LAS VEGAS — Teofimo Lopez is a 25-year-old young man whose boxing career has mostly been an expression of joy. He became a star with not only his boxing skill and his punching power, but with his radiant personality and his love for what he was doing.
Things changed, dramatically, in November. He struggled to make the 135-pound lightweight limit for a bout with George Kambosos Jr. He had a tear in his esophagus — before the fight — that doctors later told him could have killed him. And then he went out and was dropped early and dropped his decision, and the undisputed title, to the Australian.
He’d split with his wife, suffered innumerable personal problems and abandoned the division where he’d become a star.
“I was at 135 for about nine years, and I was killing my body,” he said Saturday.
He carried the weight of all those issues, and more, with him into the ring on Saturday at the Resorts World Events Center against Pedro Campa in what he dubbed “The Takeback.”
And while they bothered him early, by the end of the night, it was the old Lopez in there: Having fun, smiling, firing big punches and getting a dramatic victory. He stopped Campa at 2:14 of the seventh Saturday when referee Tony Weeks jumped in to halt it as Lopez was raining hard shots on Campa’s head.
He did his backflip and the million-dollar grin was there for all to see. But he admitted afterwards it wasn’t all peaches and cream. He is a father now and his son, Teofimo Lopez V, was foremost in his thoughts as he climbed between the ropes
“I’m not going to lie, there was a lot on my mind,” Lopez said. “I almost died my last fight and that was weighing on my mind. I just had to clear it out. I’m not afraid to die, but the last thing I want to do is not have my son have a father. That was the only thing that was weighing on my mind, but I had to get that, I gotta get that guy out, somehow somehow.”
Lopez started slowly and patiently. Campa wasn’t blessed with a lot of hand or foot speed, though, and that allowed Lopez to get himself untracked by being patient. He was boxing and moving, although he was getting hit more than would be optimal if he were facing one of the top dogs at 140 like Regis Prograis, Josh Taylor or Ryan Garcia.
But he kept putting coins in the bank Saturday, picking Campa apart with quick and sharp right hands and an occasional jab. He didn’t go to the body a lot but that was more than enough for Campa.
His father/trainer, Teofimo Lopez Jr., was pleased.
“[Campa] came to win,” he said. “I don’t want to take anything away from him. He’s a tough guy. He’s really tough. He put up a show. But there ain’t nobody who can beat my son when he is healthy. He was healthy tonight and was showing the world what he’s made of.”
Lopez started to mash Campa’s face in the sixth round, the toll of the quick, hard shots beginning to show.
Lopez deserves credit for staying within himself and working methodically to get Campa out. He hit him with a right hand and followed it with a left hook to drop him a minute or so into the seventh. If he proved anything, Campa showed his toughness by getting up and getting back into the fight.
But Lopez is one of the sport’s best finishers and he was all over Campa, finishing him with a flurry along the ropes.
The key, he said, was to remain calm and accept little victories throughout the fight.
“You’ve got to take your time [because] little by little, those punches add up,” Lopez said. “Eventually, it’s going to hurt them. It may not do it right away, but in due time, you’ll get them out. [You need to] trust in God and trust in the process.”
There are a lot of great potential fights for Lopez at super lightweight, although most of the top fighters are busy. Former undisputed champion Josh Taylor, who dropped two of the belts, will rematch Jack Catterall in December.
Regis Prograis will face Jose Zepeda for the WBC belt. Ryan Garcia is negotiating for a fight with Gervonta Davis, who holds a lightweight belt.
Lopez wants Taylor because Taylor had all the belts before voluntarily surrendering the WBA and WBC baubles, but he won’t be picky.
“I’ll take all them boys and take their dreams away,” Lopez said. “I’m here to be their nightmare.”
His last outing was a nightmare. And while what he went through is likely to stay with him in some form forever, he did a good job of pushing through and getting past it on Saturday.
The man known as “The Takeover” seems ready to take over yet again.