Teofimo Lopez confident his personal and health issues are behind him ahead of super lightweight debut

As 2021 dawned, things looked up for Teofimo Lopez. He was still enjoying the afterglow of his victory in 2020 over Vasiliy Lomachenko that made him the undisputed lightweight champion.

In February, seemingly out of nowhere, Triller bid an astronomical $6.018 million to win the right to promote his mandatory title defense with George Kambosos Jr.

That, though, is where the good times basically ended. The year turned out to be a nightmare in so many ways for the easy-going, affable Lopez who, it turned out, was facing many problems behind the scenes.

The Triller purse bid turned out to be a debacle. It struggled to get a date and a location. When it was ready to promote the fight, Lopez got COVID-19 and forced postponement. Numerous dates and venues were proposed and repeatedly fell through.

Eventually, Triller defaulted and Matchroom Sport, which had come in second in the running with a bid of $3.56 million, got the rights to the fight and put it on.

Lopez was knocked down in the first and thoroughly outboxed, losing his title as a massive favorite. He stubbornly insisted he’d won and was booed by the very fans who had cheered him so passionately during the fight. Later, he alleged that because the fight had taken place on DAZN, it was fixed in Kambosos’ favor.

It didn’t make him look good.

All the while, Lopez dealt with the dissolution of his marriage to his wife, Cynthia. And after the loss to Kambosos, Lopez discovered that he’d fought with a potentially fatal health condition. Lopez was transported to Bellevue Hospital following the fight for an examination and was diagnosed with pneumomediastinum and had extensive air in the retropharyngeal space, according to a report by ESPN’s Mark Kriegel. Dr. Peter Constantino told Kriegel, “He’s lucky he’s not dead. I mean, really lucky.”

Teofimo Lopez is back in the ring Saturday after suffering his first career loss in November amid multiple health and personal issues. (Mikey Williams/Top Rank via Getty Images)
Teofimo Lopez is back in the ring Saturday after suffering his first career loss in November amid multiple health and personal issues. (Mikey Williams/Top Rank via Getty Images)

Lopez had a tear in his esophagus before the fight and was having trouble breathing. In retrospect, it seems like malpractice that Lopez was allowed to fight in that shape, but he said in an interview with Yahoo Sports that he never considered not going on with the show.

“I’m an entertainer,” Lopez told Yahoo Sports. “I’m someone who’s a performer. They’re paying me to go out there. ... I had 5,000-plus people at the Hulu Theater getting double vaccinations and going out of their way to come and watch me fight and to see me perform, you know? And it’s like, ‘What do I do?’ You know, the amount of postponements [because of Triller-related issues] — eight, nine postponements — you know, I would have had to postpone after the weigh-ins.

“Or, I would have canceled the day of the fight. I mean, that would have broke so many more people, you know? That would have been like, ‘Oh, what excuse [does] this kid has now? And it’s not an excuse. None of this was. Everything played out the way it needed to. … I learned from this. I learned that my health is everything, even if it has to disappoint the fans and everyone out there. I do everything. I’m a die-hard at boxing. I’m not just a fighter, but I’m also a boxing fan. I want to give the people what they need, what they want to watch.”

So he went forward, lost his titles and had some luster taken off his career. On Saturday at Resorts World in Las Vegas, he’ll return to the ring in a new weight class looking to prove he's changed for the better.

He’ll face Pedro Campa in his debut at super lightweight in a bout televised on ESPN.

He’s only 25 and one loss won’t ruin any fighter’s career. The question is whether he’s put the personal problems, the mental health issues and all the rest behind him.

He’s confident he has, but he knows it’s a prove-it business.

“I love what I do, and I have a passion for it,” Lopez said. “I’ll die in that ring for all my people out there. I realized, though, that now that I have a son, I have to be there for him. So I got to thinking more about those things, as well.

“I just turned 25. So I have time. [Author] JK Rowling, she was broke at 23. Disney filed for bankruptcy at 23. [Billionaire] Jeff Bezos was 23 [actually 16] flipping hamburgers at McDonald’s. So you know, I have time. And I’m just focused on what I do now moving forward.”

He’ll need to take care of Campa, which isn’t expected to be a huge task. Lopez is a -2500 favorite at BetMGM, with Campa coming in at +1000.

Much of what has troubled Lopez in his young life remains a secret. But he said he’s developed coping mechanisms and plans to once again remind the world of his enormous talents.

“I meditate, man,” he said. “I get closer. I connect with the universe. I connect with God. I just do all those things that are going to help my sanity, especially in today's world, where everything's all on the phone, you know? So I take my time to really enjoy the fruits of God’s labor. You know, I really come out to that point and I just connect more with, I just ground myself more.

“And then I spend time with my son, [and] give him that love that I can give him that I learned from my previous life, and from my upbringing, and just doing the best I can as a father, as a brother, as a son. I’m doing the best that I can as a man myself, and not only that, [but] as an idol for everyone out there. But I tell everyone who wants to be like Teofimo or be in this position, 'Do not be like me. Be better than me.'”