The 5 Best Opponents for Teofimo Lopez's Next Fight

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured Columnist IIIDecember 11, 2022

The 5 Best Opponents for Teofimo Lopez's Next Fight

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    LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - AUGUST 13: Teofimo Lopez Jr. celebrates after defeating Pedro Campa in a junior welterweight fight at Resorts World Las Vegas on August 13, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Lopez won the fight with a seventh-round TKO. (Photo by Steve Marcus/Getty Images)
    Steve Marcus/Getty Images

    Welcome to "The Takeover," Part II.

    Brash Brooklyn-born slugger Teofimo Lopez, whose self-dubbed nickname declared an intent to upset the sport's competitive establishment, is back in the building.

    The former three-belt lightweight champion had fought just twice since wresting 135-pound glory from Vasyl Lomachenko in October 2020, losing his stash of jewelry to George Kambosos Jr. in his first defense and spending much of the immediate aftermath aboard the conspiracy train suggesting he was done in by a scheme to elevate another fighter.

    He exited long enough to stop Pedro Campa in seven rounds four months ago in Las Vegas and has announced a new mission to establish a belt-copping foothold at 140 pounds.

    A more significant step was taken on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden, where he headlined an ESPN-televised show with a split-decision defeat of red-hot Sandor Martin, who'd not lost since 2017 in a streak that included a decision over four-division champ Mikey Garcia labeled 2021's top upset by BoxingScene.

    It's a return that's piqued the curiosity of would-be foes at and around the junior welterweight/super lightweight class, and the B/R combat sports team used the opportunity to create a list of fighters who'd make the best opponents for Lopez's next appearance, which would, in theory, come sometime in the first half of 2023.

    Scroll through to see what we came up with and leave a comment with views of your own.

5. Devin Haney

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    MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 16: Devin Haney and George Kambosos Jr. exchange punches during their World Lightweight Undisputed Championship bout between George Kambosos Jr. of Australia and Devin Haney of the United States at Rod Laver Arena on October 16, 2022 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Kelly Defina/Getty Images)
    Kelly Defina/Getty Images

    File this one away under "Do not open until 2024."

    Though the prospect of an unbeaten and undisputed lightweight champion climbing a division to face a guy who'd held three of the same belts is a tantalizing one, it's not yet in the cards for Lopez to face off with the likes of Devin Haney.

    Lest anyone forget, Haney was the WBC's champ at 135 pounds when Lopez held the IBF, WBA and WBO titles, and there had been verbal grenades flung back and forth between the camps. Lopez wound up losing his strap to Kambosos before anything could get done.

    And because he's since climbed to 140, it won't happen until interim hurdles are cleared.

    Team Lopez is pursuing belts in their new weight class and Haney is defending his, likely against Lomachenko, at 135. But there's at least a credible chance that they'll wind up at the same weight at some point and at least the same chance that there'll be some championship jewelry at stake to compete over.

    And if Dad says it, it must be true.

    "Not the way we're fighting," Lopez's father and lead trainer, Teofimo Sr., told BoxingScene's Hans Themistode when asked if a Haney fight is on the immediate agenda. "These guys gotta move up. We're already doing what we're doing at 140. We're getting closer to that belt."

4. Ryan Garcia

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 16:  Ryan Garcia throws a punch at Javier Fortuna in the first round of a Super Lightweight bout at the Arena on July 16, 2022 in Los Angeles, United States. (Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images)
    John McCoy/Getty Images

    Here's another that won't be next.

    But it will be big.

    Lopez and Ryan Garcia are another pair of fighters who've had each other's names on their lips for quite a while, but the competitive winds have yet to blow them together.

    Garcia was still a rising commodity at 135 when Lopez was champion, and "King Ryan" reemerged as a budding star while Lopez cooled his heels following the Kambosos loss.

    Putting them together now would guarantee a high-profile publicity jolt. But because neither has a title at this point it doesn't make a whole lot of sense, significance wise.

    Lopez's win over Martin got him one step closer to his stated goal—a championship or two—at 140 pounds, a division Garcia entered in 2022 with defeats of Emmanuel Tagoe (UD 12) and Javier Fortuna (KO 6). And Garcia already has another chatty rival, Gervonta Davis, on his 2023 agenda once Davis defends his second-tier lightweight belt one last time.

    Make no mistake, though. Wheels are turning in the background.

    Garcia's promoter, Oscar De La Hoya, was ringside for Lopez's fight in August and was a longtime ring client of Lopez's promoter, Bob Arum, during his days as fighter.

    And Arum said, when the time comes, it'll be a simple event to assemble.

    "Oscar and I have a long history together, and if Oscar is interested in making that fight, I certainly would entertain it, and we can sit down and talk," he told Marcos Villegas of Fight Hub TV (h/t Manouk Akopyan of BoxingScene).

3. Arnold Barboza Jr.

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    TEMECULA, CALIFORNIA - JULY 15: Arnold Barboza Jr (L) and Danielito Zorrilla (R) exchange punches during their WBO Intercontinental jr. welterweight championship fight on July 15, 2022 in Temecula, California. (Photo by Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images)
    Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images

    Ironically, Arnold Barboza Jr. is hoping to talk his way into a fight with one of the sport's highest-caliber loudmouths.

    The 31-year-old Californian is also affiliated with Arum's Top Rank and has accomplished nearly all there is to accomplish on the 140-pound division's second tier, winning 27 straight fights while assembling a cache of regional titles and working his way to No. 4 in the WBO's November rankings—three slots behind Lopez.

    He was in the running to be in the opposite corner for the fight that ultimately matched Lopez with Campa in August, and he wasn't too thrilled to be pushed aside while being dismissed by Team Lopez as a competitive nonentity.

    They've gone back and forth verbally in the aftermath, and Barboza would like nothing better than to goad Lopez into transforming the enmity into action.

    "When he said tune-up fight, that's when it got me mad," Barboza told The DAZN Boxing Show (via BoxingScene). "Then all the talk about how he right away wanted to come into the division and fight for all four belts when it's, like, he hasn't done s--t in our division."

    "Know what I mean?" Barboza added. "I've worked my whole life to get to where I'm at in my division. So that was another disrespect, slap in the face."

    Among Barboza's backers in the "Lopez didn't want to fight me" discussion is newly minted WBC champ Regis Prograis, who took to social media to suggest Lopez ducked Barboza.

2. Regis Prograis

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    ATLANTA, GEORGIA - APRIL 17: Regis Prograis punches Ivan Redkach in their junior welterweight bout during Triller Fight Club at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on April 17, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images for Triller)
    Al Bello/Getty Images for Triller

    Oh, about that Prograis fellow.

    If his campaign for Barboza doesn't land the Californian a date with Lopez, it's no secret that he covets his own opportunity for a bite at the division's newest shiny apple.

    And now that the 33-year-old is a reigning champion at 140, it's a tasty option.

    The New Orleans native was on the rise as an unbeaten titleholder in 2019 but lost his belt in a unification match with Josh Taylor. He returned to the lower-profile grind to get back into championship position, and, once Taylor vacated all but one of his assembled belt collection, turned a shot at the vacant WBC strap into a second title reign with a KO of Jose Zepeda.

    He's now 4-0 with four KOs since losing to Taylor, as well as a two-time champion, and he's anxious to turn his reclaimed status into another shot at the big time.

    "Prograis told us he would love to face Teofimo," Randy Gordon, who hosts At The Fights on SiriusXM, told Bleacher Report.

    "Very interesting bout. I pick Regis."

    Not surprisingly, Regis picks Regis, too.

    "I really think I'll hurt him," Prograis told BoxingScene's Keith Idec of a potential fight with Lopez.

    "I really think I can hurt him, stop him. Listen, Teofimo, I thought he had the goods at 135. Of course, with the Kambosos thing we can say Kambosos had the best night of his life and Teofimo had the worst night of his life. We can always say that, but as far 140 goes, his last fight he fought somebody that wasn't too much (Campa) and he got hit with a lot of punches. Now, I just don't see it."

1. Josh Taylor

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    LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 26: Josh Taylor celebrates victory over Regis Prograis during the World Boxing Super Series Super-Lightweight Ali Trophy Final at The O2 Arena on October 26, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Stephen Pond/Getty Images)
    Stephen Pond/Getty Images

    Last but not least, it's the biggest dog in the junior welterweight/super lightweight yard.

    Scottish hero Josh Taylor is unbeaten in 19 fights across seven years as a pro, has 13 KOs and has carried every belt of substance in the 140-pound weight class.

    He's prepping for the rematch of a debated split-decision defeat of Jack Catterall from last February, and, presuming a more decisive victory this time around, will resume his position as the division's most-pursued quarry.

    Taylor earned two cards by scores of 114-111 and 113-112 while dropping the other by a 113-112 count, prompting many in Europe to suggest the wrong man had won.

    They were scheduled for a return match in Glasgow, Scotland, in February, but ESPN reported Thursday that the date will likely be shifted backward to March because of TV conflicts.

    The Ring labels Taylor as its champion at 140, and he's the only fighter at that weight to warrant inclusion on the magazine's pound-for-pound list—he's No. 8—as well.

    And given Lopez's desire to play the biggest rooms, it's no surprise Taylor tops the American's ranking. Taylor works with Arum and Top Rank, too, which ought to make things easier when pen comes to paper and punch comes to mouth.

    "The goal for next year is Josh Taylor in the UK," Lopez told Idec, "to kick his ass in the UK, and give the fans a huge performance, a good treat."