For a man known for his emphatic post-fight celebrations, a raised hand made a louder statement than anything else Teofimo Lopez has done in the ring.
No backflip, leotard, or Heisman pose could match any of the simplest acts in boxing. Lopez defeated Vasiliy Lomachenko by a unanimous decision to win three of the four major lightweight belts (and the WBC franchise belt) and when the lightweight’s name was announced at the MGM Grand Convention Center in Las Vegas on Saturday night, despite no fans and the ovations it deserved signaled that a new era in sport had officially dawned.
Teofimo Lopez is the next boxing superstar.
He cemented that status with a win over Lomachenko ̵
“I’m a fighter,” he said in a postfight interview on ESPN. “I have to dive deep. I knew he was coming. I can’t give that to him.”
Lopez (16-0, 13 KOs) controlled the action for the first seven rounds until Lomachenko found his offense. And after stalling at the end of the fight, Lopez rallied on round 12 and responded to Lomachenko (14-2, 10 KOs) by digging deep and imposing his size on the former featherweight.
Lopez didn’t shy away from facing one of the toughest challenges in the sport, and that finish gave Lopez a reward well worth the risk. Before that weekend, Lomachenko had stopped nine of his last eleven opponents and was arguably the most dominant fighter in boxing. Lopez wanted the challenge of facing someone like Lomachenko, even if it meant risking an unbeaten record. Lopez quoted some of the sport’s historical greats who had taken this approach.
“They didn’t care,” Lopez said in the prefight press conference. “They just wanted to do a show for the fans and they wanted to show and prove [to] themselves that they are the best in their department. And that’s what it’s about. “
In this way, and through victory, the charismatic, marketable, and sociable Lopez accelerated his path to boxing superstar and made considerable strides towards becoming one of the sport’s most lucrative fighters.
For years, Top Rank has been looking for ways to build Lopez’s brand as it laid the foundation for his professional career. For the past two years, Lopez stole the show at Madison Square Garden following the Heisman Trophy presentation on ESPN and delivered it on both occasions.
Not only did he win, including a second round TKO against Richard Commey for the IBF belt that opened the opportunity for Lomachenko, but he also celebrated victories with backflips while wearing the Heisman winners’ shirts. He knew that a good prize fighter had to be a great showman.
This was true in the run-up to the fight against Lomachenko. Lopez was vocal in his trash talk before the fight. While some of the feelings of dislike might be legitimate, Lopez more or less admitted that it was the role that had to be played to create drama for the title shot.
Teofimo Lopez breaks off his unanimous win over Vasily Lomachenko, saying he’ll have to dig deep if he wants to win. He also gives a preview of what might be next for him.
“I’m not trying to get under his skin,” said Lopez. “I’m just being spoken. Come on tonight, he wants to get it out of me, great. I’m trying to take it out of him too. That makes it a good fight. At the same time, we are.” I’m trying to encourage the damn fight. “
In defeating Lomachenko, the combination of Lopez’s marketability and combative craftsmanship gives him one of the highest ceilings in the sport. Others, including Gervonta Davis and Ryan Garcia, arguably have bigger fan bases and notoriety, but none of them have the kind of win Lopez won this weekend, and Lopez’s Saturday performance could fill the gap in terms of popularity and recognition close easily.
And since Lopez is gaining more and more weight in the next few years and chasing bigger names in weight and stature, his attractiveness will only increase with more top performances. If he moves up to junior welterweight, he could take on Jose Ramirez or Josh Taylor, two other top fighters who could hold all four big 140-pound title belts in early 2021.
Just as he wasn’t afraid to face the challenge of fighting Lomachenko, Lopez isn’t afraid to face either of the two.
“I’ll have Josh Taylor in the morning,” said Lopez, “and then I’ll have Jose Ramirez in the night.”
This joke summed up why Lopez has one of the brightest futures in sports. Lopez has shown a high level of charisma for years. On Saturday he combined that with a victory over arguably the best boxer in the world.
The takeover is complete. And Lopez’s time at the helm is just beginning.