By Jake Donovan
From the moment he was informed of his placement on the card, Teofimo Lopez had every intention of stealing the show.
Of course, the unbeaten Brooklynite carries that mentality into every fight as part of “The Takeover” movement that has been associated with his career since turning pro two years ago. Still, additional motivation was provided by his return to Madison Square Garden’s Hulu Theatre last Saturday— his fourth career fight on MSG grounds and second in the basement venue—and making an impression on the sold-out crowd on hand largely for Vasiliy Lomachenko’s lightweight title unification victory over Jose Pedraza.
Opening the ESPN-televised tripleheader, Lopez didn’t just make a statement but put the entire lightweight division on notice following his highlight-reel one-punch 1st round knockout of Mason Menard. The finishing blow was a temple shot produced by the very right hand that Lopez had fractured in a 6th round stoppage of William Silva in July.
“We trained really hard for this fight, preparing for the 10 round distance but training like we were going 12,” Lopez (11-0, 9KOs) told BoxingInsider.com of his preparation for what now rates as a leading contender for 2018 Knockout of the Year. “I was just coming off this injury and wanted to show everyone what I can do with my right hand.
“I told everyone if I saw Menard hurt, I wasn’t going to waste any time like I did in my last fight where we chose to carry Silva for a few rounds. The second I saw him hurt, I glanced over at my father (Teofimo Sr., Lopez’ head trainer) and we both knew the end of the fight was near. I hit him with the left to the body, saw how he reacted and knew he was done.”
The right hand shot to the temple left Menard knocked out long before he hit the ground, pitching forward face-first in collapsing to the canvas.
Lopez celebrated the moment in grand style. The undefeated lightweight donned a Kyler Murray jersey in commemoration of the Oklahoma Sooner college quarterback having just won the Heisman Trophy in a ceremony preceding the ESPN boxing telecast, and even striking a Heisman pose in-ring for the cameras.
“I was going to do the Heisman pose no matter what,” Lopez explained. “It worked out for us that Kyler won. My manager David McWater is a huge Oklahoma fan, the Split T Management company was founded there. So we were excited when he won and incorporated it into our own winning performance.”
On a night where the co-feature saw a significant upset in Emanuel Navarrete’s well-earned decision win over previously unbeaten 122-pound titlist Isaac Dogboe and the main event featured a leading pound-for-pound entrant in Lomachenko, Lopez continues to dominate headlines and for good reason.
Not only did he manage to steal the show; an added bonus came in upstaging a divisional rival for whom he has little respect.
“As soon as they told me I’d be fighting at Madison Square Garden again, I was all in,” Lopez notes of the initial offer. “The only thing that bothered me about it was having to fight on the same show as Lomachenko. I really don’t like that guy, at all if I’m being honest.
“But fighting at MSG and on a huge platform like ESPN? That’s a no-brainer, so we just looked past that and really just used being on his show as a motivating tool to fight the way we did. My own goal is to attract the fans worldwide. Every time I step in the ring, I want to make sure I bring more than I did the last time I fought.”
That’s scary news for whomever is next in line – and also a bold statement, considering Lopez put up the equivalent of a perfect game. Knowing that it will become increasingly harder for the brass at Top Rank to find the type of opponents to further develop his career, the next likely step is to rapidly advance from prospect to title contender.
“This is why we signed with Top Rank, they know better than anyone how to move a fighter,” notes Lopez, who joined the Las Vegas-based outfit after the 2012 Rio Olympics, where he represented Honduras in honor of his parents after being snubbed by the USA Boxing program. “They brought in (Menard) because he was supposed to be tougher than the last guy I fought. So the next guy needs to be even tougher, whether it’s a contender or even one of the champions.”
Lopez is targeted to return to the ring next February or March, the latter option putting him back at Madison Square Garden on the undercard of another pound-for-pound star in unbeaten welterweight titlist Terence Crawford.
“I want to fight as soon as possible, but coming back in March would be fine since it means I’d be fighting again at Madison Square Garden,” notes Lopez. “I’ve fought here four times and won by knockout every time. This last one was my best one, not just the knockout but who I fought and that it came on a card like this.”
While Saturday’s show was never intended as a launching pad towards a showdown with Lomachenko, a rivalry has already begun. BoxingTalk.com founder Greg Leon broke the news of the two camps—although not the fighters themselves—getting into a brief skirmish at a participating hotel during fight week.
Lomachenko and his team didn’t take kindly to comments from Lopez Sr., although the Lopez family doesn’t seem particularly concerned. In fact, they’re more than ready to back up any claims of superiority.
“One of the belts I just won was the USBA lightweight title, which is the regional title for the IBF,” Lopez said. “So that gave me a sign that I will be fighting for a world title next year. That title is vacant (Richard Commey—who was ringside—is due to face Isa Chaniev for the vacant title next February), so I’d love to fight whoever wins it after my next fight.
“From there, I’d love to get Lomachenko in the ring and beat him too before I move up to 140. I can still make weight, but (at 21 years old) am still growing and know I won’t be here forever. I want to win my first title at lightweight and hopefully be at this weight long enough to beat all the champs including Lomachenko, either next year or 2020.”