By Ollie Salt, courtesy of The Daily Star
TEOFIMO LOPEZ has left a sour taste in the mouths of many by celebrating his explosive victories with backflips and dances in front of his crestfallen opponents.
It may come across as pure immaturity from a juvenile in the boxing game, but there is an impressive strategy behind the Honduran-American’s contentious antics in the ring.
At 21 years old, Lopez has the power, hand-speed and footwork to trouble the very best fighters in the lightweight division. By his own account, he is not far away from earning a shot at a world title.
Yet he is wise enough to know that skills sometimes don’t pay the bills in this hurt business. Fans splash their hard-earned cash to witness not only great fighters, but great personalities.
And that’s exactly why the 12-0 starlet doesn’t plan on muting his celebrations if he gets past the experienced Edis Tatli, 31, at Madison Square Garden tomorrow night.
“I’ve got a celebration again in mind,” he exclusively tells Starsport.
“People are gonna take it in that [negative] aspect, but they’ve gotta understand all it is is just business and all this is is just entertainment. That’s all it is.
“It’s not to downgrade a fighter or anything like that, it’s just to make my net worth just that much higher. It’s to make that much excitement for the sport of boxing.
“Not even just in the ring walks, but also inside the ring. What do you do? Not just a knockout, people see knockouts day to day. If it’s not with boxing it’s with UFC. So bring something different.
“And that’s what we’re doing, that’s why it’s setting us that much different from everybody else. It’s setting us to where we’re at now.”
Lopez will be competing on the undercard of WBO welterweight champion Terence Crawford’s clash with Amir Khan in New York tomorrow.
Many believe Crawford, who has claimed world titles in three different weight divisions, is boxing’s pound-for-pound number one right now.
It is typical for fighters of Lopez’s age and calibre to set their sights on reaching the top of these hypothetical rankings because they are in pursuit of legendary status, global recognition and dollar bills aplenty.
However, the Brooklyn man is determined to reach dizzier heights than merely the pound-for-pound summit.
“My goal is to be pound-for-pound in different things,” he says.
Being the people’s champion is high up on Lopez’s to-do list
“Pound-for-pound people’s champion, pound-for-pound in the money. Even though we don’t do it for the money, listen. We don’t do it for the money. But I know that the way I am, my charisma, the way I am as a fighter and everything, we know that we can make those type of dollars, we can make those type of fights happen.
“Obviously Floyd [Mayweather] is a true example of it. So if he can do it, Canelo’s doing it and Anthony Joshua’s doing it, then what makes you think someone else can’t do it?
“And I believe Teofimo Lopez is the next guy to do it.”
When pound-for-pound jigsaws are put together, the most challenging piece of the puzzle is whether to place Crawford or unified lightweight chief Vasyl Lomachenko in top spot.
Lomachenko is one for the purists. With an outstanding amateur career under his belt, the Ukrainian has taken to the professional ranks like a duck to water and is leaving fight fans purring with every lightning combination and slick piece of footwork. He is a boxing wizard.
It is somewhat surprising, then, to see Lopez call out Lomachenko at such a tender age. ‘El Brooklyn’ is well and truly convinced he has the beating of the 31-year-old.
When I ask why he is so confident of toppling Lomachenko, Lopez replies: “What makes me so confident is the fact that I know what I can do.
“You guys haven’t seen anything yet. I know what type of fighter I am, I know I can box, I can go in and put the pressure, I know I can catch a shot, I’m very defensive, I’m very smart in that ring.
“A lot of people discredit that. They underrate what I’m capable of doing, they only see power and speed but they don’t see the intelligence, the ring IQ that I’ve got. The catch and shoots.
“Those catch and shoots, that’s not speed and power – that’s technical. All those things are technical.
“So when it’s all said and done, those are the things that make me just know that I’m the better fighter.”
Lopez may be raw and virtually untested as a professional, but he obtains the charisma and personality that makes his undoubted talent inside the squared circle even more eye-catching. He has enormous potential and is certainly one to keep tabs on.
As for tomorrow night’s showdown with Tatli, Lopez insists it will be business as usual.
“It’s work as normal,” he says.
“This is what comes with it when you’re looking that exciting and looking the best at what you do. This is what’s gonna happen and you have to know that you are better than all these guys.
“So I know that I’m better than all these guys. I’m not gonna say anybody’s better than me, what kind of stuff is this?
“I’m not gonna say anybody’s better than me, so I know in my heart and everything if it’s a challenge that people want to see – I want to take it.”