Will Teofimo Lopez learn from his mistakes?

RINGOES, NJ — The last time Teofimo Lopez battled was with a condition later diagnosed as pneumomediastinum, a balloon-like air intrusion into his chest cavity, the likely result of a small tear in his esophagus which grew as he rehydrated after the weigh-in. “How he breathed, I can’t even explain,” said a specialist who examined him. “As if his neck and chest were in a vice.” Conclusion: He could have died that night.

“All the doctors that see my report,” Lopez says, “they look at me like, ‘How did you survive that? You’re either a beast or a God.'”

Beast or God? Seems a little grandiose for a fighter who just suffered his first defeat, a massive upset for the hitherto little-known – at least in the US – George Kambosos Jr. But grandiosity (published or private) and a commensurate ego are requirements for any fighter with Lopez’s ambition and ability. Remember the great Vasiliy Lomachenko and his own inability to accept a clean defeat at the hands of Lopez. Now it’s Lopez who continues to insist that he beat Kambosos.

Is he in denial? Sure. And if you want to feign indignation, be my guest.

The thing is, Lopez is the most dynamic young fighter in the game. He has a chance to be big. Not Instagram or YouTube super, but the real thing. Or, it may flare up in public view. But don’t lie to yourself: this is at the heart of the very dynamism of the attraction, what Lopez calls his “It Factor”.

But now — at the age of 25 — he finds himself embarking on a comeback (Saturday, 10 p.m. ET on ESPN/ESPN+), against a steadfast Sonora named Pedro Campa. The former undisputed lightweight world champion will make his 140-pound debut, but the pertinent questions begin with what, if anything, he learned from the loss?

Fighters lie to the world. It’s part of the job. But a great fighter cannot lie to himself. Adults learn to navigate this very private space between self-confidence and denial. The great fighter can feel as a God or a beast – indeed, he or she should – but still, knows he is neither. Grown-ups can analyze the difference between bravery and bravado.

Lopez had both, in abundance. But self-knowledge? This is only acquired the hard way, through failure.

The next year will reveal a lot about Lopez, not only the type of fighter he will be, but also the type of man. Part of me will be rooting for him to overcome his challenges. It wasn’t the “It Factor” that compromised what might remain of my journalistic integrity, but the sensitive, researching kid behind the facade of this violent braggart. The truth is, since beating Lomachenko, his life and career – complicated at the best of times – has gotten, well, messy. In late 2019, when we first sat down at the Old Dog Boxing Club, where he trains in the heart of New Jersey, Lopez was a newlywed on the verge of winning his first title. Now he is estranged from his wife, a single father trying to reclaim his titles.

“Who said I was a single father? he shoots me.

Let’s go.

“My personal life has nothing to do with it.”

We are only real. Her personal life – the lineage itself and the inevitable wider family disputes – have always been part of this thrill-seeking voyeuristic adventure. It started with his coach-dad’s incredibly brazen vow in 2018 that his boy would dismantle Lomachenko and then clearly be seen as the greatest fighter in the world.

Suddenly, Lopez went from that kid with the obnoxious father to fighter of the year, son of Nostradamus. Then the not-so-slow combustion, fueled by bad luck and hubris. Kambosos – an IBF mandatory challenger – looked like a good score, big money for little risk. But on fight night last November 27, there had been eight dates, six potential locations, two streaming services, an absurd purse offer and, in keeping with the greatest of boxing traditions, countless billable hours for the lawyers. By then, the Lopez team had laid off its nutritionists, citing the costs of a recurring training camp.

I mean, why would a pugilist prodigy worry about rehydration when he fights? George Kambosos? Or so it was thought.

Then again, Lopez had other things in mind. His son, Liam, was born a few weeks before the fight. He had already separated from his wife, Cynthia, whose mere presence had always been a point of contention between the fighter and his family. He had spoken quite openly about having suicidal thoughts.

The preparation of a fighter – emotional, physical, spiritual – is part of the fight. So I’m not taking anything from Kambosos here. Lopez apparently feels the opposite: “In round seven, I looked up at the lights and just said to God, ‘I need your help here because I’m about to do something about it. which you know I’m not done, and it’s over.’ Three rounds later, I put that little b—- in his lap.”

He is referring, of course, to Kambosos, whom he overthrew in the 10th, a night which, all things considered, divine and temporal, he was lucky to have survived.

to play

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Tim Bradley explains why he expects Teofimo Lopez to win by knockout in his next fight against Pedro Campa.

“Was it a mistake to fight? I ask.

“No,” he said. “It was the biggest choice I ever decided to make in my life.”

“You almost died.”

“Good. Good. I needed this.”

“You needed to almost die?”

“To realize how…how dark and mean people are. Because I won that fight.”

“You think you won this fight?” I ask.

“The ref knew it. He raised his hand before they called Kambosos.”

“Who beat you then?”

“The only person who beat me was myself, and that’s it.”

To finish. The truth.

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