Teofimo Lopez: Lightweight's unified champion fighting to cement his legacy

Healthy competition in the heavyweight division normally reflects the state of boxing and down the lower divisions, the current unified champion at 135lbs is flying the flag high...

Throughout the history of boxing, much of the sport's attention has often been centred on the heavyweight stars that have graced the hallowed squared circle.

Of all the greatest fighters to ever enter the ring, some of the most instantly recognisable names include legends like Jack Dempsey, Rocky Marciano, Muhammad AliGeorge Foreman and Mike Tyson.

While it is undoubtedly true that plenty of smaller fighters have fought their way to glory and public adulation, our collective love affair with the big guys fighting at the top of the game is illustrated in the levels of fame and respect afforded to our greatest heavyweights.

Even today, despite a comparatively weaker heavyweight landscape than in generations gone by, the sports biggest stars remain, quite literally, the biggest fighters.

However, in recent decades, the emergence of genuine fighting superstars in the lower weight classes has ensured that much of the sports focus has begun to shift south from the heavyweights.

While some fans and analysts will attribute this to the undoubted decline in quality at the heavyweight level witnessed in the last quarter of a century, it is an inescapable truth that the sport's greatest fighters in the previous 20 to 30 years have fought in boxing's lighter divisions.

Indeed. If you were to ask 100 boxing fans to name the sports best fighter over the last 20 years, two names and two names alone would likely spring to the mind of both hardcore and casual fans alike - Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather. Quite rightly so.

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Both fighters achieved levels of success and acclaim that no heavyweight in the past two decades could begin to rival. Both fighters started their careers as little men looking for a big reputation.

Both would achieve higher levels of fame and acclaim than any of the heavyweights who have competed since the days of Tyson, Lennox Lewis and Evander Holyfield.

Winners of a combined 27 world titles, Mayweather and Pacquiao's spectacular achievements helped shine the brightest of lights on the sports lower weight classes, a light that continues to burn brightly today.

While there is now clearly a great deal of talent operating in and around the 135lb division, the question must be asked, can the stars of today's lighter weight classes really compare to those who brought such great spectacle to the sport in the early '00s?

Teofimo Lopez is one such fighter ready to answer the call. But can he really achieve a legacy anything approaching that of someone like Pacman?

A legendary legacy to live up to

The career of the still fighting and legendary Manny Pacquiao is quite simply, unrivalled.

The only boxer in history to have won twelve major world titles in eight different weight divisions, the Filipino icon has been gobbling up glory for over 20 years, and remarkably, remains one of welterweight's best fighters at the ripe age of 41.

Manny Pacquiao last fought in 2019, defeating Keith Thurman via split-decision to inflict the first defeat of the American's career and in doing so, won the WBA welterweight world title
Manny Pacquiao last fought in 2019, defeating Keith Thurman via split-decision to inflict the first defeat of the American's career and in doing so, won the WBA welterweight world title

During an extraordinary ascent from winning his first world title at the tender age of 19, the Phillipino slugger turned political senator would win titles from 108lbs all the way up to 154lbs, cementing his legacy as the greatest "little" fighter of his, or perhaps any other generation.

At his peak, Pacquiao would sweep through a catalogue of household names, earning his "Mexicutioner" moniker thanks to a series of thrilling fights against Mexican legend's in Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales and Juan Manuel Marquez (amongst others).

Further extraordinary successes at higher weight classes included Ricky Hatton (140lbs), Oscar de la Hoya and Miguel Cotto (both at 147lbs) and Antonio Margarito (154lbs) ensured a level of superstardom that Lopez and the like, can at this point, still only fantasise.

Of course, that's not to say that Lopez, the Ring Magazine fighter of the year (shared with Tyson Fury) is not a loaded gun in terms of talent and marketing potential.

The 23-year-old is clearly one of, if not the sport's biggest star in the making. Now in possession of the IBF, WBA, WBC and WBO titles following his outstanding upset of Vasiliy Lomachenko, Lopez is now being lined up for the biggest fights and paydays of his career.

In a division brimming with talent, not to mention those in the weight classes immediately above Lopez's current 135lb class, numerous opportunities for the young American to establish himself as a genuine fighting superstar await.

At 135lbs, Ryan Garcia, Gervonta "Tank" Davis and Devin Haney would all make for huge pay-per-view events while a step up in weight to face the winner of the prospective undisputed junior-welterweight showdown between Scotland's Josh Taylor and Jose Ramirez would certainly set pulses racing on both sides of the Atlantic.

Ryan Garcia is seen as one of the most profitable fighters in world boxing despite having not won a world title yet (Photo Credit: Tom Hogan-Hoganphotos/Golden Boy)
Ryan Garcia is seen as one of the most profitable fighters in world boxing despite having not won a world title yet (Photo Credit: Tom Hogan-Hoganphotos/Golden Boy)

However, for Lopez to even have a chance of creating a legacy like that of Manny, a series of dramatic fights with the best fighters in and around his weight class is surely a requisite.

In revisiting the remarkable resume of Pacquiao, it is extraordinary to consider that he fought eight times against just three of the Mexican legends mentioned earlier. Despite losing two of those fights, his legacy has never been in question.

Even today, with seven losses to his name - a couple of them highly controversial - Pacquiao's place in an elite group of fighting legends is ensured. A Hall of Famer, despite having not fought since 2019, is still mixing it with the best today.

This simple truth should resonate with today's brightest fighting prospects, often too interested in protecting an unbeaten record or inflating their reputation by trading barbs on social media.

Of course, the world has changed dramatically in the past 20 years, but in boxing, an eternal truth remains enshrined in the sports unwritten constitution - fighting the greatest brings only the greatest of legacies.

For Lopez to achieve such a legacy, he must fight all comers, while a rematch with Lomachenko (already ruled out by Lopez) is surely a path the Pacman would have followed en-route to greatness.

While boxing can often leave the fans shortchanged when it comes to making the match-up's we desire most, there is genuine optimism that the young guns in and around the lightweight division will square off in the not too distant future.

All fight fans yearn for champions who take on all comers, who fight the best the sport has to offer and can take a loss like a champion (Deontay Wilder take note), and return to the peak of the sport with their reputation enhanced, not damaged.

In a fighting landscape that offers plenty of mountains to climb, for Lopez, to create a legacy like the great little champions of years gone by is his for the taking.

Can he achieve it? Only time will tell.

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