Teofimo Lopez Jr. had never been as vulnerable in the ring as he was in this moment outside of it.
The rising boxing star was sitting on the set of ESPN’s “Max on Boxing” in late July, telling its host, Max Kellerman, about the family issues he was enduring at the time and how it impacted his fight against Masayoshi Nakatani a week prior.
In short, he got married, and his mother and sisters didn’t approve, nor did they attend his wedding. With those family matters weighing heavy on his mind, Lopez could've had his “Takeover” halted in a tougher-than-expected time against Nakatani. Still, the Brooklyn native grinded toward a unanimous decision on that July 19 night in Oxon Hill, Md., remaining undefeated.
Nearly five months later, Lopez doesn’t have any regrets about sharing the ultra-personal story on a nationally televised show. But he knows it shifted his narrative from the electric knockouts and celebrations made for social media to his internal affairs. And for that, he considers this all a rich learning experience — one that brought the 22-year-old to the decision that the only hurting he’s going to share moving forward is going to be the kind he inflicts on opponents in the ring.
“You learn through all these stages,” Lopez told DAZN News standing in the Delta Sky360 Club of Madison Square Garden on Wednesday. “Not everybody needs to know everything. I hurt people in the ring. It’s my job. Other than that, nobody needs to know about my personal life.
"It’s not una novela,” the Honduran-American said, referring to not wanting his personal life to be on display like an ongoing saga.
Lopez’s refined “keep it boxing” approach was mandated by the lull he started to fall into earlier this year because of those family issues.
“I was starting to lose that love for the sport that I had,” Lopez admitted. “It wasn’t the sport itself, it was just what was going on around it. I feel more motivated, rejuvenated … like a fresh start coming into this.
“Sometimes you need everything to fall,” he added. “Sometimes you need a fall to regroup and rebuild yourself into something else or something better. Sometimes you need to fix the puzzle or rearrange things, and that’s what I did.”
Lopez (14-0, 11 KOs) vows that he’s in a better mind state than he was over his last two fights: the decision over Nakatani and the fifth-round KO of Edis Tatli in April. That’s a positive sign, considering he’ll need to be his sharpest Saturday night, when he challenges IBF lightweight champion Richard Commey at Madison Square Garden. The bout will serve as the co-feature to Terence Crawford putting his WBO welterweight title on the line against Egidijus Kavaliauskas in the main event.
Earlier this week, before Lopez’s media workout, a reporter asked the lightweight about the challenges Commey presents to him. Before he could utter a word, his outspoken father, Teofimo Lopez Sr., yelled: “He ain’t gonna do s—!”
Lopez, though, knows he’s going to have to generate his best against Commey.
Since suffering back-to-back losses to Robert EasterJr. and Denis Shafikov in 2016, Commey (29-2, 6 KOs) has rattled off five straight victories, including an eighth-round KO of Ray Beltran to defend his title in June.
Just like Lopez doesn’t want the lure of becoming a world champion to slip away, Commey doesn’t want to relinquish the title. Entering their fight, the 32-year-old has heard a majority of the narrative about Lopez trying to become world champion and not enough of him defending his strap. Yet, he seems unfazed by it all.
“I’ve been through it my whole career,” Commey told DAZN News about talkative foes overshadowing his humble personality outside the ring. “It’s nothing new to me. I gotta do what I gotta do.”
And he has the backing of his native Ghana to live up to being a fighting champion.
“How many boxers have come from Ghana with a chance to fight in [The Garden] in the co-main event?” Commey said during the press conference Wednesday. “There is no way I’m going to lose.”
Adding intrigue to what could be the show-stealing fight of the night is a special guest who will be in attendance to get a close-up view.
"Some young man who has three of the lightweight titles and is looking to fight for a fourth will be on hand. Vasiliy Lomachenko will be here,” Top Rank founder and CEO Bob Arum said. “A lot at stake in this Lopez fight with Commey."
If Lopez is going to prove that his blinders are on and he's lasered in for Saturday night, he can’t afford anything less than a win over Commey.
“A lot of things have changed,” Lopez said. “Training-wise, I think I feel much better now, more positive. Less drama than I was anticipating going into this fight as well.
“I’ve won huge titles, Olympic trials, national Golden Gloves, but it will never be like winning your first world title,” he forecasts. “I know it’s going to be something that’s unexplainable. Saturday night is the night that we can turn that into reality.”
What better way to hear “And new …” to essentially kick off a new year … and leave any drama behind.