You all bloody well know it could go either way, because you have seen it go both ways for decade after decade.
The set-up: the prospect ascends, promises one and all that he will rise to the top, and kick ass when he gets there. Whomever is at the apex, that person will get chucked off the mountain. Along the way, some believe, but most don’t, because most of us have to be shown with our own eyes.
Teofimo Lopez talked a hell of a game on the way up, and he got dissed and dismissed plenty by people who thought he was a loud-mouth from New York with an even louder-mouth father/trainer, both of whom would get theirs, have their mouths shut conclusively when they got that marquee bout they agitated for.
Sometimes the tussle for that real estate at the peak sees the prospect take the L, that pugilistic version of the Icarus fable in living color. Other times the rising talent’s performance matches the immensity of their confidence, and they get the W, as Lopez did on Oct. 17 against Vasiliy Lomachenko.
Arguably, an even harder task is now there to grapple. That space at the peak is his. He got to the place he said he would. Now, Teofimo stops and looks around. He spends some time counting the stacks, reading some of the glowing reviews. And then, there’s more time. And he can order room service at home.
There are cars to buy, if he wants, houses to purchase, and no shortage of sellers dangling goodies in front of them. He can do the tally of his future earnings in his head, and he can spend his money without wisdom, and his time with excess cockiness.
I’m here, and what does that say about me? It says that I was right, all you MF’ing doubters were wrong, so F you, I’m going to re-count the stack, and yes, that Bentley would look good next to my Ferrari.
That scene is an old one, and we will see the sequels, however many, until the end of time. There’s no egregious shame in it; it is human nature on display, and who among us is immune from having the negative sides of our innate nature announce themselves to bad effect?
So when I saw the clip posted on Instagram Nov. 10, which showed Teofimo Lopez in the gym, hoisting weights, while wearing that boot on his right foot to aid in the recovery of the surgery he had after beating Loma, I smiled.
I smiled because I want him to succeed. I want him to succeed because he proved what I’d suspected, what I’d spoken on two years ago, that his package of talent and charisma could be the sort to give us a premier marquee athlete, and help give the sport as a whole a hand up. Because we need it.
Plenty of our pound-for-pound best the last few years do possess a strong physical skill set, but that other side of the coin, the personality, well — they do possess a strong physical skill set. Lopez has both. Ryan Garcia has both. And there are a couple other guys that threaten to have both out there, and we who dig the sport/cover the sport/try to make a living in the sport should all want that to be so.
But getting that first breakthrough win can represent the career peak for many a man. You all know this and have seen it happen. That’s because once someone reaches the place they’d pictured themselves getting to for maybe 10 or more years, it is completely natural to relax.
A break is damn well deserved for anyone who wins a fight the sort of which Lopez did against Lomachenko. But oh, how crucial it is that the break is merely a pause, and not a shift in mindset.
In a phone chat with Lopez, I talked about that image of him being back in the gym, looking reasonably close to his fighting weight, and what that image told me. Teofimo being Teofimo, he took that ball, ran with it, and then kept on hurtling down the field. Stiff-arming would-be tacklers, like possible rivals like Devin Haney, he also shows himself to be a wise player, in that he held his tart tongue a few times when he could have “gone Brooklyn” and put one or two folks on blast.
So, I asked, are you having fun? is this what you thought it would be?
“Absolutely,” Teofimo said. “I’m just thankful. I’m mainly staying in shape, but I haven’t been doing any cardio since my fight. (Note: He had surgery to repair foot fractures three weeks ago.) I’m keeping my muscles tight. And it’s been great, the feeling, every week I was getting another belt. They’ll look good once I get the house finished.”
The house he refers to is being built in Arkansas — yeah, the Brooklyn/Florida/Vegas guy is settling in the mid-south. “There are moments when I can feel it, the whole moment, cherish it, and other times I think, ‘It’s not that big.’ But in reality, it is.”
This all makes sense. He did the climb, and you saw some of the effects on him. The footage we saw of him getting emotional in camp, talking about his dad, you saw how stress can arise when people are fixated on a goal. Too fixated? In retrospect it doesn’t seem so, but during low moments before the payoff, maybe it seemed like it was questionable whether this goal was the right one to pursue.
That doesn’t seem to be present in his head now. What is present?
“What’s next, what more is there to do, and to do it,” Lopez said. “It’s all about making history. I’m 23 years old, and there’s so many things I can do. My main next goal is to be undisputed at 140.”
And in the nearer-term future, he will keep an eye out for when that Jose Ramirez vs Josh Taylor unification match unfolds, because the winner of that is someone he can see himself fighting.
“The winner of that one is a potential fight by the end of 2021. Hopefully people won’t move to 147, so I can grab all those belts. Yeah, the belts are meaningful. The belts mean everything, at least to me. In this era, it may not seem so, but to go back to how it was back then. The world champion was the best in the division. I cherish that. This era is shit, pure shit.”
And there I laughed again. You gotta love that candid talk. At least I do, and not from just anyone. Coming from one of these guys that talk an exquisite game on social media, but don’t have that same energy in forcing the most meaningful fights to get made, I would not have cracked a smile at the “pure shit” quote.
“Hopefully, we made some change, we’re gonna motivate these fighters to make tough fights, and be better,” he continued. “Help teach them that you could become a superstar, a mega star if you fight tough, but nobody gets to become a real star if they don’t. You get nothing if you don’t, nothing is given, nothing big comes easy. You gotta take risk.
“The new generation coming up, they need to know this. We are the new takeover, I’m the leader, I’m the captain of the takeover! We are taking over.”
Teofimo said he’s optimistic that people who haven’t been operating under these standards can and will come around.
“In due time; some will continue to beat the opponents matchmakers are matching them with. Then, eventually, they’ll want to be in an event facing a tough opponent, someone people think they’ll lose to, and they’ll win. Boxing will come back to reality, to it not being strictly a business.”
That happens, he says, when the fights that fans want to get made are made. And when most everyone is operating under the same sort of directions to self: “I want to show everyone that I’m the best.”
I like the bigger picture dreaming, it shouldn’t be seen as pipe dreaming, either. But are people coming around?
“Devin Haney is not coming around,” Teofimo said. “Ryan Garcia, we’ll see, I think he is coming around. But Devin needs to step it up. Who has he fought? Nobody even knows the names of the guys he’s faced. Then he’s fighting (Yuriorkis) Gamboa, a guy with a pulse. You want to see how he does. If he takes the guy out quick, he’s a contender.
“Gervonta Davis, he don’t get it. He’s doing it the way Floyd Mayeather would do it, the way ‘Money Mayweather’ would do it. These guys need to be encouraged (to do it the Teofimo way). I took the fight with Lomachenko because I believed I was the best. If everyone was not on board with that, OK, cool, I wasn’t surprised. I see you, fuck you. Maybe you’re gonna be pissed when I beat him.”
He didn’t stop or slow down — the kid was warmed up, the combos flowed nicely.
“I’m trying to show everyone out there, yeah, money is definitely something we go to, you wanna make those big paydays. But it needs to be like it used to be. Devin has been getting easy money, for when he fights No. 50 in his division! These cats, man, if that’s how they wanna play their whole career, and not be known as a real fighter, as someone who picked and chose and only wanted money, OK.”
We spoke about one or two guys who have made sick bank, but yet still kvetch. It doesn’t seem like the glorious pay grade has solved all their problems.
“It only gets harder from here on out,” Lopez opined. “You know what Biggie used to say, mo’ money, mo’ problems. Everyone wants what I have. It can get lonely at the top. Everyone is with you right now, but what happens on a bad night?”
I think you have to be impressed with what you saw on Oct. 17, and maybe even more the sort of wisdom you hear coming from the kid right there. He knows that entourages curdle to near zero when an L, then two, pop up. He doesn’t say it like he’s prematurely bitter, he says it with a surprising sagacity.
If you didn’t think his “Takeover” would get off that runway on Oct. 17, do you maybe give him more respect now? Yeah, he’s cocky, but this guy can match his talk with his walk.