Fighter Of The Year Nominations:
Joe Smith Jr.
Winner: Teofimo Lopez
It’s been a difficult year, on this we can all agree. And thanks to a highly contagious and deadly virus, the already-meager activity levels of the elite level fighters in pro boxing were reduced even more. Most fighters only managed one bout this year, and many didn’t step into the ring at all. Thus we find ourselves with a list of four Fighter Of The Year candidates with just six fights between them, and only four during the pandemic. Not great from a sample-size standpoint, though its fair to note that last year’s contenders for this award weren’t exactly Henry Armstrong either.
So when considering the performances of our finalists, quality mattered far more than quantity. And one boxer edged out the others in terms of both the difficulty of his individual challenge, as well as the overall impact to the sport. For The Fight City, that is none other than the newly-minted lightweight champion of the world, Teofimo Lopez. The young boxer who calls himself “The Takeover” only managed one bout this year, but he made it count, dethroning the reigning lightweight champion, Vasiliy Lomachenko. But Lomachenko was more than just a world champion, and Teofimo’s victory was about more than simply annexing a world title.
Beyond the plethora of championship belts encircling his waist, the Ukrainian boxer they call “Hi-Tech” was considered by many, if not most, the finest boxer on the planet, pound-for-pound. And the vast majority of fight fans and pundits had a difficult time envisioning him losing to Lopez. And who can blame them? Think about it: Teofimo Lopez had only sixteen pro bouts to his credit and just a single top ten scalp on his belt. Meanwhile, more than a few respected boxing experts were starting to favorably compare Lomachenko to the legends of the past. Even in a “normal” twelve month span, this upset win would have earned Teofimo recognition as one of the stand-out fighters of the year.
But if most didn’t see Teofimo Lopez as a major threat to the great Lomachenko, Lopez himself came into his high-stakes showdown against the revered Ukrainian with complete confidence, making it clear to all that he expected to emerge victorious. Meanwhile, most experts gave him only the puncher’s chance. But when the bell rang and the action got underway, Lopez didn’t fight like a simple slugger. He utilized intelligent pressure, fast hands, and nimble footwork to keep the smaller man at a distance as he proceeded to outwork, outbox, and outpunch the champion.
To say it was an impressive performance doesn’t do Teofimo justice. He made the best counterpuncher in the world appear completely gun shy and after seven rounds one could argue that the underdog was pitching a shutout. To his credit, Loma finally started forcing his way back into the fight and swept rounds eight through eleven, but he was so far behind on the scorecards he needed a knockout to win. Not only did Lopez deny him that knockout, but he finished the final round in style, fighting back hard and capturing it to cement his triumph.
With just a single victory, Teofimo went from being a fighter who had only recently established himself as a serious contender to one of the finest pound-for-pound boxers in the world, forcing everyone to re-evaluate his standing as well as that of Lomachenko. The other contenders for this award all enjoyed excellent years in the ring, but none advanced so far so quickly, and none had a victory with such profound consequences.
It’s difficult to top a feat like Lopez’s in any given year, especially one like 2020. But even with a deadly virus disrupting the world, there should be no asterisk attached to this award. Teofimo Lopez played on the same field as the rest of the boxing world, and wrote his name in the history books with his fists and his impressive self-confidence. And at just 23 years old, there’s no reason to believe he can’t continue to improve. Chances are the next time he wins this award, it won’t be half as surprising.
— Hunter Breckenridge