At just 21 years old, Teófimo López is already one of the best fighters in the world

Combat columnist
Yahoo Sports
Teófimo López (L) celebrates after knocking down Ronald Rivas during the second round of a lightweight boxing match Saturday, May 20, 2017, in New York. López stopped Rivas in the second round. (API)
Teófimo López (L) celebrates after knocking down Ronald Rivas during the second round of a lightweight boxing match Saturday, May 20, 2017, in New York. López stopped Rivas in the second round. (API)

Teófimo López qualifies as a prospect because of his age and his relatively small number of fights. López, who was the 2017 Yahoo Sports Prospect of the Year, could easily win it again in 2018.

But that would be too easy.

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Yeah, López is the best prospect in the game, maybe the best in a decade or more. He has everything it takes to be a star of the highest magnitude in boxing. To call this guy a prospect, though, is a disservice to him.

He’s simply one of the best fighters in the world.

Yeah, he’s only 21 and has been a pro for only two years. And yeah, he’s just 10-0 with eight knockouts. All it takes, though, is one quick glance at him to know that this guy is different than any other 21-year-old in the game.

He fights veteran Mason Menard, a 30-year-old with a 34-3 record and 24 knockouts on Saturday on ESPN at Madison Square Garden. That card is headlined by a WBA-WBO lightweight title unification bout between Vasiliy Lomachenko and Jose Pedraza.

Lomachenko is one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world, and in many eyes he’s No. 1. He’s an incredible 40-1 favorite over Pedraza, a world champion and former Olympian. Have no doubt, though, that López, even at the tender age of 21, would give Lomachenko a better test on Saturday than Pedraza, the veteran Puerto Rican.

López has a magnetic personality and a bluntness about him that doesn’t always serve fighters well. Sometimes, their words can come back to haunt them, but Lopez is supremely confident because he’s supremely talented.

As it stands today, Top Rank has Lomachenko and WBO welterweight champion Terence Crawford in the race for pound-for-pound best in the world. Yahoo Sports rates Crawford first, Lomachenko second and IBF welterweight champion Errol Spence third.

At this time in 2019, López could be in that company.

Yes, he’s that good.

Really.

“I remember in 1998 when Floyd [Mayweather] was still in the early stages of his career, he and his father came to us and asked to fight Genaro Hernandez,” Top Rank president Todd duBoef said. “Bob [Arum] and I said, ‘What? Are you crazy?’ Floyd was still a developing fighter and Genaro was maybe the best guy in the division at that point. But Floyd was so confident and he had no doubt what would happen.

“That’s how this kid [López] is. He thinks he can beat Loma. He’s got that incredible confidence and self-belief.”

López will be fighting for the first time since hand surgery in July. The hand, he said, is no problem and he said he’ll demonstrate that by pounding it on the side of Menard’s head for as long as the fight lasts on Saturday.

He’s slowly developing his man-strength and thinks his power, which is already well above average, is getting better.

“My Dad was telling me the other day that I’m hitting a lot harder than I ever have,” López said of his father, Teofimo Sr., who has trained him. “After we were hitting the mitts, he said his hands were hurting so bad.”

He has the kind of power that comes from good hand-speed, near-perfect timing, excellent accuracy and great torque. He turns into his punches the way that Tiger Woods rips into a golf ball, putting his entire body into it. And so, like Mike Tyson did when he knocked out Trevor Berbick in 1986 to win the heavyweight title, López can knock guys down twice with the same punch.

And his goal is, much like Tyson, not just to be a great boxer but also a cultural icon.

They’re big dreams for a 21-year-old, but López is one of the few with the talent that allows him to dream in that way.

“Becoming a world champion isn’t the end of the journey,” López said. “It’s the first step down a long road. I want to attract fans who aren’t into boxing now. I want to make them fans. I want everyone to be out there to know who I am, and when I’m fighting, it’s that huge kind of fight you have to see no matter what.

“I already think of myself in that way. I don’t want to take a backseat to anyone. That means every time out, you have to be better and you have to show new things and you have to look good. That’s me. That’s what I plan to do. It’s what I’m here for.”

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