There’s only one thing left to debate in order to name boxing’s best prospect in 2018: whether Teofimo Lopez Jr. still qualifies as one. If he does—and we believe so, because that’s what we’re naming him—the contest for the sport’s most promising young fighter is as close as one of his fights, which often end in the first round, after Lopez knocks out both his opponent and his customary celebratory backflip.
Lopez is 21 years old, with nine knockouts in 11 victories and owns the kind of power that reminds longtime observers of boxing’s best KO artists. So far, anyway. He fought four times in 2018, in three different states. He won all four bouts, ending three of them early. And this followed his six wins in 2017, as the buzz around Lopez and his bludgeoning power continued to build.
Does he think he’s still a prospect? “Last Saturday I showed everyone what I can do against a veteran,” he says. “Mason Menard is no walk-over. He’s bigger than me. That was my first time at 135. I still outperformed him and did what I did.”
What he did: climb into a ring inside The Madison Square Garden Theater, for his first fight after hand surgery, then stand face-to-face with his most experienced opponent yet, then knock the veteran Menard (34-4) not only out but out cold, with an overhand right hook in not only the first round but the first minute. “Calling me a prospect is OK, but it doesn’t take away from what I did,” Lopez says. “Calling me that is fine. But 2019 is when we go to contender status.”
Lopez has even named his rise, which started in late 2016: The Takeover. His sister mentioned the phrase casually while doing her makeup at the end of last year. Now, Lopez is putting it on T-shirts. He says he’s trying to obtain a trademark. Has the paperwork and everything. He has seen other fighters start to use it.
Few, if any, can replicate Lopez’s power, which seems to result from his torque, complemented by hand speed and timing that seem advanced for a fighter who’s only 21. In some ways, he recalls a smaller Mike Tyson, although that comparison seems too easy. Tyson was one of Lopez’s favorite boxers growing up, along with Floyd Mayweather Jr. But his biggest influence was his father, Teofimo Lopez Sr., a street fighter who passed along his toughness. “I have my father’s punch,” Junior says. “They called him Fimo Famoso, Famous Fimo. And he used to just knock everybody out. Back in the day, when they ran marathons in New York, him and his cousins would just go knock people out.” He pauses, then clarifies. “Like the runners,” he says.
Lopez believes he’s still developing and that his power will only increase as he matures, which should scare most fighters in the 135, 140 and 147 divisions. He’s still four years from his prime, Lopez says, and “I can only imagine what’s going to happen when I have my full man strength.”
Lopez Sr. is from Honduras but lived most of his life in Brooklyn, where Junior was born. They moved to Davie, Fla., during his childhood, in part, Junior says, because of rent and parking prices in New York. Recently, the family moved to Las Vegas.
The young fighter is blunt, charismatic and full of personality, and when combining all that with his thunderous power, Lopez shows all signs that he’s ready to compete at the highest levels of the sport. He’s ready to reach those levels, too, immediately. He wants to fight for a world tile in 2019, wants to fight the best opponents around 135, wants even Vasyl Lomachenko, one of the top pound-for-pound boxers in the world, if not the overall No. 1. Lopez says he wants to box for that world title by his birthday, Nov. 5. He guarantees that he’ll be a world champion next year, no longer in consideration for prospect awards, but looking to win the ones for best fighter instead.