Former unified lightweight champion Teofimo Lopez Jr. has some explaining to do. That’s why Saturday’s return from his first pro defeat and nine months of tumult outside the ring has created such a must-see feel.
The fact that Lopez (16-1, 12 KOs) will be as high as a –3000 betting favorite when he makes his 140-pound debut against Pedro Campa (34-1-1, 23 KOs) at Resorts World Las Vegas hasn’t robbed from the intrigue in seeing one of boxing’s brightest young stars attempt to put his career back on track.
Lopez, 25, didn’t just implode in his split-decision loss last November to George Kambosos Jr., when he was dropped in the opening round and badly beaten for the remainder despite a series of rallies. It was the fact that he so heavily played up the conspiratorial angle afterwards about why the loss happened by blaming the streaming app DAZN, which won the purse bid to televise the bout after Triller defaulted, for coercing the judges.
New details later emerged that Lopez had suffered a life-threatening esophageal tear before the Kambosos fight, which was postponed multiple times, and that it went initially undetected by doctors. Lopez would also later reveal that his now ex-wife, Cynthia, separated from him during training camp while pregnant with their son.
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Those who have followed Lopez’s meteoric rise know that family drama has long been a recurring theme ahead of his fights, often involving his outspoken father and trainer, Teofimo Lopez Sr. But despite outside pressures to seek out a new head trainer, Lopez has doubled down on his public support of his father and returns this weekend hoping to repair all that was lost in the two years since his breakthrough upset of Vasiliy Lomachenko.
“At the end of the day, this isn’t my first rodeo,” Lopez said during Thursday’s press conference. “I’m 21 years in the game — blood, sweat and tears. Do your research and see it. [I’m a] five-time world champion and we are just here to go and dominate and do what we always do, which is to entertain.”
Although his pursuit of a purse bid ahead of the Kambosos fight put Lopez at odds with his promoter, Top Rank, and its exclusive broadcast partner, ESPN, everyone appears to be playing nice again as Lopez embarks on the next chapter of his career in a new weight class.
The reality for Lopez is that there are plenty of interesting fights for him at 140 under the Top Rank banner should he get past Campa, including everyone from Josh Taylor and Jack Catterall to Jose Ramirez, Jose Zepeda and Regis Prograis. But Lopez preferred to keep his focus on what is in front of him.
“None of it is possible unless we finish the job,” Lopez said. “This guy in front of me is going to try and stop my dreams and stop everything I am shooting for. Every time I go out in the ring, I am risking my life and risking it all. We doubled down every time.
“When it comes to me, it’s just me versus me and no one else. I thank God for that, he is always in my corner. I look forward to just shutting some mouths up and open their mouths up, too. I just want to let them know. Don’t call it a comeback, it’s the TakeOver. It’s part two.”
The 30-year-old Campa has never fought outside of his native Mexico and has yet to beat an opponent anywhere close to the level of Lopez. But he’s an aggressive fighter with good power who is hungry to make his name despite being such a large underdog.
“I really don’t care what people think. I know what I’m facing here,” Campa said. “[Lopez] is a great fighter and one of the best so I am prepared and just concentrating. I think I’m going to win. I think anything can happen but the main thing is victory. I’m going to take that victory however I can take it.”
Watching Kambosos go on to drop his belts in his first title defense against now undisputed king Devin Haney went a long way in confirming that Lopez may have simply had the worst performance of his career on Kambosos’ best night. Lopez also admitted he only came out so over aggressive in pursuit of a first-round knockout due to the uncertainty of his injuries.
Yet despite the expected difference in skills between the two, Lopez still believes he will need to go to war once more against Campa in order to get his hand raised.
“When it comes to it, he has that Mexican style of boxing and is aggressive,” Lopez said. “He’s going to come out there and this is going to be an all-out war, it’s going to be a fight. I’m very excited about that. I love competition. The bigger the level, the bigger the devil but my God is greater and it’s just about being focused on that.”
For the record, Lopez appears to still believe much of the conspiratorial rhetoric he made public immediately after his loss to Kambosos. Although he mustered a “no comment” when asked about it by “Morning Kombat” last week, he went on to make multiple references suggesting that the business of boxing was against him.
That reaction alone has led some to question exactly where Lopez is at from a mental, spiritual and emotional standpoint after so much turmoil in a short time. Either way, Lopez believes he is better off for having experienced it all, including the good and bad.
Fight card, odds
- Teofimo Lopez Jr. -3000 vs. Pedro Campa +1300, junior welterweights (10 rounds)
- Xander Zayas -3500 vs. Elias Espadas +1400, junior middleweights (eight rounds)
- Date: Aug. 13 | Location: Resorts World — Las Vegas
- Start time: 10 p.m. ET
- TV: ESPN | Stream: fuboTV (try for free)
Everything about the loss to Kambosos looks like an aberration, in hindsight, knowing what we know no about Lopez’s physical state. Still, it must be remembered just how poor his gameplan was and how little Lopez’s father/trainer seemed to do between rounds to help him make the necessary adjustments to get the victory.
Lopez had been previously co-trained by Joey Gamache but chose not to pay him (along with his nutritional team) to join for the Kambosos fight due to the multiple postponements that extended training camp and left Lopez short on cash. Now, Gamache is gone completely.
Still, given the level of competition he will face in Campa, none of it is likely to matter provided Lopez returns to his patient and poised ways of properly setting up his explosive style behind his jab.
Lopez has more than enough ammunition in terms of his motivation to prove all of the doubters wrong and the right opponent in front of him with a style that is tailor made to walk into something big. A knockout win won’t necessarily quiet his critics or provide the requisite confidence that all is well and good within Team Lopez.
But it remains the most likely scenario.
Pick: Lopez via TKO8