Given social media banter and media coverage, one would expect Teofimo Lopez, in the wake of his shaky split-decision victory over Sandor Martin Saturday night, to be googlie-eyed crazy, running down Seventh Avenue with a boxing shoe on one foot and a scuba fin on the other, screaming “My enchiladas have been poisoned by aliens!”
This kid must be bat-sh*t crazy!
Well, yeah, the truth is that the 25-year-old former three-belt lightweight champion isn’t in the best state of mind at the moment. As a matter of fact, the Brooklynite has been “off” for quite a while. It certainly doesn’t take a degree in psychology to see when a kid is flustered, frustrated, struggling with something, and, generally, in way over his head.
Since his 2020 upset win over former unified champ Vasiliy Lomachenko, Lopez has been “not quite right” and, as this writer observed before the young star would lose his belts to George Kambosos Jr. in his very first defense, “on the precipice of a humbling tumble.”
Red flags started popping up post-Lomachenko when the usually affable and reasonably grounded Lopez started giving oddly grandiose interviews where he mentioned himself in the same breath as legends such as Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, Willie Pep, and Mike Tyson. He would also continually lament the “haters” who were coming after him now because of his success.
And if you were looking at Team Lopez to ground a young man giving off a pitiable “desperate little kid” vibe, forget about it. Trainer Teofimo Lopez Sr., logically tabbed to keep order and maintain sanity in the face of growing distractions swirling around his son, has appeared to be an extreme enabler of Jr.’s bad head space.
“We are pay-per-view,” Lopez Sr. told FightHype.com as negotiations began to take place for his son’s first (and, ultimately, only) title defense. “My son has done things that nobody else has done, and we’re in the position now to create a monster in the boxing industry, and no one has seen that in a long, long time…It’s the takeover, baby. We’re taking over the game of boxing; we’re taking over everybody right now.”
After his son was humbled in defeat by Kambosos, Lopez Sr. encouraged the denial that raged in his son’s post-fight reaction. A hair-brained conspiracy theory about Lopez being brought down by unmentioned dark forces filled the space where an honest assessment of his performance and some grace in defeat should’ve been.
From that moment forward, Teofimo Lopez being “off” was the story. Gone was the vibe of an upwardly mobile elite-level star and in its place was the story of a kid who maybe didn’t have his head straight and, possibly, wasn’t ever as good as he was hyped to be.
A move up to junior welterweight and a subsequent TKO win over the limited Pedro Campa didn’t do anything to change the talk. His less-than-dominant performance against Sandor Martin this past Saturday at Madison Square Garden etched the public’s doubt in stone. Teo not being “Teo” anymore is now THE story when it comes to Teofimo’s career.
Boxers and media members jumped on social media to drive home that narrative with responses that ranged from the kind (Regis Prograis: “I hope Teo is ok. Boxing is a tough and lonely sport and it can be very taxing mentally”) to the cruel (Devin Haney: “This a** grass. Kambosos ruined Teo…he will never be the same…”)
Bad matchmaking would play a role in Teo not looking like “Teo” this past outing. Sandor Martin, who replaced original foe Jose Pedraza on about three weeks’ notice, is an awkward southpaw mover who the old-timers would refer to as a spoiler. The Spaniard solely exits to muck up a fight and steal sloppy rounds. Lopez, even at his very best and most sharp, was not going to look good against this kind of fighter. Just last year, Martin was picked as the B-side to former pound-for-pound star Mikey Garcia and managed to ruin a few big-time plans by pulling off the unlikely upset. Choosing him was an odd matchmaking decision from the usually savvy Top Rank Promotions team in what was supposed to be a showcase appearance for their guy.
The truth, however, is that Lopez looking flat and unfocused wasn’t entirely due to tough matchmaking.
Although there are still flashes of elite-level stuff in his performances, the confident flow of an elite fighter executing at an elite level from opening bell to closing bell is no longer there. It’s almost as if he’s lost sight of what got him to the top and is now just stringing together bits and pieces of what people say he’s supposed to be.
The frustration of not being the full Teo is clearly weighing on Lopez, himself.
“Bro, do I still have it, man?,” a seemingly distraught Lopez asked members of his team in a post-fight moment picked up by ESPN cameras Saturday night. “Do I still got it?”
Teofimo Lopez is not “bat sh*t crazy.” He is, though, a young man who, perhaps, reached greatness before he was ready for greatness. He’s clearly having a tough time coping with the world that has blown up around him. That’s not being crazy, that’s being human. Unfortunately, boxing sometimes has a low tolerance for humanity.