In 140-pound makeover, ‘The Takeover' will be more workmanlike than devastating vs. Sandor Martin.
What a difference four years makes.
It was Dec. 8, 2018 when Teofimo Lopez confirmed what the boxing world suspected – that he was a superstar on the rise. He walloped poor Mason Menard on the chin in round one and the Louisiana lightweight pitched forward like a building absorbing a wrecking ball. A star was born.
These days, Lopez is more “Makeover” than “Takeover,” however, as he’s since won the lightweight title, lost the lightweight title, and become lost in a sea of fellow talent. But he’s back now, hoping to realize the expectations that seemed absolute four years ago. He takes on Sandor Martin in his second foray into 140 pounds at Madison Square Garden in New York City (9 p.m. Eastern, Saturday, ESPN Plus).
Teofimo Lopez, 17-1 (13 knockouts), a Brooklynite who now lives in Las Vegas, has fought once since losing his IBF/WBA/WBO lightweight titles to George Kambosos a year ago. He took out Pedro Campa in seven rounds in August, weighing a career-high 138 ¾ pounds. He did his job – not losing a round to the Mexican trialhorse. But it was a far cry from the Menard destruction, the blitz of Richard Commey (KO 2) in 2019 and the brilliant decision over Vasiliy Lomachenko in 2020.
It was the Lomachenko fight that officially vaulted Teo into the boxing stratosphere. In an eerily quiet ballroom at the MGM Grand (due to COVID), Lopez realized his dream on Oct. 17, 2020 – outpunching, outboxing and outfighting the perennial pound-for-pound entrant.
He survived a late rally by the Ukrainian great for a defining win. He was on top of the world, and in a position to dictate the where, and the when, to future 135-pound opponents.
Then, the ultimate killer for young boxers reared its head – inactivity.
Teofimo Lopez sat idle for a year, as the proposed Kambosos fight was scheduled and postponed no less than six times. It was one of the most bizarre sequences in boxing history, as the fight was scrapped for everything from a social networking service failing to live up to contractual obligations, to COVID. Through little fault of his own, Lopez – after the mammoth win over Lomachenko – completely fell out of the public’s consciousness.
The end result was as predictable as it was painful when they finally fought on Nov. 27, 2021, as Kambosos flattened Lopez in the first round, cut him, survived his own knockdown, and went on to a shocking decision win. Every bit of the momentum Lopez earned with the tremendous win over Lomachenko was gone.
Now, he is in rebuild mode, and the question is: has he lost his mojo? The cockiness that marked his rise to the top has still been on display – he tried to make Martin flinch at a pre-fight press conference this week.
But whether or not that confidence is genuine – or not – is why people will be watching Saturday.
Martin, 40-2 (13 KO’s), a slick southpaw from Barcelona, Spain, sent future Hall-of-Famer Mikey Garcia into retirement last year, pounding out a majority decision. Martin is one of those quick Edwin Viruet types who is smart enough and talented enough to give most junior welterweights a tough go on any given day. A former kickboxer, he completely took Garcia’s home court crowd out of their Oct. 16, 2021 fight in Fresno, parrying the Californian’s jab and using his movement to frustrate Mikey. As the fight wore on, Martin grew in confidence, slipped more punches and countered beautifully.
The left hand found a home on Garcia’s chin throughout the late rounds and the 10-1 underdog won a majority decision.
It was “Arrasandor’s” (Bulldozer) biggest win. Before that, Martin outpointed undefeated Anthony Yigit in 2017, Mauro Godoy in 2018 and Kay Prospere in 2021. In his last fight, he decisioned Jose Felix in April in Barcelona.
GO WITH TEOFIMO LOPEZ
A trend in boxing over recent boxing history is for fighters to jump up in weight after suffering their first losses. Meldrick Taylor did it in 1991 after losing to Julio Cesar Chavez, but to mixed results. He won a welterweight title but was never again the force he was at junior welterweight. He lost explosiveness and he lost strength. Will the same happen to Lopez who, like Garcia, is not competing in his original weight class and is considered the “smaller” man?
At 5-foot-8, Lopez is an inch taller. Whereas Garcia – a natural featherweight – didn’t have the length or strength to successfully force the fight with Martin, Lopez does. He was always a big lightweight, and his frame carries 140 pounds well. Where Martin was able to bother Garcia with his jab, compete evenly in exchanges and box out of trouble when needed, Lopez is a much greater physical force. He’ll apply heavy pressure, earn respect with his harder punch and take advantage of Martin’s straight-up European stance.
It won’t be as explosive as the Menard or Commey knockouts – but it will be dominant. Perhaps more workmanlike than devastating. Afterall, Martin is tough and durable and has never been knocked out.
Teofimo Lopez still has the talent to be a force in a junior welterweight division that boasts WBO champ Josh Taylor and newly crowned WBC titlist Regis Prograis. This will be the second leg toward proving it.
TEOFIMO LOPEZ VS. SANDOR MARTIN PREDICTION
Teofimo Lopez by unanimous decision.
Matthew Aguilar may be reached at [email protected]