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Teofimo Lopez is the TSS 2020 Fighter of the Year

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  • Teofimo Lopez is the TSS 2020 Fighter of the Year

    Click image for larger version  Name:	teofimo.PNG Views:	1 Size:	633.8 KB ID:	18574

    By Bernard Fernandez

    If it is really true that turnabout is fair play, then whoever the winner is of the Heisman Trophy as college football’s most outstanding player of 2020, to be announced Jan. 5 during a virtual presentation at ESPN’s studios in Bristol, Conn., should be prepared to celebrate the moment by donning a Teofimo Lopez -themed robe.

    Lopez, The Sweet Science’s 2020 Fighter of the Year by virtue of his electrifying, unanimous decision over pound-for-pound king Vasiliy Lomachenko on Oct. 17 in Las Vegas, understands the value of showmanship and attention-grabbing moments as much as anyone. Twice, after impressive knockout victories in Madison Square Garden that took place the same weekend that the Heisman winner was announced nearby at the Downtown Athletic Club, the savvy kid wore the respective jerseys of Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray in 2018 and LSU quarterback Joe Burrow in 2019. It may or may not be true that Murray was aware of Lopez’s one-round knockout of veteran Mason Menard or Burrow of his two-round dethronement of IBF lightweight champion Richard Commey, but the time has clearly passed when the 23-year-old Honduran-American might need to siphon some glory from a standout in another sport.

    A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., who now resides in the bucolic setting of Jonesboro, Ark., Lopez and his father-trainer, Teofilo Sr., had been telling anybody who would listen that his ascendance to the ring’s highest tier not only was probable, but almost predestined. After Teo Jr. had demolished the highly regarded Commey on Dec. 14, 2019, the list of dedicated followers of his career increased with Commey’s promoter, Lou DiBella, joining the fan club.

    “He’s got dynamite in his fists,” DiBella said of Lopez. “That kid is a very athletic offensive force. And he has charisma coming out of the ying-yang. When you have that kind of arsenal, you have a chance against anybody, including Loma.”

    There were those, of course, who said the Lopezes’ expressed desire to proceed directly to a showdown with Lomachenko for a truckload of 135-pound title belts was a case of wanting too much, too soon. Better to wait until Teo further refined his skill set, the cognoscenti opined, while the 32-year-old Lomachenko – who in 2016 and 2017 likely set an unofficial record by making four straight quality opponents quit on their stool rather than absorb additional punishment – possibly regressed a bit.

    But Teo Sr. had predicted that his son was already a better fighter than Loma, regardless of what the oddsmakers might think (the Ukrainian went off as a -400 favorite, with Lopez at +300), and, besides, the father had boldly predicted that he would conclusively prove it in “The Takeover’s” 16th pro bout, an absurdly accelerated timetable for someone on the wrong end of such a vast experience gap. Lomachenko not only was a two-time Olympic gold medalist, but had posted a 396-1 amateur record that still looks like a typographical error.

    So convinced was Team Loma that the boxing master would teach the young upstart a lesson that there was no rematch clause in the contract, which Teofimo the younger took to be another sign of disrespect from a man he saw as an overconfident diva. Lopez reveled in taking digs at Loma whenever possible, which some saw as a strategy to irritate the favorite and possibly throw him off his game. But Lopez insisted no mind games were necessary to elevate the matchup, or his own motivation, to loftier heights.

    “I’m not trying to get under his skin,” Lopez said. “I’m just being outspoken. Come that night, if he wants to take it out on me, great. I’m trying to take it out on him, too. That’s what makes a good fight.”

    And it was a good fight, but decidedly more so for Lopez, who went from being an alphabet champion with a single belt and loads of potential to instant celebrity. In the course of winning a unanimous decision, Lopez won the numbers game to an extent few, even those who believed he could win, could have imagined. Punch statistics compiled by CompuBox also showed Lopez connecting on 183 of 659 (27.8%) to 141 of 321 (43.9%) for the far less-busy Loma, a brilliant counterpuncher who found limited opportunities to do so. The gap was most prevalent in power shots, with 148 landed by Lopez to 78 for Loma.

    In addition to the retention of his IBF strap, Lopez also came away with Loma’s WBO and WBA lightweight championships, as well that from The Ring and the WBC’s “Franchise” designation.

    “He was pretty basic,” Lopez said of Loma. “Facing someone like him and doing what I did, you haven’t seen anything yet. I don’t fear no man. I’m in there to fight. He thought he could take me to the later rounds. He failed. I noticed him starting to huff and puff. I was two steps ahead of him. The moment I stood my ground and started pressing him back, he gave up. He literally gave up. I saw it in his eyes.

    “I’m the king now. I’ve always been the king. I was just the underground king. Now, I’ve been crowned.”

    For his part, Lomachenko has hardly been gracious in accepting the outcome, even going so far as to say judges Julie Lederman (119-109), Steve Weisfeld (117-111) and Tim Cheatham (116-112) had been “bribed” in their tabulations for Lopez. He says he wants “revenge” in a rematch, although Lopez apparently is in no hurry to grant him one. “Out with the old, in with the new,” he said.

    Thus has it always been so. Bob Arum, founder and CEO of Top Rank, which promotes Lopez and Lomachenko, said now that Teo is on top of the world, expect him to stay there a while. “We look at him for the next decade to be one of the big superstars, if not the biggest superstars in boxing,” Arum predicted.

    --

    A New Orleans native, Bernard Fernandez retired in 2012 after a 43-year career as a newspaper sports writer, the last 28 years with the Philadelphia Daily News. A former five-term president of the Boxing Writers Association of America, Fernandez won the BWAA’s Nat Fleischer Award for Excellence in Boxing Journalism in 1998 and the Barney Nagler Award for Long and Meritorious Service in 2015. Last year, Fernandez was accorded the highest honor for a boxing writer when he was named to the International Boxing Hall of Fame with the Class of 2020. This past April, Fernandez’s anthology, “Championship Rounds,” was released by RKMA Publishing.

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