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2018 Prospect of the Year: Teofimo Lopez

By Jake Donovan

From the moment he was sent packing thanks to some horrific scoring in the 2016 Rio Oympics, Teofimo Lopez swore that the controversy would motivate him to the point where he’d never again lose in the ring.

It remains to be seen just how far he can carry out that promise, but so far the unbeaten lightweight has barely lost a single round in the pro ranks – a run he and his handlers have aptly branded “The Takeover.”

It’s not from a lack of trying on the part of Top Rank’s matchmakers, who’ve continued to elevate his level of competition. Lopez continues to rise to the occasion every time out, putting a cherry on the top of his 2018 campaign with a highlight reel knockout of Mason Menard.

The ease in which he tore through the still serviceable trialhorse was a clear indication that Lopez is done with the prospect level—just at the right time, as he leaves that stage with well-deserved recognition as 2018 Prospect of the Year.

The brash 21-year old from Brooklyn entered 2018 barely a full year into the pro ranks, racking up seven wins in his first 13 months in the pro ranks. All of the wins came against made-to-order competition, prompting the Top Rank staff to seek out opponents who can at least offer Lopez a new look.

Four fights later, that same challenge still exists.

Juan Pablo Sanchez came into his Feb. ’18 clash with Lopez bearing the look of a garden variety opponent-type from Mexico. Immediately lost in his 30-14 record, however, was the manner in which Sanchez was able to provide a stiff challenge to those who’d eventually prevail.

He succeeded in becoming one of just two opponents to extend Lopez (11-0, 9KOs) the distance, ending their bout on his feet but virtually shut out on the scorecards.

The likes of Vitor Jones, William Silva and Menard weren’t as fortunate, nor did any even come close to hearing the final bell.

In Vitor Jones, Lopez was given an opportunity to shine on the undercard of a Vasiliy Lomachenko-headlined show at MSG’s Hulu Theatre, It was the first of two times in which the Honduran-American served in supporting capacity to Lomachenko, the two-time Olympic Gold medalist who climbed off the canvas to knock out Jorge Linares in becoming a three-division titlist.

Lopez’ night was much easier, stopping Jones in just over a minute. The quick hit was enough to bring the still 20-year old back into the ring just two months later, where he fought through injury in manhandling William Silva.

So bored was Lopez of the challenge in front of him that he chose to carry his Brazilian opponent who’d previously extended Felix Verdejo the 10-round distance. Lopez threatened to close the show inside of a round, but eased off the gas and opted to go a few rounds before putting Silva away in six.

The slowed pace—by Lopez’s standards—was for good reason, having suffered a fractured right hand which required surgery and a few months rest. The healing process came quick enough to get in one more fight in 2018, one which would see Lopez forever leave his prospect status in the rearview mirror.

In the opening bout of an ESPN-televised tripleheader topped by Lomachenko’s lightweight title unification win over Jose Pedraza, Lopez lived up to his pre-fight promise of stealing the show.

His competition that night wasn’t so much Menard as it was what would take place later in the show: Emmanuel Navarrete not only shocking previously unbeaten 122-pound titlist Isaac Dogboe, but doing so in dominant fashion; and Lomachenko adding yet another entry in his already historic career.

Both were spectacular moments in 2018, yet somehow managed to fall short of what took place at the top of the telecast.

Fully healed and eager to make a statement in what he knew was his final fight as a prospect, Lopez closed the show almost immediately after it began and in spectacular fashion.

Menard earned a reputation as a potent puncher thanks to a pair of highlight-reel knockouts on Showtime’s ShoBox circuit. Even in stoppage losses to Raymundo Beltran—who went on to win a lightweight title—and unbeaten prospect Devin Haney, the Louisiana-based lightweight showed his durability, which was expected to be displayed—and tested—versus Lopez.

One right hand shot changed all of that in a hurry.

A perfectly placed temple shot rendered Menard out cold, pitching face forward to the canvas in a moment that trended worldwide and made the rounds on ESPN’s Sportscenter.

The good news for Lopez’s handlers is that there no longer exists a need to search for opponents that will further develop him on the prospect level. Up next is a February 2 showdown versus two-time title challenger Diego Magdaleno in Frisco, Texas.

When Lopez enters the ring for what will serve as the stiffest test of his career, he will take his first step as a rising contender. His last step on the previous level was enough to leap into the spotlight—and into the winner’s circle as 018 Prospect of the Year.

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