As 2021 rolled around, things were looking up for Teofimo Lopez. He was still enjoying the afterglow of his 2020 win over Vasiliy Lomachenko, which made him the undisputed lightweight champion.
In February, seemingly out of nowhere, Triller offered an astronomical $6.018 million to win the right to promote his mandatory title defense with George Kambosos Jr.
That was basically the end of the good times, though. In many ways, the year proved to be a nightmare for the easy-going, easy-going Lopez, who, as it turned out, faced plenty of trouble behind the scenes.
The Trill exchange offering turned out to be a debacle. It was difficult to get a date and a place. When it was ready to promote the fight, Lopez caught COVID-19 and forced a postponement. Numerous dates and venues were suggested and failed again and again.
Eventually, Triller defaulted and Matchroom Sport, who had placed second with a bid of $3.56 million, got the rights to the fight and put it on.
Lopez was knocked down in the first and thoroughly boxed out, losing his title as the big favorite. He was adamant that he had won and was booed by the very fans who had cheered him on so passionately throughout the fight. He later claimed that the fight was decided in Kambosos’ favor because it took place on DAZN.
It didn’t make him look good.
Meanwhile, Lopez was dealing with the dissolution of his marriage to his wife Cynthia. And after losing to Kambosos, Lopez discovered he had been struggling with a potentially fatal medical condition. Lopez was taken to Bellevue Hospital for an evaluation after the fight and was diagnosed there with pneumomediastinum and had extensive air in the retropharyngeal space, according to a report by ESPN’s Mark Kriegel. dr Peter Constantino said to Kriegel: “He’s lucky he’s not dead. I mean really lucky.”
Lopez had a ruptured esophagus before the fight and was having trouble breathing. In retrospect, it seems a malpractice that Lopez was allowed to fight in this form, but he said in an interview with Yahoo Sports that he never considered not continuing the show.
“I’m an entertainer,” Lopez told Yahoo Sports. “I am someone who is a performer. You’re paying me to get out there. …I’ve had 5,000+ people in the Hulu theater getting double shots and making every effort to come and watch me fight and see me perform, you know? And it’s like, “What should I do?” You know, the amount of shifts [because of Triller-related issues] – eight, nine postponements – you know, I should have postponed after the weigh-in.
“Or I would have canceled the day of the fight. I mean, that would have broken so many more people, you know? It would have been like, ‘Oh, what an excuse [does] this kid has now? And it’s no excuse. None of that was. Everything turned out the way it had to be. … that’s what I learned from. I’ve learned that my health is everything, even if it has to disappoint the fans and everyone out there. I do everything I’m a die hard at boxing. I am not only a fighter but also a boxing fan. I want to give people what they need, what they want to see.”
So he moved forward, losing his titles and taking some of the shine off his career. On Saturday at Resorts World in Las Vegas he will return to the ring in a new weight class to prove he’s changed for the better.
He will face Pedro Campa in his super lightweight debut in a fight televised on ESPN.
He’s only 25 and losing won’t ruin a fighter’s career. The question is whether he has put the personal problems, the mental problems and all the rest behind him.
He’s sure he has it, but he knows it’s evidence business.
“I love what I do and I’m passionate about it,” Lopez said. “I will die in this ring for all my people out there. However, I realized that now that I have a son, I need to be there for him. So I had to think more about these things as well.
“I just turned 25. So I have time. [Author] JK Rowling, she was broke at 23. Disney filed for bankruptcy at 23. [Billionaire] Jeff Bezos was 23 [actually 16] Flip hamburgers at McDonald’s. you know i have time And I’m just concentrating on what I’m doing now to move forward.”
He has Campa to look after, which shouldn’t be a big task. Lopez is a -2500 favorite at BetMGM while Campa comes in at +1000.
Much of what preoccupied him in his young life remains a mystery. But he said he has developed coping mechanisms and plans to once again remind the world of his enormous talents.
“I meditate, man,” he said. “I’m getting closer. I connect to the universe. I connect to God. I’m just doing all these things that are going to help my sanity, especially in today’s world where it’s all on the phone, you know? So I take time to really enjoy the fruits of God’s work. You know, I’m really getting to this point and I just connect more, I just ground myself more.
“And then I spend time with my son, [and] give him the love i can give him, i learned from my past life and upbringing and just do my best as a father, as a brother, as a son. I’m doing the best I can as a man myself, and not only that, [but] as an idol for everyone out there. But I say to anyone who wants to be like Teofimo or be in that position, ‘Don’t be like me. Be better than me.’”