The cold, dispassionate numbers on a screen tell one story: Teofimo Lopez has been, they suggest, his usual brilliant self in 2019.
Lopez opened the season as one of the hottest fighters in the sport, the Yahoo Sports Prospect of the Year in 2017 and 2018, the only fighter chosen twice in the 12 years one has been selected. He has won all three fights, which came against boxers with a combined 80-4 record, including two by knockout.
He was good enough that he earned a championship shot, which will come on Saturday at Madison Square Garden in New York when he challenges IBF champion Richard Commey for the lightweight belt.
But if 2017 and 2018 were the years of ear-to-ear grins and dynamic KOs for Lopez, 2019 has been a darker, more difficult year for the affable 22-year-old.
These should be the times of his life. He’s a newlywed with world-class talent and a charismatic personality which screams star.
But his parents, particularly his father/trainer, Teofimo Lopez Sr., have made his life extremely difficult for him. They haven’t hidden their disdain for Teofimo Jr.’s wife. Top Rank executives have pleaded with Junior to get another trainer, not believing that his father could help him fulfill his potential.
Senior resisted any change, but Junior brought in Joey Gamache for this camp to serve as another set of eyes and ears and to make suggestions.
The pressure that the father’s trash talk, particularly about Vasiliy Lomachenko, placed on the son’s shoulders has been enormous, ridiculous and wholly unnecessary.
Junior has tried to be everything to everybody and it’s made the year a mess for him despite his victories.
When he was asked about Lomachenko, he interrupted a reporter.
“I really don’t want to talk about Lomachenko or answer any questions about him,” Junior said. “I’m fighting Richard Commey. That’s the only thing that matters to me. That’s where my focus is.”
So much of his story, though, has been on the pursuit of Lomachenko. After a 2018 victory in New York, Lopez Sr. saw Lomachenko and let loose a string of invectives, insisting his son would pummel him along with many other threats.
Lomachenko’s team was stunned; not intimidated, because he’s arguably the top fighter in the world and an upstart pro wasn’t going to worry him too much. But they clearly didn’t get the attacks since Lopez Jr. was so far away from a fight with them and there was no previous animosity between the camps.
Multiple trainers interviewed for this story declined to comment on the record, but none had good things to say about Lopez Sr. and the way he’s handled his son.
Top Rank employees roll their eyes at his antics, helpless to do much but to encourage Teofimo Jr. to look for another trainer.
It puts a needless burden on Junior’s shoulders, but as he often does, he finds a way to say the right thing.
“My father wants what’s best for me and he gets excited,” Teofimo Jr. told Yahoo Sports. “He wants that [Lomachenko] fight so bad. He believes I could do it and so he wants that to prove to everybody. But he means well.”
Before each of his last two fights, Lopez spoke of the issues that the pressures in his family caused for him. By doing so, it made the story bigger, even though it allowed him to vent and get things he wanted to say off his chest.
He’s doing his best as he prepares for his first world title fight to put that behind him. He’s clearly trained intensely, as the pictures of his thickly muscled body would attest. Gamache has raved about his talent, his work ethic and his ability to pick things up.
“This year’s been a learning experience for me,” Lopez said. “There were some things I said that I shouldn’t have and things I shouldn’t have done that I did. I don’t want to say I regret them; what I think the best way to say it is, I have learned from everything and I’m ready to move on. Things like that will be forgotten, especially after this fight.
“I was hurting, and that’s all it was, but I didn’t need to show it to the world. Nobody needs to see any of that. They don’t need to see no vulnerability or hear about my problems or none of that. Getting to the top and reaching big goals like I’ve set, it’s going to be difficult and it’s not always simple. There are always going to be obstacles to overcome, but you can get around them without advertising all your problems to the world.”
But this was a bright and promising young man who was in the middle of the fishbowl, fighting battles that were not of his making. He did the right thing by speaking out, by taking steps to fix his issues.
By getting it out earlier this year, he helped to get Gamache into his camp, and he took the weight off of his shoulders.
He raved about Commey’s talent and vowed not to underestimate him.
“This is a big deal in my life, something I’ve wanted for a long time,” he said of fighting for the world title. “It’s been a growing year. I’ve done a lot, accomplished a lot, and I put myself into position to make my dreams come true. That can’t be a bad year. That’s not a hard year. That’s a dream year for some people.
“For me, I know a lot is expected. I showed a lot right away and I created a lot of expectations. That’s good, because when you do that, it means things are going right. But there are ups and downs in every sport but you have to learn to deal with them as best you can. I feel like I have learned a lot this year that will make me a lot better going forward.”
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