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Throwing Stiff Arms with Teofimo Lopez

Last Updated: December 19, 2022
The former four-belt world champ speaks with Boardroom about chasing glory at 140 pounds, earning what you’re worth, and fighting at MSG on Heisman night ahead of his bout with Sandor Martin.

Teofimo Lopez was not named among the finalists for the 2022 Heisman Trophy, but as it relates to ESPN, the annual college football ceremony’s longtime broadcaster, he’s worked since 2018 to become as synonymous with the stiff-arm statue as anyone possibly could who doesn’t even play football in the first place.

Rather, Brooklyn’s own Lopez has made a name for himself in the realm of professionally-sanctioned fistfighting for money. Formerly a red-hot prospect in the 135-pound lightweight division, “The Takeover” ascended in 2020 when he bested the great Vasiliy Lomachenko to become a four-belt division champion — undisputed if you asked him, promoter Top Rank, and ESPN; merely unified if you asked rival Devin Haney — and reach impressive pound-for-pound heights.

And though an upset loss to George Kambosos in 2021 under unfortunate health circumstances relieved him of his belts, he’ll always be known as the guy who fights on Heisman night at Madison Square Garden, knocks a dude all the way out, does a backflip, and dons the jersey of that night’s trophy winner. As we’ve seen over the years:

  • Dec. 8, 2018: First-round KO over Mason Menard. Kyler Murray Oklahoma jersey.
  • Dec. 14, 2019: Second-round KO over Richard Commey to win the IBF lightweight title. Joe Burrow LSU jersey.
  • Dec. 10, 2022: Sandor Martin, TBD.

Ahead of Lopez’s return to the ring Saturday evening against Spain’s Sandor Martin in the 140-pound junior welterweight division, he spoke with Boardroom about mounting a run at undisputed glory at 140 pounds, what he expects from his opponent, reckoning with feelings of being disrespected and underpaid by the boxing establishment, and who he thinks ultimately claims this year’s Heisman.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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SAM DUNN: You’ve come to be associated with Heisman Trophy night, and now you’re back at Madison Square Garden. What do fight fans need to know about Sandor Martin?

TEOFIMO LOPEZ: Heisman night, definitely Heisman night is a big night for me. Dec. 10, headlining at Madison Square Garden. What I could say about Sandor Martin — he has 40 wins, two losses. He’s No. 1 in Europe, the No. 1 fighter in the division in Spain as well.

His [most] notable win that he had, he actually shook up a little bit of the boxing world. He defeated arguably one of the best Mexican fighters of this era, Mikey Garcia, who was a four-division champion. He beat him in his own hometown, really, so this is a tough veteran, someone that actually knows what they’re doing when they’re in the ring, and I look forward to really giving everybody a good performance that night. You know, I love challenges like this. I know that this is gonna bring the best version out of me.

SD: He’s not known as a big hitter at 140 pounds. What sorts of positions do you think he’ll ultimately try to put you in?

TL: Oh, that’s a good question. You know, I don’t know. I like stuff like that. My team will know. My father is my coach, he tells me the things that I need to know. However, I capitalize when I’m in that ring — that’s the thing, I adapt right away. So, their game plan could be that I’m gonna come forward and dictate the fight and that’s his go-to, but the thing that people don’t understand is I could do all things. I’m universal with it, you know? I could box, I could bang, I could come forward, I could move side to side. I think I’ve showed that, and I’m only gonna show that even more against a fighter like Martin.

I think that it’s definitely a great fight for me. He’s southpaw. He uses the whole ring. He knows what he’s doing. He boxes. He’s not a big puncher, but, overall, this is just a great matchup. This is for the final WBC world title eliminator. Winner gets to fight the world champion, Regis Prograis, in the next year to come, so I’m looking forward to that, becoming a two-time undisputed world champion, and, uh, just putting it on for everyone in New York City, everyone in Brooklyn, and, you know, just for everyone in that’s representing Teofimo.

SD: Your No. 1 focus is all about becoming a four-belt champion at junior welterweight?

TL: Yeah. Everything takes time, everything takes steps. It took me a while to even get to take over the 135 division and become undisputed there. What did I have to do? I had to show effort. I had to show that I am that guy. They put me against the champions and I beat them, and now, it’s all about doing the same thing in that 140 division, and then eventually at 147.

I’m looking forward to making history — more history — breaking more records, doing more things. I’m not here to become famous; I’m here to become a legend. There’s a big difference between that. A lot of us in the fight game right now all wanna become famous and become that superstar pay-per-view; Teofimo is not about that. Teofimo is more about becoming a legend. You know, when I hang up these gloves, I’ll be in that history book, which I already am, [but] I just wanna add a little bit more, a little bit more sauce, a little bit more flavor. I want my name to be more on that list.

SD: Is it safe to say that you’re done fighting at 135 for good?

TL: Oh, yeah, absolutely. It’s either fight at 140 or no-show at all at 135. The thing is, I’m still growing. You guys gotta realize something, I’ve been at that weight class since I was, what, 17, 16? Imagine that from 16 all the way to 24 — that’s a long time coming. That’s eight years of just in that for so long, and my body, remember, as men, we mature. We don’t stop growing until, what, 25, 26. Some are late bloomers, some are not, so I was going against my own body, my own weight. And what happened was my body gave out and I hurt myself prior to the fight against Kambosos, which gave me a loss.

You know, these are good lessons that I needed to learn. These are great mistakes that I needed to understand, and my failures are what are gonna make me greater. It’s gonna bring more successes in my life. That’s why we have greats like Jordan. We have greats like Kobe, may God rest his soul. We’ve had greats like all these guys, Tiger Woods and all, but what made them better? What made them much better was the failures that they had to take in.

SD: In what other ways would you say you’ve changed as a boxer since that night against George Kambosos?

TL: Everyone wants to look for their purpose in life. What is the reason why, why was this, why did boxing choose me 21 years ago? Because I didn’t choose boxing, it just came to me, and my father was someone that took me into the gym here in New York when I was like one, two, three years old. He was taking me to Gleason’s Gym, but it wasn’t for me. It was for him, you know, he was training for himself, which a lot of people don’t really get, and it eventually converted into me.

Teofimo Lopez between rounds during his 140-pound debut against Pedro Campa on Aug. 13, 2022 Las Vegas. Lopez won the fight by seventh-round TKO. (Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images)

And boxing, I tapped into that. I tried every different kind of sport. I did soccer, all those things, and what set the big difference is that I’m not gonna have a lot of time. No one does, no one has a lot of time here on earth. You know, we think we do, we think that tomorrow’s the next day and the next day and the next day after that, but we could all go away like that, you know, so what is it that I really wanna leave behind? In case anything ever goes wrong, I left something behind — not for myself, but for the new generation that’s coming up. You know, I think that they’ve all been misguided on things that we need to really do. The principles of life.

It’s outside of just the sport of boxing. I’m an entertainer, though, don’t get me wrong. We talk boxing. I’m here for you guys, you know, and I wanna give everybody the best fights that I possibly can against Josh Taylor in the UK, Regis Prograis for the WBC world title, the WBA world title, all these belts to become two-time undisputed world champion, follow the footsteps of the GWOAT, Clarissa Shields, who’s a three-time undisputed world champion; three different divisions. Those are the things that I’m looking forward to really doing, and I gotta capitalize on that.

SD: I couldn’t help but notice that Regis Prograis was talking some trash recently. I know you can dish it out, too, but who do you think talks the absolute most shit in that 135 to 140-pound range?

TL: Regis Prograis. And he is slow as fuck. And terrible.

Okay, look he’s a solid-based fighter, you know? Definitely someone that you gotta be careful about. To an extent, though, he does the job for you. If you really think about it, he’ll do the job for me when that time comes when we have to face each other.

SD: It looks like we’re actually going to get Gervonta Davis vs. Ryan Garcia in the next few months. What do you think happens in that fight?

TL: I’ll tell you like this, it’s great for the sport of boxing, and I know that they’re gonna win their next fights before they face each other. You know this is a great start-up [for] 2023. I think this is gonna be great for the boxing fans. It’s gonna be great for boxing itself. We needed this for some time.

Obviously, we noticed that Errol Spence and Terence Crawford are not going to face each other. They’re still not gonna capitalize on that, which is insane. I mean, this is for the 147-pound undisputed title, and you’re telling me because of financial funds, you’re not gonna face each other? Do you love boxing? If you don’t, then get out of my sport, because my sport is about belts and about championships and about becoming the greatest.

Why do we have the NBA Finals? Why do we have the World Series? Why do we have these things? Because that’s the goal — to become champions. These guys think that they’re, they’re the shit, the hot shit, but they’re not, you know? And look, they want to compete with Teofimo? Terence Crawford and BLK Prime wanna compete with me? We’re gonna show not only myself, but ESPN, Madison Square Garden, and everyone else that’s coming behind those scenes to play that role. We’re gonna show on Heisman night why we are the greatest and why we are the best of this era.

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SD: I’d say at this point in your career you’ve started to start to make some pretty good money, some pretty good paychecks

LH: No, no, no, I haven’t. I haven’t yet been able to. Sam, I’ll tell you like this, man: They’ve been giving me minimums. They have been disrespecting me financially in my sport of boxing.

But I don’t do it because of the money. I do it because of my glory, and because of that, I get my sponsorships like Essentia and Bud Light, and so forth. I’m thinking about the actual things that really matter in my sport. These guys, yes, they have been disrespecting me and they have been slapping me in my freaking face. How is it that I become an undisputed world champion at 135 pounds and they give a guy more money with a fake belt — Devin Haney, who had a fake belt that [they] delivered to him via email?

I don’t hate on anybody. I will speak my facts and my truth, because why? The truth will always set us free. If he earned that belt, then I would’ve said, you know what? I was not undisputed. You deserved that. However, I am not gonna get played by the system in my own sport. How is it that an undisputed world champion comes back home with a million dollars and a guy that’s holding a fake belt is coming back home with $4 million? What’s going on with our sport? Who’s really playing this game?

SD: As an athlete and in terms of your personal brand, how do you take back some of this narrative and earn that respect?

TL: I would say it’s patience. It’s all in God’s time; it’s not mine. With good faith will come good rewards. You know, I’m not focusing on the money, and they know this. Listen, man, I still hold the highest ratings on ESPN with 4.3 million viewership, and I doubled Terence Crawford and Jose Benavidez with their 2.2, whatever it was, 2.2 million viewership. I have three, four billion-dollar companies invested in me. Why? Because they understand it’s not about the money. It’s about the principles of life. It’s how we carry it. And obviously, they see that I really love my sport.

All these guys wanna be pay-per-view stars. We’re gonna change the narrative on all those things too — mark my words, we’re gonna change the game [to] the way it needs to be. Back in the ’80s, back in the ’90s, where the best fought the best and they didn’t care whether they won, loss, or draw, they all made money. Everybody made money. Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran, guess how much they made? They made about $12-15 million per each, which was in the ’80s. $15 million in the ’80s is a lot of freaking money if you ask me.

I can’t really tap in so much on this; I have to just do the work. So, Dec. 10, everyone’s gonna see more of my work, more of the stuff that I’m trying to put out. It’s about a movement, man. We gotta take care of the new future, the new generation, the new kids. I made God protect me along the way throughout this journey to show a big difference in the world in all sports. This is not just “take over boxing.” This is take over sports.

SD: Two questions to end with: (1) Under the lights at the Garden, how do things ultimately go when you step in the ring against Sandor Martin, and (2) who’s winning the Heisman Trophy?

TL: I know they’ve been talking about the favorite right now from USC.

SD: Caleb Williams.

TL: Yeah, he’s earned the spot. We gotta give him kudos to him. Everybody that’s actually nominated, all these great football players, man, they’re so driven. I believe they all deserve it. However, there’s only one that gets it, so I’ll go for the favorite. USC. Caleb Williams.

As for what I’m gonna do, come Saturday night, Dec. 10, I think it’s for everyone just to tune in. You know, it’s for me to know and for you all to see on ESPN or come to the fights.

SD: Ah, suspense! Any final words before we call it?

TL: It’s about giving back. It’s not about taking. There’s two different types of people in this world: There’s givers and there’s takers. Givers, they sleep better. Takers, they eat better. I’m a giver. I spent $90,000 on tickets — $90,000 of my own money on tickets so I could give to the fans, to the people, friends, because that’s what matters. You know, we all come together, all one, so I’m gonna continue to do this and push more because that’s what really matters. The people.

That’s the beauty of it. That’s what it was meant to be. We all are individuals and we all got our own genius in us.

Teofimo Lopez vs. Sandor Martin takes place on Saturday, Dec. 10 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The main card begins at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN following the 2022 Heisman Trophy presentation.

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About The Author
Sam Dunn
Sam Dunn
Sam Dunn is the Managing Editor of Boardroom. Before joining the team, he was an editor and multimedia talent for several sports and culture verticals at Minute Media and an editor, reporter, and site manager at SB Nation. A specialist in content strategy, copywriting, and SEO, he has additionally worked as a digital consultant in the corporate services, retail, and tech industries. He cannot be expected to be impartial on any matter regarding the Florida Gators or Atlanta Braves. Follow him on Twitter @RealFakeSamDunn.