Teofimo Lopez has already established himself on the cusp of superstardom as boxing’s biggest talent and personality.
It returns to the point that first provided the biggest derailment of this climb.
The 25-year-old from Brooklyn stunned the legendary Vasily Lomachenko in Las Vegas in 2021 to become the combined IBF, WBA and WBO world lightweight champion. It catapulted him from a promising prospect to the sport’s pound-for-pound ranking as one of the best fighters in boxing.
Then he returned home to Madison Square Garden and surprised himself. In his first unification title defense, Lopez lost the belt and much of his built-up power to George Kambosos by split decision in Boxing’s Rookie of the Year. After the fight, he said he was struggling with pneumomediastinum, or air pockets in his chest, heart and neck, which made it difficult to breathe.
After his first loss, Lopez (17-1) moved up to welterweight and began his new chapter, The Takeback, by TKOing veteran Pedro Campa in August.
Lopez has had a mixed history at Madison Square Garden, where he won his first world title in 2019 with a TKO victory over Richard Commie. A year ago, his announcement of Mason Menard as “Knockout of the Year” in the arena made him one of the top prospects in boxing.
Now he has the opportunity to return to Madison Square Garden and return to where he believes – in championship fights and the biggest fights in boxing. Lopez faces Sandor Martin (40-2) in a 10-round WBC junior middleweight title fight on Saturday night (9 p.m., ESPN+). Regis Prograis recently captured the vacant WBC junior middleweight belt, and a win by Lopez will give Lopez a shot at a two-division title.
“This is my home,” Lopez told The Post before the fight. “I’ve fought here seven times, this will be number 8… I’m going to win my first world title at Madison Square Garden in 2019 by beating a former champion and a champion who was there. I entered These are moments they can never take away from me. No one can. Who can say they won their first World Championship at Madison Square Garden? Most people can’t. And who fought there? The greats like Joe Frazier, Muhammad Ali. Madison Square Garden, the mecca of boxing, sports, arena of arenas. Madison Square Garden is where legends are born.
The experienced junior middleweight and European champion offers a familiar threat to Martin Lopez. In a major upset last year, he stunned all-time great and four-division champion Mikey Garcia by majority decision, retiring that tag.
Martin, a native of Spain, enters on an 11-fight winning streak and is ranked 15th best in the division by all four recognized sanctioning bodies.
But that’s why López accepted the opponent who replaced Jose Pedraza at the last minute. He is obsessed with winning the biggest fights possible, regardless of the risk. It is this that has made him one of the most attractive rising stars, and it will help him regain the upper echelons of the boxing hierarchy.
“I like challenges, I like overcoming challenges,” Lopez said. “Because adversity is what separates us from being the greatest and the greatest. … How do we do that? We have to give the fans what they want to see. If I have to give you what you need to see, I’m going to charge less. I’m a fighter. That’s what a true champion is, a man who believes in himself.
“The only thing I fear is Prograis [after his last bout] Told me all about getting in the face and getting knocked out, that was his job – “If the money was right.” Oh my god, are you dumb or stupid? It’s not about money, money will always come. When you chase money, it always works faster. I’m going after fame.”
López has already tasted that glory and after the first setback, he may be bracing himself for another shot at it. The card, which also features youngsters like Jared Anderson, Xander Zayas and Keyshawn Davis, is billed as a night for the next generation.
After emerging as one of the faces of that next generation, Lopez has likely seen others dig up or replace his stature. But when he returns to his favorite spot, The Takeback continues.
“It’s a great moment and opportunity,” Lopez said. The scale of it, I understand and I’m ready to do whatever I can to give the fans and everyone there a great show. I just want to be world champion. So let’s make these fights happen, first we have to finish this guy Sandor Martin December 10th. After that, we’ll move on to whoever wants to see us in April.