Teofimo Lopez: The takeover begins

Teofimo Lopez was selected as the ESPN prospect of the year in 2018. Mikey Williams/Top Rank

Editor's note: This story was originally published in January.

So, after he was ESPN's prospect of the year in 2018, what does the upcoming year hold for Teofimo Lopez?

"I'm going to say it right now: my son is going to win 2019 fighter of the year, easy," said the boisterous and brash father of the highly regarded lightweight, who faces Diego Magdaleno (31-2, 13 KOs) on Saturday at the Ford Center in Frisco, Texas (ESPN+, midnight).

Though he's just 11 fights into his pro career, Lopez (11-0, 9 KOs) is being forecast for big things. He isn't just expected to win world titles, but to be among the very best in the sport. His father, who has the same first name, has boldly proclaimed, that he'll be the greatest ever (and, yes, he's being dead serious). Yeah, expectations are high.

The 21-year-old just seems to have that 'look.' Lopez has dubbed his own ascension in the sport as "the Takeover."

When asked what he expects from himself this year, Lopez said after a recent workout at the City Boxing Club in Las Vegas that he is a hungrier fighter.

"I'm going to prove to myself what I'm capable of doing, do what I set out to do, when it's all said and done," Lopez said. "Looking back at everything, 2018 was a great year, a phenomenal year, actually. 2019 looks to be better than that.

"With me, it's always that there's no such thing as satisfied when it comes to success. So I believe that this year will be better than last year."

Lopez seems to have a knack for rising to the occasion when given the opportunity to perform on big stages. He stopped Vitor Jones in one round at Madison Square Garden on the Vasiliy Lomachenko-Jorge Linares undercard last May. What was most notable was the 'Fortnite' dance celebration he did in the immediate aftermath of what was his ninth victory. Then, in mid-July, he sparkled in getting William Silva out in six in New Orleans. It would not be an exaggeration to say that Lopez stole the show from Regis Prograis -- who defeated Juan Jose Velasco by TKO -- in Prograis' hometown.

But during that fight, Lopez suffered a broken right hand that nixed a September date and kept him sidelined till early December. He returned to action by scoring a highlight-reel, first-round KO of Mason Menard, yielding a clip that went viral.

Again, it's not just that Lopez wins -- it's how he does so.

"I don't know what it is with me, I zone out when I fight, but I think it showed everyone where I'm at and where I should be listed in the rankings and also into that slot, where I get that title shot," Lopez said. "That fight was a relief for me, to just let me know coming off an injury and everything I did that night was spectacular. It couldn't have gone any better."

Lopez, though, has quickly moved on from that fight -- after all, if you are that transcendent talent, you're expected to win in spectacular fashion on a regular basis.

Not only does he punch people out, he does it with a certain panache. With the way he choreographs the celebrations after his knockouts, you could say that Lopez is the T.O. (Terrell Owens) of boxing.

Yeah, get your popcorn ready.

Doing eye-opening things inside the ring is routine for this boxing prodigy.

"When it comes to it, when I fight, I do what I have to do and I know the task, but the next day I'm onto the next one," Lopez said. "I don't stay and settle on the victory, I just move on because I know that in a week or two or so, it'll be forgotten. So people want to see more of Teofimo Lopez, so that's what I'm ready for. Top Rank brought me back February 2, right away."

Throughout the years, Top Rank has developed the likes of Oscar De La Hoya, Floyd Mayweather, Miguel Cotto and, most recently, Lomachenko from amateur standouts to superstars in the professional ranks. But truth be told, when Top Rank signed Lopez after he represented Honduras (his parents' home country) in the 2016 Olympics, he wasn't their most sought-after or high-profile recruit.

Fast forward a few years, and there's no doubt that he is Top Rank's most coveted young prospect.

Bob Arum, the head of Top Rank, is quick to mention that he is bullish on the futures of featherweights Shakur Stevenson and Michael Conlan, but he says Lopez is special.


Lopez does the Heisman after one-punch KO

Teofimo Lopez knocks out Mason Menard with a brutal right hand, then dons a Kyler Murray jersey and does the Heisman pose.

"He stands out because nobody expected him to excel this early," Arum said. "But this is not a sprint, this is a marathon. I'm very high on him, I think he has enormous talent, he has a lot of marketability."

There's no doubt that Top Rank believes that Lopez will soon become one of the pillars of their company alongside the likes of Terence Crawford and Lomachenko. And with the insistence of Lopez's father -- who is as confident as his son is talented -- they will be put on the fast track.

"Sure," Arum said. "They have to decide whether he is going to fight at 135 or fight at 140. If he fights at 140, (a fight) against Jose Ramirez could be a major, major fight. If he stays at 135, then I'd like him to fight (Jose) Pedraza and if he's good with Pedraza, then fight Lomachenko. All in this year, or the beginning of next year."

The elder Lopez likes the idea.

"I want to show the world that my son can beat Lomachenko, and to do that, first (we have to) fight Pedraza," Lopez Sr. said. "So Pedraza is the next guy that I want. I want Pedraza in like June or July."

The plan calls for Lopez -- should he defeat Magdaleno this weekend and come out relatively unscathed -- to face Pedraza on the pay-per-view card at MSG on April 20, a card that features Crawford against Amir Khan. Lopez made it clear that he wouldn't mind fighting the seasoned Puerto Rican, who went the distance with Lomachenko in his most recent bout, as soon as possible.

"If we get through Magdaleno, when we get through Magdaleno, April 20, if they decide to put us with Pedraza, we're more than ready," Lopez stated.

A dominant victory over a bona fide contender like Pedraza would be a statement.

"You guys haven't seen nothing, yet. You guys have not seen anything, yet," Lopez said. "But it shows that people are starting to realize and know. At the end of the day, it feels good to know that all the hard work that we've done, 16 years doing this, it's starting to pay off and people are starting to realize. It's an honor, it's also a blessing to be honest, with 11 fights. But when I'm in (the ring) it doesn't seem like I have only 11 fights."

His confidence is certainly high.

"Teofimo, when it's said and done, he doesn't just win a fight -- he entertains the crowd. It's a difference," said the precocious young talent, going third-person.

But it's hard to argue with such a sentiment. Lopez has already become must-see TV for boxing fans with his flashy, flamboyant style that is accentuated with jolting power.

"People are itching to see Teofimo back in the ring," he continues. "Why? Because of what we bring, the celebrations, not just winning, but how we win, things like that. You have to set yourself apart from everybody else."

Born in Brooklyn, he grew up in Davie, Florida, before moving out west as he embarked on his pro career. Lopez lives with the rest of his family in a gated community in Las Vegas, near the future home of the Las Vegas Raiders, the NFL team that's building a brand-new stadium to be finished in 2020.

"I've thought of one day being able to fight there," Lopez said.

It's clear that Lopez is an emerging star, one that will only shine brighter in the future. And this is really just the beginning. At the same time, it's evident that despite his youth, Lopez possesses the wisdom of someone much older. He seems destined for greatness, but he understands it's not guaranteed.

"Nothing in life is promised, that's how you stay grounded. Nothing in life is promised. God, he humbled me three times, not once, but three times in the sport of boxing, thinking that I knew it all," said Lopez, referring to some setbacks from his amateur days. "God prepared me for this situation and this position right now. The reason why I keep getting the blessings that I get, are for those reasons.

"You've got to respect the sport. Boxing made me who I am today. So I give the utmost respect to it and I know at the end of the day, nothing in life is promised. You guys can say all this, but it's up to me."