Inside Teofimo's big plans, including why Steve Claggett had to be next

MIAMI — Teofimo Lopez glides around the ring with palm trees surrounding him back where it all started for the junior welterweight champion.

Lopez was born in Brooklyn, New York, but grew up in South Florida after relocating at age 5. It was near here, roughly 20 miles away in Davie, where Lopez started training in boxing one year later under the guidance of his father, Teofimo Lopez Sr.

And it’s where Lopez returns Saturday at 26 — with his father still manning the corner — for his first professional fight in Miami, when he defends his WBO junior welterweight title against Steve Claggett (10 p.m. ET, ESPN and ESPN+).

Lopez (21-1, 13 KOs) is once again looking to build momentum. He claimed he was retiring last summer after his impressive win over Josh Taylor to become a two-division champion. Then, in February, Lopez struggled to a decision victory over Jamaine Ortiz in an uneventful fight that elicited boos.

Lopez, perhaps, just needed a break. He rested after his last fight, Lopez told ESPN earlier this month in Little Havana, and now feels rejuvenated.

“I think that did a good thing for me; I think that overall I needed that,” said Lopez, ESPN’s No. 10 pound-for-pound boxer. “I was training right after my fight with Josh Taylor. So you are looking at like eight months of camp, really.”

For the second consecutive outing, Lopez will face someone below the elite level. Against a tailor-made opponent in Claggett, Lopez could use another highlight-reel KO to create some buzz for a far-bigger matchup in the future.

He’s a uniquely talented fighter, an athletic boxer-puncher with a creative offensive arsenal. There’s the Lopez who defeated Vasiliy Lomachenko (2020) and Taylor. Both were eye-opening performances that made Lopez the lineal champion (Lomachenko at 135 pounds, Taylor at 140).

However, Lopez has also been prone to letdowns. He was outpointed by George Kambosos Jr. in ESPN’s 2021 Upset of the Year. The fight — his first following the Lomachenko win — took place in November of that year in New York. It was originally set for June at LoanDepot Park, home of the Miami Marlins. Then he came down with COVID-19, scrapping the homecoming fight Lopez was waiting for and setting him off track.

Lopez moved up to 140 pounds afterward, and Saturday’s bout will be his fifth at the weight. The matchup with Claggett (38-7-2, 26 KOs) amounts to a stay-busy fight. Despite 47 pro bouts, the 35-year-old Canadian has never competed in a 12-round fight.

Claggett was picked, ostensibly, because he presents an easy target to produce Lopez’s first KO victory since August 2022. Lopez is -135 to do just that, per ESPN BET, and -1200 to win outright.

“When they announced the fight with Claggett, I was surprised because he should dominate and win no matter how long the fight goes,” longtime matchmaker Eric Bottjer told ESPN. “… Lopez is in another world, so this fight should not be competitive. … It’s just a marking-time fight. It’s for Teofimo to stay busy, keep his mind on boxing.”

Lopez referred to Claggett as a “tough, rugged” fighter. In other words, he won’t offer a slick, box-and-move style like Ortiz, who frustrated Lopez in a close fight. Sandor Martin, whom Lopez eked past in December 2022, boxed in a similar manner.

“Steve Claggett is just someone that comes forward,” Lopez said. “… I don’t like guys that talk about it just to get a paycheck and not show up to fight.”

Regardless of the style of all three opponents, not one of them represents anything remotely approaching a marquee fight for Lopez, a rising star with an outsized personality.

Lopez plans to return in September — “we got something in mind” — and hopes to fight a fourth time in December. He says the big fights “are around the corner,” though it’s unclear when.

He seems frustrated with the fact that other big names in his division, according to Lopez, don’t want to take the risk of fighting him.

“Everyone just needs to accept: When you lose to Teofimo, you’re not losing to the worst guy,” Lopez said. “You’re losing to the best guy. So just embrace the fact that that loss is just a lesson for you guys to know that I was just a better man. That’s it.”

The junior welterweight division Lopez sits atop offers some intriguing options. Star boxer Gervonta “Tank” Davis competed at 140 pounds once and has discussed a return. He’s in talks to meet Lomachenko later this year in a lightweight title unification.

Another star, Ryan Garcia, is suspended until April 2025 after he tested positive for a banned substance before his fight with Devin Haney. Haney just vacated his 140-pound title and appears headed for welterweight.

While Lopez has never campaigned above 140 pounds, he singled out Terence Crawford, who challenges Israil Madrimov for a junior middleweight title on Aug. 3.

“I can fight at ’54,” Lopez said. “… It doesn’t matter how big they are, it’s about your skills. It is about how you fight, how you’re able to manage through it. As long as the legs are strong, you can go up in any weight class.”

Lopez says that when he fought Taylor, he was 152 pounds on fight night while Taylor was 165.

“Is [Crawford] willing to actually do one more big fight?” Lopez asked. “We will see. I think he’s just focused on cashing out and saying, ‘Good riddance. I did my thing.’

“But I don’t believe a guy like himself that is so competitive is going to want to walk out like that. You can’t say you’re the best; you got to face a guy like me. I talk a lot of s—, but I back it up.”

In the meantime, Lopez will stay busy and look to find the one thing that’s proved perhaps even more elusive than his slick opponents: consistency.

“We have some things that we got to work on,” Lopez said. “That’s fine. That’s part of it. I’m only 26. The way I fight looks like I’m in my prime in my thirties, but I’m not. I’m still a baby in this and I’m learning from it. So I think that’s the best part, is that I know that I have time and time is my best friend.”

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