dethroned Ring/unified champ Vasily Lomachenko.
Lopez (17-1, 13 knockouts) knows that reaching the heights of the 140-pound class is still to be determined, but Saturday’s fight against Sandor Martin is an important step in that goal.
The scheduled 10-round bout vs. Martin (40-2, 13 KOs) at Madison Square Garden will headline a prospect-stacked Top Rank show on ESPN (9:00 p.m. ET).
Martin is a late replacement for Lopez’s original opponent, Jose Pedraza, who withdrew due to a non-COVID-related illness.
“Honestly, I’m in a good mindset right now and this is the best I’ve felt in a while,” Lopez told The Ring. “I would say the last two years I was killing myself. My last, best weight when I felt comfortable at 135 was for Richard Commey (December 2019). After that, during the pandemic, the last two years was rough.
“I had to figure out if I wanted freedom in my mind or freedom to do things. My freedom is being consistent, staying busy, busy, busy, I’m a buzzing bee, buzzing, buzzing, buzzing. I’ve had three fights in two years. That’s what we’re talking about. I want to stay active where I’m fighting at least three times in one year.”
Lopez has been around so long fight fans forget that he’s only 25. “The Takeover” calls himself a rookie and a boxing veteran at the same time. He says he’s still evolving.
Martin is someone, Lopez said, he wanted to fight all along. The Spaniard carries an 11-fight winning streak, including an upset victory over future Hall of Famer Mikey Garcia in October 2021, a fight that retired the four-division titleholder.
“He defeated Mikey Garcia, this guy is 40-2, 13 knockouts, he’s not a big puncher, but he’s a boxer,” Lopez said. “Obviously, he shook the world a little bit when he retired Mikey Garcia. This is a great matchup. It’s great for boxing, and great for myself. He has great hair, too, until I knock it out.
“So far in my career, the only two southpaws I faced were (Vasiliy) Lomachenko (W 12) and Diego Magdaleno (KO 7). This will be the third southpaw of my career. None of my training will really change. The WBC mandated Sandor Martin all along. This is great for my boxing career. I’m looking forward to it.
“This is what I wanted all along.”
— ESPN Ringside (@ESPNRingside) December 9, 2022
Lopez said he wants to reserve his rematch against George Kambosos. He claims he was at “around 20 percent” of himself the night he lost. In an excellent Mark Kriegel-penned article posted on ESPN.com on December 4, 2021, Dr. Linda Dahl, an otolaryngologist (ENT) with surgical privileges at three Manhattan hospitals, is quoted as saying Lopez “could have died, for sure” during or after his split-decision loss to Kambosos on November 27. “How he breathed, I can’t even explain to you. It’s like somebody tied a 300-pound set of weights around his chest … like his neck and chest were in a vise. That’s how he fought.”
According to Lopez’s medical records, and according to the fighter himself in talking to The Ring, he was diagnosed with something called “pneumomediastinum” with “extensive air in the retropharyngeal space” by emergency room doctors during his post-fight visit to Bellevue Hospital, according to the Kriegel story.
“That (Kambosos) fight is coming, but I have to throw all of my focus into Martin right now,” Lopez said. “But this is an interesting thing about the Kambosos fight and what a lot of people don’t know. What I noticed is that the more I threw at him, it was better on my body than when I had to wait on him.
“I’m a counter puncher. I’m one of the best counter punchers. However, it was better to throw, than to wait on him. Every time I waited on him; I could hear myself breathe.”
Lopez promises the world will see a different version of him. He says he’s evolving as a fighter and may be more aggressive in this fight. He says he was not pleased with his Pedro Campa victory in his 140-pound debut in August, and there is more to come.
He says his “man strength” is beginning to set in at the age of 25. He won’t change his boxer/puncher style. He did say he plans on using more of the ring. He also stressed his father, Teofimo Lopez Sr., will be his sole coach, and that some of the assistant coaches he had in the past have been removed.
“We took out some of the assistant coaches, and the reason why is some of these assistant coaches use me for their platform,” Lopez said. “I told my (father) that I do not want these assistant coaches around me, because when they see these cameras, they light up, ‘Good job champ.’ I don’t like that stuff. Don’t use me as a gateway to get your profit. Stay in your lane.
“It’s me and my father. We’ll have other people in the corner we trust. I am thankful for each coach who did come into my camp and work with me. The goal next year is getting in the ring April 2023, summertime and back in December 2023, on Heisman (Trophy) night.”
Lopez says his best is yet to come. He feels there is more room to reveal. His Lomachenko victory was not even his best performance. Right now, he says he is 97-percent of who he can fully be in the ring.
Another area he stressed was getting back in the gym as frequently as possible. He plans on having as many in-between camps as possible. It keeps him focused and relaxes his mind.
“There was a question from everyone on my team after the Kambosos fight,” Lopez said. “They were looking at me. I need to make it right. I would have crushed Kambosos in two rounds if the Lomachenko version of me showed up. I was about 50-percent against Campo. I enjoy my failures. Before, I used to hate them. Now, as I’m maturing, when I fail, it’s part of my success.
“I’m pushing through in new areas that I didn’t push through before. When my coaches want three more, I would be like, ‘Hell no!’ Now I do it. That’s the difference. I always pushed myself. My standards are even higher.”
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.