A week from Saturday, Teofimo Lopez returns to Madison Square Garden with his continued quest for another takeover and this time looking to take all the belts at junior welterweight. Almost three years ago, we heard about a takeover associated with Lopez at the Garden.
Then, Lopez sent Richard Commey to the canvas in the second round. It was the beginning of a successful takeover to take the undisputed lightweight titles off Vasyl Lomachenko, the adversary he dethroned with a unanimous decision a year later at an empty arena (or bubble, if you will) in Las Vegas at the height of a COVID Pandemic.
What followed was the beginning of a so-called decline for a fighter who had it all. Lopez ran into obstacles with his health after losing the titles with a controversial split decision to George Kambosos Jr. at the smaller room Hulu Theatre at the Garden.
That was a fight that caught Lopez off guard. The issues with his breathing and later revealing he almost lost his life in the ring, but Teofimo Lopez, has faced adversity many times before the takeover at lightweight was complete.
The critics always had doubts about his mentality. They said there was too much interference from the outside, including his own dad who has been in his corner from the first day he stepped in a boxing ring.
That was then and this is now. Lopez vowed to be a champion again, this time, though, beginning another takeover in a 140-pound division that has quickly become a mecca of the sport. He is in another comfort zone and admits fighting at 140 is more natural.
But the mecca for Lopez is Madison Square Garden. He has a following in New York. The Hondorian born and one-time Brooklyn fighter, now living in Las Vegas, is again in a comfort zone with his original promoters at Top Rank Boxing.
Lopez and Top Rank will tell you that staging a mega fight at the Garden is where he belongs. This is home and Saturday evening December 10, his ESPN televised fight versus former European champion Sano Martin will be another homecoming.
Top Rank will highlight some of their elite talent on the card, including upcoming and undefeated 20-year old Zander Zayes, their rising star from San Juan, Puerto Rico. But the main event is about Teofimo Lopez in his second fight at 140.
Of course, there had to be another obstacle, though this time circumstances beyond control of the fighter as Jose “Sniper” Pedraza, his original opponent, had to pull out of the fight two weeks ago because of a COVID related illness.
Nothing new here with the adversity, this time preparing for a different opponent on short notice with a significant fight that has implications for a title opportunity. Again, Teofimo Lopez hears the critics and many would prefer the former champion to focus on his opponent at hand instead of looking ahead and talking about another takeover.
He seeks to become a two-time undisputed champion in the modern four belt title era.
“We wish Jose Pedraza a speedy recovery but we look forward to facing Sandor Martin,” Lopez said. “He was the opponent we originally wanted. I will continue to silence the doubters as I take over the 140-pound division. I look forward to giving my hometown fans a special night of boxing.”
However, that division is proving to be a tough hurdle, perhaps more difficult from the first Lopez lightweight takeover because elite fighters are all eyeing superiority in a division that highlights the sport. This past Saturday, Regis Prograis recorded a 11th round KO over Jose Zepada for the vacant WBC super lightweight title and became a two-time champion in the division.
Jose Ramirez, a former champion, is in the mix. As is Josh Taylor who once held the title now held by Prograis.
Lopez, though, has been focused on his upcoming return at the Garden and by no fault of his own was noticeably sitting on the sidelines as Prograis went about his business. He wants the titles and will take this one step at a time.
It’s a tough road to climb, but this is Teofimo Lopez who has been in this position. There is also talk Devin Haney, the current undisputed lightweight champion, will move up in weight and take on Lopez down the line which would be a potential mega fight on the horizon.
“I can’t wait to show why Teofimo is the greatest of all time,” he said prior to his August 7th round stoppage over Pedro Campa, his first fight at 140. “At the end of the day, this ain’t my first rodeo. 21 years in the game, Blood, sweat and tears.”
This new takeover at Madison Square Garden won’t be his last rodeo.
Rich Mancuso: [email protected] Facebook.com/Rich Mancuso. Watch “Sports With Rich” with Rich and Robert Rizzo Tuesday evening live 8pmET on the SLG Network and YouTube