For the first time in 12 years of handing out year-end boxing awards for Yahoo Sports, the fighter I wanted to choose as my Prospect of the Year had such a great year that he could have been the Fighter of the Year.
OK, OK, I’ll admit: It’s a stretch to say that lightweight Teófimo López should be the 2018 Fighter of the Year, even though he went went 4-0 with three knockouts and beat guys who had a combined record of 103-19 at the time he faced them. But given that one guy, Juan Pablo Sanchez, had 14 of those 19 losses, it’s a pretty remarkable achievement for a 21-year-old boxer.
López is an easy choice as the Yahoo Sports Prospect of the Year, as he’s the one guy who seems a cinch to become not only a world champion but a major star.
He’s destined to be one of the sport’s most popular fighters. He’s got exceptional punching power, above average speed and as he showed by striking the Heisman pose after a first-round devastation of Mason Menard on Dec. 8, he’s got the flair to play to the crowd.
He was the Prospect of the Year for Yahoo Sports in 2017, as well, going 6-0 with five knockouts in his first full year as a pro. But he fought a vastly lower level of competition last year and didn’t show the complete package that he did in 2018, when he stood head and shoulders above other prospects.
There is one caveat to consider: He’s never been clipped on the chin. It’s all been one-sided action, as it is for most young prospects.
But as he’s progressed, he’s been stepped up in level of opposition with the thought that he would be challenged and his weaknesses exposed.
When he was put in against 14-1 Vitor Jones on May 12 at Madison Square Garden in one of the undercard fights beneath the lightweight title bout between Jorge Linares and Vasiliy Lomachenko, the bout was over in 64 seconds. That win announced his arrival at a new level.
He needed six rounds to finish 25-1 William Silva on July 14 in New Orleans, winning the bout easily before the finish.
And then on Dec. 8 at Madison Square Garden, on a night when Lomachenko would attempt to unify the lightweight belts against Jose Pedraza, López made another big step forward. He had a Knockout of the Year candidate against 34-3 veteran Mason Menard, and then struck the Heisman pose hours after the actual Heisman ceremony a few blocks from The Garden.
He’s young and full of himself and believes he can’t be beaten, though he doesn’t come off in the least as arrogant. He’s a fun kid who enjoys what he is doing and knows he has a special gift.
He’ll be tested in 2019 like he’s never been tested before. He’s already eager to fight Lomachenko, who has the WBA and WBO lightweight belts and is regarded by many as the pound-for-pound best fighter in the world. Lomachenko is far too experienced for López at this point, but if he keeps pushing the envelope and easily winning fights that are expected to challenge him, who knows what might happen?
“I think we’re sitting on a goldmine with this kid,” Top Rank chairman Bob Arum said. “Every time we match him, we think, ‘OK, this is the time we’ll see that he’s just 21 and still learning,’ and every time, he goes out there and looks so good, it’s scary. He’s got the kind of ability that you don’t see that often, but it’s going to be up to him to keep developing and keep improving.”
It’s unlikely he’ll get the hat trick as Prospect of the Year, though, because once a fighter competes for a world championship, he’s no longer considered a prospect. It’s all but certain López will fight for one lightweight belt or another in 2019.
López will face plenty of challenges in 2019 as he advances to the world-championship level.
Don’t be shocked, though, if he is a serious candidate at the end of 2019 for the Fighter of the Year. That’s the kind of talent López has.
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