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Lopez Quest For Another Takeover

Mikey Williams/ Top Rank

NEW YORK– Almost three years ago we heard Teofimo Lopez referring to a takeover associated with the lightweight titles and at Madison Square Garden the venue known as the Mecca of boxing. He took the titles from Vasyl Lomachencko and lost them to George Kambosos Jr. in the Garden last year.

Now, Lopez returns to Madison Square Garden Saturday evening with his continued quest for another takeover, and this time looking to take all the belts in his second fight at junior welterweight, a division that is composed of elite names in the sport.

Lopez sent Richard Commey to the canvas in the second round that was the beginning of a successful takeover at lightweight. Then, he fulfilled his goal and got to take the undisputed lightweight belts from Lomachenko, the adversary he dethroned with a unanimous decision a year later at an empty arena in Las Vegas that was called a “Bubble” at the height of a COVID Pandemic.

What followed was the beginning of a so-called decline for a fighter who had it all. Lopez ran into obstacles with his health after losing the titles with a controversial split decision to Kambosos Jr. at the smaller room Hulu Theatre at the Garden.

That was then. Lopez is past that adversity and went back to work with a reality about another takeover, at 140, a weight class more comfortable but highly competitive to achieve another takeover and unify those titles.

Lopez (17-1, 13 KOs) will fight former European junior welterweight king Sandor Martin (40-2, 13 KOs) in the 10-round main event at Madison Square Garden. Lopez-Martin tops a televised Top Rank quadruple-header airing immediately after the Heisman Trophy Ceremony at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT on ESPN, ESPN Deportes and ESPN+.

Losing the titles to Kambosos Jr. caught Lopez off guard. The issues with his breathing and later revealing he almost lost his life in the ring, but he has been in positions of adversity many times before the takeover at lightweight was complete.

The critics always had doubts about his mentality. They said there was too much interference from the outside, including his own dad who has been in his corner from the first day he stepped in a boxing ring.

“We all have an opportunity here, we all have an objective to do on Saturday night,” he said Thursday afternoon. “My whole thing is, ‘How do we continue the Takeover?’ We just got to keep winning. Whoever they put in front of us, we beat them.”

And the mecca for Lopez is Madison Square Garden. He has a following in New York. The Hondorian born and one-time Brooklyn fighter, now living in Las Vegas, is again in a comfort zone with his original promoters at Top Rank Boxing.

Lopez and Top Rank will tell you that staging a mega fight at the Garden is where he belongs.

Top Rank will highlight some of their elite talent on the card, including upcoming and undefeated 20-year old Zander Zayes, their rising star from San Juan, Puerto Rico. But the main event is about Teofimo Lopez in his second fight at 140.

Of course there had to be another obstacle, though this time circumstances beyond control of the fighter as Jose “Sniper” Pedraza, his original opponent, had to pull out of the fight two weeks ago because of a COVID related illness.

Nothing new here with the adversity, this time preparing for a different opponent on short notice with a significant fight that has implications for a title opportunity. Again, Teofimo Lopez hears the critics and many would prefer the former champion to focus on his opponent at hand instead of looking ahead and talking about another takeover.

“We are in the entertainment business, not the boxing business and you guys got to remember that,” Lopez said. “The only surprise that I think everyone will see is how much better I got since my first career loss. What I would like to tell everyone here is that you never really lose. The only time you ever really lose is when you quit. When you say ‘No Mas.’ That’s when you lose.”

He seeks to become a two-time undisputed champion in the modern four belt title era.

“We wish Jose Pedraza a speedy recovery but we look forward to facing Sandor Martin,” Lopez said. “He was the opponent we originally wanted. I will continue to silence the doubters as I take over the 140-pound division. I look forward to giving my hometown fans a special night of boxing.”

However that division is proving to be a tough hurdle, perhaps more difficult from the first Lopez lightweight takeover because elite fighters are all eyeing superiority in a division that highlights the sport. Regis Prograis recorded a 11th round KO over Jose Zepada for the vacant WBC super lightweight title and became a two-time champion in the division.

Jose Ramirez, a former champion, is in the mix. As is Josh Taylor who once held the title now held by Prograis.

Lopez, though, has been focused on his upcoming return at the Garden and by no fault of his own this week called out Prograis on social media. He wants the titles and will take this one step at a time

It’s a tough road to climb, but this is Teofimo Lopez who has been in this position. There is also talk Devin Haney, the current undisputed lightweight champion, will move up in weight and take on Lopez down the line which would be a potential mega fight on the horizon.

Said Martin, (Barcelona Spain) “Basically, in my country, it’s very difficult to be a boxer and come out of Spain. It’s taken a professional career of 42 professional fights across 11 years to have an opportunity like this. As soon as I got the opportunity, I couldn’t reject it. Teofimo Lopez. Madison Square Garden. Top Rank. It’s about making history.”

“I’ve come to win. I respect Teofimo Lopez very much and the career that he’s had as a professional athlete. I respect him a lot as a boxer. I only hope that we deliver a great fight and we come out the ring healthy on Saturday.”

But something says here, this new takeover at Madison Square Garden will continue the quest for Teofimo Lopez…

Xander Zayes, the undefeated 20-year old Puerto Rican junior middleweight steps up in class on the undercard opposing 28-fight veteran Alexis Salazar.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – DECEMBER 08: Xander Zayas (L) and Alexis Salazar (R) pose during the press conference prior to their December 10 super welterweight fight at Madison Square Garden on December 08, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images)

“I’m excited to be back in New York,” Zayes said. “I had the opportunity to fight here in March. Then, I had to cancel the fight in June, (Illness) so being back here as the NABO champion means a lot more. I have a great veteran fighter in front of me with a great coaching staff. So, I have to keep the game plan going, have fun in there and keep listening to my corner.”

Rich Mancuso is the senior writer for Twitter@Ring786 Mancuso. Watch “Sports With Rich” with Rich and Robert Rizzo Tuesday evening live 8pmET on the SLG Network and YouTube

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