Avila Perspective, Chap. 272: Super Lightweights - Teofimo Lopez, Tito Mercado and More


By David A. Avila

One of the best fighters ever, Aaron Pryor, was a super lightweight.

The Cincinnati prizefighter roamed the 140-pound division for years like a snarling werewolf evoking fear from all near his weight class.

After defeating Alexis Arguello twice in classic battles, “the Hawk” Pryor was a feared man and despite his smaller size, the welterweights dared not confront him in the prize ring. The risk was too big for welterweights like Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas “Hitman” Hearns or Roberto “Hands of Stone” Duran.

Unable to lure the big cats, Pryor sunk into obscurity waiting for more big fights that never came.

Whether you call it the super lightweight or junior welterweight division, many of the best boxers evolved from the 140-pound limit division. Terence Crawford, Timothy Bradley, Ricky Hatton and others made their presence known in this weight class.

Now, we have Teofimo Lopez (19-1, 13 KOs) seeking to emblazon his name next as he faces contender Jamaine Ortiz (17-1-1, 8 KOs) in defense of the WBO super lightweight title on Thursday, Feb. 8, at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. Lopez vs Ortiz plus the 10-round co-feature pitting Keyshawn Davis vs Jose Pedroza will air live on ESPN with the seven-bout undercard airing on the ESPN+ platform beginning at 3:30 pm Pacific time.

Lopez, 26, represents the super lightweight division perfectly, as did Hatton, Bradley, and Crawford before him. He’s a Brooklyn-born, ultra-athletic prizefighter with extra oomph and charisma.

Those extraordinary traits seem to go hand in hand with super lightweight standouts. But for Lopez, whose ability to use his Brooklyn whip-like wit and unabashed penchant to dance on cue, the ability to perform against seemingly subpar competition is his weakness.

Will he take Ortiz lightly?

Despite superior athleticism Lopez (pictured) doesn’t always do his best against opposition the public deems inferior. After beating undisputed lightweight champ Vasyl Lomachenko he was sideswiped by George Kambosos Jr. And then he nearly was tripped up by Sandor Martin. Though both are skilled, the public was not aroused by their talent and neither did it seem to evoke excitement from Lopez.

When Lopez faced undisputed super lightweight Josh Taylor, suddenly the electric talent re-emerged from the Brooklyn fighter who moved to Las Vegas. He convincingly defeated the Scottish fighter that others feared for his tallness and talent.

Once again Lopez faces opposition the boxing public lacks knowledge about.

Ortiz’s only defeat came through the grace of boxing wizard Lomachenko 14 months ago; a champion that Lopez was able to befuddle early and emerge victorious as a lightweight.

Both Ortiz and Lopez are familiar with each other as fighters and personalities.

“I feel like I’m going to be the guy having the clown do whatever I want to do. It’s going to be that kind of show,” said challenger Ortiz who faced Lopez as an amateur, but lost.

Lopez has been more animated than usual, provoking anger from Ortiz.

“There hasn’t been respect. It’s a fight. I’m coming here to take his head off,” Ortiz utters to the media.

Lopez shrugs off the responses from his foe as if preparing for more dangerous elements on the horizon. The super lightweight division is overfilled with talent and proven box office attractions like Ryan Garcia, Devin Haney, Gervonta “Tank” Davis and Subriel Matias. And don’t forget others like Regis Prograis, Arnold Barboza, Jose Carlos Ramirez and more.

The super lightweight division is the springboard to super stardom and this Thursday night will reveal if Lopez is the “Takeover” or not.

Standout Tito Mercado in Hawaiian Gardens, Calif.

Pomona has another super-hot prospect in Ernesto “Tito” Mercado, an undefeated super lightweight with power and speed. He’s a serious young man.

Mercado (13-0, 12 KOs) faces Argentina’s Victoriano Santillan (11-6-2, 8 KOs) in the Marvnations Promotion main event on Saturday Feb. 10, at the C. Robert Lee Activity Center in Hawaiian Gardens, California.

Any time an Argentine fighter arrives in the U.S. you can believe its going to be rough and Mercado expects nothing less.

“I heard he’s with the Marcos Maidana team. He has some backing, some experience. I know he’s coming to fight,” said Mercado, who at 22 has a maturity not common in a fighter of that age. “I know he’s going to give me some rounds and some experience.”

Already Mercado has faced veterans such as Jayson Velez, Henry Lundy and Jeremia Nakathila. All were knockout victims.

Not since Sugar Shane Mosley has the Southern California city of Pomona seen a dominant force like Mercado perform. His fandom is building and will be in large numbers on Saturday in Hawaiian Gardens.

Most promoters are also interested in watching Mercado who is not signed to a promotion company.

So far, Mercado has walked the tightrope without a safety belt.

“I’m happy where things are so far,” Mercado says. “I’m taking fights that are really risky but coming out on top and taking them out.”

Pomona might just have another star.

Doors open at 6 p.m.

Commerce Casino Feb. 15

South El Monte’s Jojo Diaz (33-4-1) faces Mexico’s Jesus Perez (24-5) in a super lightweight battle on Thursday, Feb. 15, at Commerce Casino in Commerce, Calif. DAZN will stream the Golden Boy Promotions fight card.

Diaz is a two-division world champion now participating in the talented super lightweight division.

“I am excited to let the boxing world know I’m back on track,” said Diaz. “My comeback continues on February 15. After this, I want all the top guys.”

Doors open at 3 p.m. for the event.

Soboba Casino Feb. 15

Native American prizefighters will be featured at Soboba Casino on Thursday, Feb. 15, by House of Pain Boxing.

The Southern California-based boxing group is headed by Apache native Dave Trujillo who seeks to make Soboba Casino a base for Native American prizefighting. One of the bouts includes Soboba native Jimmie “El Chingon” Nunez (5-2, 5 Kos) versus Arizona’s Kenekuk De La Rosa (2-1, 1 KO) in the co-main event. Seven bouts are scheduled.

Soboba Casino is located in San Jacinto, California.

For more information call (951) 331-8010.

OC Hangar Feb. 15

In the Orange County area of Southern California another boxing card presented by Roy Englebrecht Events takes place on Thursday, Feb. 15.

Expect another sold-out crowd for the boxing and MMA card at the OC Hangar in Costa Mesa, California. Super welterweights Jordan Pathen ((6-0) and Adam Abdulhamid (18-14) meet in the main event.

For more information or tickets go to: socafights.com

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank via Getty Images