Why Teofimo Lopez Jr.’s mental health should be of greater worry than his odds of defeating Josh Taylor

Before his junior welterweight title match on Saturday, Lopez has made some terrifying remarks.

Few fights on the boxing calendar for 2023 have the potential of Saturday’s 140-pound title contest between WBO champion Josh Taylor and former lightweight champion Teofimo Lopez Jr., where Taylor will defend his undefeated record.

Taylor (19-0, 13 KOs) lost three of his belts for failing to make the required necessary defenses, and as a result, he is no longer the undisputed champion. Additionally, the battle will take place in the Theater at New York’s Madison Square Garden (ESPN, 10 p.m. ET) rather than the main arena, something the brazen Lopez (18-1, 13 KOs) publicly questioned. This decision marks one of the few times in the lead-up to the fight that the two boxers have come to an understanding.

The battle speaks for itself as a pairing of two talented, intriguing competitors with very different fighting styles. So why has Lopez’s mental state occupied such a major piece of the pre-fight narrative?

That, however, opens up a whole new can of worms.

If we’re being completely honest, Lopez’s personal and professional lives have been in constant disarray ever since his shocking defeat against George Kambosos Jr. in 2021. If we’re being completely honest, chaos has actually been present the entire time, usually in the form of family turmoil; Lopez had just previously done a far better job of maintaining his cool in the face of all the commotion.

The most amazing aspect of it all is that Lopez, who is only 25 years old, has already achieved a remarkable lot in her professional career, including dethroning Vasiliy Lomachenko as the pound-for-pound champion in 2020. The fact that many boxing experts openly doubt if he will ever be that same boxer again is even more absurd.

This rumor has been fueled by Lopez’s ongoing strange remarks, which started after his Kambosos loss when he accused the streaming service DAZN of buying the judges’ votes. However, they have continued seriously in the lead-up to the Taylor confrontation, coinciding with the consequences from Lopez’s pending divorce and his admission that his wife wants to keep their young son away from him while demanding half of his income.

Beyond what Top Rank required for promotional objectives, Lopez has used conventional media very little. However, Lopez’s frequent appearances on the Punsh Drunk Boxing podcast, which is hosted on YouTube, have resulted in a number of contentious headlines. Lopez, whose parents were immigrants from Honduras and who were born in Brooklyn, New York, accused Top Rank of favoring “black fighters” over him while also criticizing ESPN commentators Andre Ward and Timothy Bradley Jr. for their slanted coverage.

Lopez recently responded to the million-dollar question about his mental health by telling Punsh Drunk Boxing that he couldn’t be happier.

Man, I’m at ease,” Lopez added. “I don’t have a parasite eating me alive on the way home. Man, I believe that’s what it was. For their money, people were fleeing. I struggled with that for five years. Along the road, I had to learn. I had to go through life’s cycle because God made me do it. I still have my body here, as well as my spirit, intellect, and body.

I became aware that I was taking things too seriously and no longer had any enjoyment. I was carrying a lot of burden on my shoulders because I speak the truth, don’t hold back, and don’t really shut up. Sometimes, that puts me in awkward circumstances.

Lopez’s involvement in forcing a purse bid for the Kambosos fight that resulted in the fight being shifted to DAZN after Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Sport won the offer caused a split between Lopez and Top Rank. In addition to losing to Kambosos, Lopez was hospitalized for an esophageal tear sustained during training camp and was told by medical professionals that he was lucky to have survived the fight.

The boxing media and Lopez, who had earlier claimed that this was the final match of his Top Rank contract until changing his mind this week, were both accused of underestimating the seriousness of Lopez’s health issue and of failing to give him credit for finishing 12 all-action rounds while in that condition. Lopez’s situation has, regrettably, only gotten worse since then.

Lopez stepped up to 140 pounds after the Kambosos defeat and won twice, but they weren’t without criticism from those who questioned whether his strength had transferred to the heavier weight. With much fewer hints of the brilliance he had displayed as a lightweight, Lopez narrowly defeated late substitute Sandor Martin in his final fight.

After the split-decision victory, Lopez was even recorded on camera asking his team out loud if he still had it. Lopez has since tried to spin this as a ploy to use the big names at 140 pounds to trick them into thinking he was damaged goods. What Lopez doesn’t realize is that his recent barrage of strange comments have been sufficient on their own.

Teofimo Lopez questioning if he’s still got it 🤔#Boxing #LopezMartin pic.twitter.com/9YO8fWiU7S

— Round By Round Boxing (@RBRBoxing) December 11, 2022

Lopez really got himself into more trouble when he said on Punsh Drunk Boxing that his favorite aspect of boxing is that “I could kill a guy and get away with it.” As if that weren’t enough, Lopez then revealed his intentions to figuratively kill Taylor. Lopez addressed the matter on Wednesday by telling FightHubTV that he had no regrets at all.

Boxing is soft, that’s what I’m saying, stated Lopez. “I was literally going to die versus Kambosos due to the wounds I received throughout the fight. I praise God that I am still alive. However, if I had left, they would have rang the 10-bell count, and people would have briefly missed me before forgetting about me. No, I’m not sorry for my remarks. If he dies, he will die. This is a consequence of the sport because people have died playing it. It’s an element of the game.

This is what I meant when I said boxing is soft, said Lopez. Because of the injuries I sustained during the struggle with Kambosos, I was truly going to die. Thank God, I’m still here. But if I had left, they would have rung the ten bells, and after they finished, no one would have remembered me. No, I’m not apologizing for my remarks. And if he dies, he dies. This is a consequence of the sport, which has resulted in deaths. It pertains to the sport.

The significant difference between Lopez’s current demeanor and the poised-beyond-his-years side he displayed while essentially still a teenager in the multi-year build-up to the Lomachenko fight is what makes his recent change so alarming. Always forthcoming in interviews, Lopez was able to serve as the voice of reason while those around him, such as his outspoken trainer and father Teofimo Lopez Sr., were acting anything but rationally.

In fact, Lopez came dangerously close to losing his unbeaten streak against Masayoshi Nakatani in 2019 when he put on a disjointed performance that was tainted by the revelation that he had to intervene to stop a fight between his then-fiancee and his disapproving family just before the walk to the ring.

Despite the scare that occurred that evening, Lopez never publicly placed the blame on his family (even when everyone but his father declined to attend his wedding) and maintained his composure when confronted with claims that he was exposed that night. To earn his first title and set up the Lomachenko battle, Lopez defeated Richard Commey in Round 2 five months later, making everyone forget about the bumpy road he had to travel.

But four years later, Lopez is still the subject of fresh concerns ahead of such a challenging bout. Following a lackluster performance against Jack Catterall that left many believing the Scottish native shouldn’t have won the split decision, Taylor, who has knocked out six consecutive unbeaten fighters including Jose Ramirez in their 2021 undisputed title match, enters the bout with a few of his own. However, they are nothing compared to what Lopez is up against.

Given that he only recently admitted to seriously considering suicide before the Kambosos loss, Lopez’s current mental state should be the subject of concern for the boxing public rather than the question of whether he has what it takes to beat Taylor.

People will label you as insane and assert that you shouldn’t be too forthright about particular issues, Lopez added. Unfortunately, the smartest people are nuts. Yes, those that are very awake there are very insane.

“I chase death when I see it.”