For a man known for emphatic postfight celebrations, a raised hand made a louder statement than anything else Teofimo Lopez has done in the ring.
No backflip, jersey or Heisman pose could match one of the simplest acts in boxing. Lopez defeated Vasiliy Lomachenko by unanimous decision to win three of the four major lightweight belts (and the WBC franchise belt), and when the lightweight’s name was announced inside the MGM Grand Convention Center in Las Vegas on Saturday night, despite it being void of fans and the ovation it deserved, it signaled that a new era in the sport had officially arrived.
Teofimo Lopez is boxing’s next superstar.
He cemented that status with a win over Lomachenko — ESPN’s No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter — by a clear margin, as judges scored the fight 117-111, 119-102 and 116-112. Now, at 23 years old, Lopez is a unified lightweight champion, and the showmanship he displayed during his rise in the sport has now been matched by his in-ring accomplishments.
“I’m a fighter,” he said in the postfight interview on ESPN. “I gotta dig in deep. I knew he was coming. I can’t give him that.”
Lopez (16-0, 13 KOs) controlled the action for the first seven rounds until Lomachenko found his offense. And after faltering during the back end of the fight, Lopez rallied in the 12th round and answered 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 that was well worth the risk. Before this weekend, Lomachenko had stopped nine of his past 11 opponents, and was arguably boxing’s most dominant fighter. Lopez wanted the challenge of facing someone such as Lomachenko, even if it meant risking an undefeated record. Lopez cited some of the sport’s historic greats who opted for that approach.
“They didn’t care,” Lopez said in the prefight news conference. “They just wanted to put on a show for the fans and they wanted to show and prove [to] themselves that they are the best in their division. And that’s what it comes to.”
By doing that, and by winning, the charismatic, marketable and affable Lopez accelerated his path into boxing superstardom and made considerable progress down the path of being one of the sport’s most lucrative fighters.
For years, Top Rank has looked for ways to build Lopez’s brand as he built the foundation for his professional career. For the past two years, Lopez stole the show at Madison Square Garden on the heels of the Heisman Trophy presentation on ESPN, and he delivered on both occasions.
Not only did he win, including a second-round TKO over Richard Commey for the IBF belt that set up the Lomachenko opportunity, but he celebrated the victories with backflips while wearing the jerseys of the Heisman winners. He knew that being a good prizefighter meant being a great showman.
That held true during the build-up to the fight against Lomachenko. Lopez was vocal in his trash talk ahead of the bout. While some of the feelings of dislike might be legitimate, Lopez more or less admitted it was the role that needed to be played to create some drama around the title fight.
Teofimo Lopez breaks down his unanimous decision victory over Vasily Lomachenko, saying he had to dig deep if he wanted to win. He also previews what could be next for him.
“I’m not trying to get under his skin,” Lopez said. “I’m just being outspoken. Come that night, he wants to take it out on me, great. I’m trying to take it out on him, too. That’s what makes it a good fight. At the same time, we’re trying to promote the damn fight.”
With the win over Lomachenko, the combination of Lopez’s marketability and his pugilistic craftsmanship gives him one of the highest ceilings in the sport. Others including Gervonta Davis and Ryan Garcia arguably have a greater fan base and name recognition, but neither of them has the type of win that Lopez picked up this weekend, and Lopez’s performance on Saturday could easily close the gap in terms of popularity and recognition.
And as Lopez continues to move up in weight and chase down bigger names in weight and stature over the next few years, his appeal will only increase along with more top-level performances. If he goes up to junior welterweight, he could take on Jose Ramirez or Josh Taylor, two other Top Rank fighters who could hold all four major 140-pound title belts early in 2021.
Just like he wasn’t afraid to step up to the challenge of fighting Lomachenko, Lopez isn’t shy about taking on either guy.
“I’ll have Josh Taylor in the morning,” Lopez said, “and then I’ll have Jose Ramirez at night.”
That joke summed up why Lopez has one of the brightest futures in the sport. For years, Lopez has displayed elite levels of charisma. On Saturday, he matched that with a win over arguably the best boxer in the world.
The takeover is complete. And Lopez’s time at the top is just beginning.