Teofimo Lopez must learn to motivate himself for more than just the big fights

 | February 12 | 

3 mins read

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Teofimo Lopez continues to be one of boxing’s most confounding enigmas. On Thursday night, ‘The Takeover’ flattered to deceive against Jamaine Ortiz, escaping with a unanimous decision win that many deemed him lucky to receive. Even those who were sympathetic to the WBO super lightweight champion’s efforts would concede it was a dull fight in which Lopez did not excel.

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The fact that this damp squib came after Teofimo’s superb victory over Josh Taylor to capture the championship last June only adds to the confusion. How could Lopez have dazzled against the lineal kingpin but crumbled when faced with an inferior opponent?

We have been here before with Lopez and last time the consequences were even more dire. ‘El Brooklyn' entered a career-best performance to score a huge upset win over Vasiliy Lomachenko in October 2020. But after becoming a pound-for-pound superstar overnight, Lopez would immediately lose the unified lightweight title to George Kambosos Jr in his next bout. 

A pattern is emerging here. When faced with Lomachenko and Taylor, the best in their respective divisions at the time Lopez boxed them, ‘The Takeover’ dazzled us with his brilliance. But against opposition he was expected to handle with relative ease, Teofimo faltered. 

This paints a picture of a man for the big occasion. Under the right circumstances, this is a great trait to have. Some fighters wilt under the bright lights. Their skills hid under a bushel on the big nights, daunted by the glamour. But Lopez has the opposite problem. Put him in a box office bout and he is every inch the A-lister. But ask him to do the more mundane work of a champion, the mandatories and the rank-and-file contenders, and the magic evaporates.

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Is the solution as simple as matching him solely with the best? Perhaps Top Rank need to acknowledge their man fights the occasion, not the opponent. That giving him soft touches will make their own man soft too. Lopez is boxing’s answer to Rogue from the X-Men. He seems to absorb the powers of those he meets in battle. The best opponents make him stronger, the rest make him weaker.

In the super lightweight division, there is a clear solution. A fight with Devin Haney, the WBC champion, would surely ignite the fire inside Lopez. He does his best work when he faces the best and there is an argument for Haney being at the top of the pound-for-pound tree. ‘The Dream’ holds wins over Lomachenko and Kambosos, two figures who have been pivotal in Lopez’s journey. Haney’s title win over Regis Prograis demonstrated that his considerable skills have travelled up to 140lbs well.

The issue here is Haney now has a date in the diary with Ryan Garcia. The division is short of other huge headline names, though there are quality fighters to be found. But would a bout with Jack Catterall or Rolly Romero inspire Lopez to hit the heights? Would a unification with little-known IBF champion Subriel Matas get him in that elite mindset? It’s hard to say.

Something needs to change for Lopez. Whether he walks a road paved only with the finest challengers or he finds a way to become inspired by more workmanlike taste, he cannot continue like this. Otherwise another Kambosos-style humbling is in the offing. Lopez can be one of the best fighters in the world. But he needs to show that against everyone he faces.

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