LAS VEGAS – Teofimo Lopez is a 25-year-old young man whose boxing career has mostly been an expression of joy. He became a star not only with his boxing skills and his punching power, but with his radiant personality and his love for what he did.
Things changed, dramatically, in November. He struggled to make the 135-pound lightweight limit for a bout with George Kambosos Jr. He had a tear in his esophagus – before the fight – that doctors later told him could have killed him. And then he came out and got dropped early and dropped his decision, and the undisputed title, to the Australian.
He broke up with his wife, suffered countless personal problems and left the division where he had become a star.
“I was at 135 for about nine years, and I was killing my body,” he said Saturday.
He carried the weight of all those things, and more, with him into the ring on Saturday at the Resorts World Events Center against Pedro Campa in what he called “The Takeback.”
And while they bothered him early, by the end of the night, it was the old Lopez in there: Having fun, smiling, throwing big punches and getting a dramatic win. He stopped Campa at 2:14 of the seventh Saturday when referee Tony Weeks jumped in to stop it as Lopez rained down hard shots on Campa’s head.
He did his back flip and the million dollar grin was there for all to see. But he admitted later that it wasn’t all peaches and cream. He is a father now and his son, Teofimo Lopez V, was first in his thoughts as he climbed between the ropes.
“I’m not going to lie, there was a lot on my mind,” Lopez said. “I almost died my last fight and that weighed on my mind. I just had to clean it up. I’m not afraid to die, but the last thing I want to do is for my son to not have a father. That was the only thing that weighed on my mind, but I had to get that, I had to get that guy out, somehow somehow.”
Lopez started slowly and patiently. Campa wasn’t blessed with much hand or foot speed, though, and that allowed Lopez to get himself untracked by being patient. He boxed and moved, although he got hit more than would be optimal if he was facing one of the top dogs at 140 like Regis Prograis, Josh Taylor or Ryan Garcia.
But he continued to put coins in the bank Saturday, shredding Campa with quick and sharp right hands and the occasional jab. He didn’t go to the body much but that was more than enough for Campa.
His father/trainer, Teofimo Lopez Jr., was pleased.
“[Campa] came to win,” he said. “I don’t want to take anything away from him. He’s a tough guy. He’s really tough. He put on a show. But there is no one who can beat my son when he is healthy. He was healthy tonight and showed the world what he’s made of.”
Lopez began pounding Campa’s face in the sixth round, the toll of the fast, hard shots beginning to show.
Lopez deserves credit for staying within himself and working methodically to get Campa out. He hit him with a right hand and followed it up with a left hook to drop him a minute or so into the seventh. If he proved anything, Campa showed his toughness by getting up and getting back into the fight.
But Lopez is one of the best finishers in the sport and he was all over Campa, finishing him off with a flurry along the ropes.
The key, he said, was to stay calm and accept small victories during the fight.
“You have to take your time [because] little by little, those punches add up,” said Lopez. “In the end, it will hurt them. It may not do it right away, but in time, you will get them out. [You need to] trust God and trust the process.”
There are plenty of great potential fights for Lopez at featherweight, although most of the top fighters are busy. Former undisputed champion Josh Taylor, who dropped two of the belts, will rematch Jack Catterall in December.
Regis Prograis will face Jose Zepeda for the WBC belt. Ryan Garcia is negotiating for a fight with Gervonta Davis, who holds a lightweight belt.
Lopez wants Taylor because Taylor held all the belts before voluntarily surrendering the WBA and WBC belts, but he won’t be picky.
“I’m going to take all the boys and take away their dreams,” Lopez said. “I’m here to be their nightmare.”
His last outing was a nightmare. And while what he went through will likely stay with him in some form forever, he did a good job of pushing through and moving past it on Saturday.
The man known as “The Takeover” seems ready to take over again.