It was no more than six fights into his son’s career when Teofimo Lopez Sr. first publicly mentioned Vasiliy Lomachenko’s name. At the time, as now, Lomachenko was regarded not only as perhaps the greatest active boxer in the world, but also as among the best to have ever done it.
Teofimo Lopez Jr. was just 20 when his father approached Lomachenko and vowed that his son would destroy him.
Now, just as Lopez is maturing into the boxer that Top Rank chairman Bob Arum felt he could be when he signed him following the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, he’ll face the fight of his life.
On Oct. 17 in the conference center at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, the 23-year-old Lopez will meet Lomachenko for the IBF-WBA-WBO lightweight titles and the WBC lightweight franchise title in a bout televised on ESPN.
For years, he’s carried the burden of having to live up to his colorful father’s words and his day of reckoning will soon arrive.
This will be the night in his mind that the takeover is complete, when he defeats Lomachenko and proves the naysayers and the critics wrong.
But no matter how well he does against Lomachenko, Lopez believes the best will be yet to come.
“Man, I’m still growing,” he said with a chuckle. “I’m not close to where I’m going to be. My body is maturing, but what do they say, the average man keeps growing until he’s 26? I’m accomplishing a lot at a young age, but I’m nowhere near my best.
“I’m never satisfied. I always want more and better challenges. I want to push myself. I think that’s why I have been so successful, because I haven’t just taken the slow road or the easy path. I have worked to get where I am but I know the kind of talent I am, and I’m nowhere near where I’ll eventually get to.”
If he beats Lomachenko and yet is nowhere near his best, it likely means that we’re looking at a transcendent figure in the sport.
But for all the talking out of his camp — mostly by his father — and all of the flash and dash, this is a young man who is grounded and who doesn’t have his head in the clouds.
He vows he won’t be one of those fighters who blows the millions he makes and has to keep fighting at an advanced age because he needs the money.
He loves to fight but when the time comes, he’ll retire and that will be it. There won’t be, he insists, any comebacks. He said he’s learning what to do with his money to provide for his wife and children in the future.
“I think of all those things,” he said of the out-of-the-ring travails that have haunted so many fighters. “I’m very observant. A lot of today’s athletes, or today’s fighters, only look at the good outcomes of what may happen. But they never consider what happens if they make a bad decision or they take the wrong route or something goes on.
“I’m very observant about that stuff because I know what is at stake. I am investing in myself here. That’s what I’m doing. I’m trying to set my family up and when you invest, you look at the good that could happen, but you need to understand the risks and the worst-case scenarios. … I’m thankful I’m aware of that at this age, and it’s why I’m going to take care of everything that does come my way. We work hard for what we get in this sport and I don’t want to see it all go away poof because I wasn’t thinking or wasn’t paying attention.”
He’s a long way from that point, though. He’s still on the rise even as he’s a world champion with a large and passionate following.
He’s no fan of Lomachenko, who has vowed to make him eat his words. He’s built this fight into an event by talking about Lomachenko, but more than a month before the bell rings, he’s already sick of him.
“Personally, I don’t like the guy and I don’t like the way he carries himself,” Lopez said. “He’s arrogant. I don’t want to promote him by even saying his name. Every interview I do, or have done for a long time, that’s the guy everyone asks me about. His name doesn’t carry my career, and after this fight, I don’t want to hear about him or talk about him again.
“I’m not even in my prime yet. I haven’t started that rise, believe me when I tell you. I have a lot more to come on this journey. He’s one step along the way, but there’s a lot more to come after this. Trust me on that one. There’s a lot more to come.”
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