September 28, 2023

Teofimo Lopez crossed the line with comments about Josh Taylor’s murder in their title fight Saturday

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JUNE 08: Teofimo Lopez speaks at the press conference prior to his June 10 WBO Junior Welterweight Championship fight against Josh Taylor, at Chase Square at Madison Square Garden on June 8, 2023 in New York City.  (Photo by Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images)

Former undisputed lightweight champion Teofimo Lopez has said he wants to kill opponent Josh Taylor in Saturday’s fight on ESPN for the WBO super lightweight belt. (Mikey Williams/Getty Images)

The words are terrifying, dark and horrible, words a boxer should never utter. Fighters, from those just starting to fight for $100 in a four-round game to the best of the best preparing to compete in a highly anticipated world title fight, know the risk they take by slipping under the ropes.

They walk in, but in part of their brain they know there’s a chance, however small, that they won’t walk out.

I’ve been ringside for seven fighters who lost their lives in the ring. On September 17, 2005, Leavander Johnson defended a lightweight title against Jesús Chávez at the MGM Grand Garden in Las Vegas. Chavez brutally beat Johnson, but the fight continued until the 11th when it was stopped. Johnson walked shakily to his dressing room and was rushed to a local hospital.

He died five days later.

I was standing in the lobby of the hospital early the next morning, next to Johnson’s father, Bill, and members of his family and team, when Chávez arrived. Tears welled up in Chávez’s eyes as he walked over to Bill Johnson. ‘I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” Chávez told Bill Johnson over and over as Leavander lay in a bed in a trauma room fighting for his life. Bill Johnson hugged Chávez, assured him he had just done his job, and tried to comfort him.

I was reminded of Leavander when I heard Teofimo Lopez’s ridiculous comments in an interview with the Punsh Drunk Boxing YouTube channel. Lopez, who has been a gregarious and fun boxer throughout his career whose personality made him a joy to be around, said he wanted to kill Taylor when they meet Saturday at the theater at New York’s Madison Square Garden for the WBO super lightweight title.

“I told it like it is: I want to kill Josh Taylor,” Lopez said in the interview posted to YouTube on May 29. .’ Well, that’s boxing. We sign up for this.”

It’s not boxing and it’s not what a fighter signs up for. Anyone who believes that is crazy and needs help.

Lopez doubled down on his remarks during a brief press conference Thursday that was filled with security.

Lopez used a line from Hall of Famer Mike Tyson, saying “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face, shout out to Mike Tyson.” Taylor, growing increasingly agitated, said, “Mike Tyson again. You never have your own quotes.’

Lopez looked at Taylor and said, “I do have one. I made it up yesterday. It says, ‘Aim for death, because that’s where life begins.'”

Taylor shook his head and said wisely, “No comment.” But Lopez wouldn’t stop.

“You’re aiming for death, because that’s where life begins,” Lopez said, which is bizarre and doesn’t even make sense. “Everyone is afraid of death. I don’t know why. We all die, but when I die, at least I die for something that means something and will last forever. That’s what greats are all about.”

Yes, death lasts forever, and that’s the point. Everyone dies, but it is not their time when they are in the prime of life, with children they need, husbands who love them, relatives and friends who care.

Lopez is a great fighter, but it seems the pressure has put him in a vice and he’s not thinking straight. Top Rank Vice President Carl Moretti, reached by Yahoo Sports after the press conference, struggled to know what to say.

Lopez appeared to be in perfect physical condition, but it’s not so clear whether his mental state is as well.

“I don’t know,” Moretti said. “I don’t know what to think about it, except it’s strange, like we’ve never seen it in a way. Is he as crazy as a fox-like thing now? There are other ways you can deal with it. Anyway, I’m not saying.”

Leavander Johnson of Atlantic City, New Jersey, attends an official weigh-in at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada on September 16, 2005. Johnson was fighting for his life after losing his world lightweight title in an 11th round technical match.  knockout to Jesus Chavez at the MGM Grand Arena on September 17, 2005. Johnson complained of a headache after referee Tony Weeks stopped the beating after 38 seconds of the 11th round.  He collapsed in his dressing room before being taken to University Medical Center where Dr. Bill Smith operated on his brain in an attempt to stop the bleeding on the left side.  Photo taken September 16, 2005. REUTERS/Steve Marcus SM/NL

Leavander Johnson lost his life days after this weigh-in photo was taken of him on September 16, 2005, prior to an IBF lightweight title fight on September 17, 2005, against Jesus Chávez. Johnson died of injuries sustained in the fight. (Steve Marcus/Reuters).

Moretti, who has been boxing for decades, said Oliver McCall burst into tears in the ring during a fight at the then-Las Vegas Hilton against Lennox Lewis.

McCall was not interested in fighting, but Moretti said his promoter at the time, Don King, pushed him to fight.

“That was more of King pushing him into the ring when he wasn’t there mentally and physically,” Moretti said. “But that’s not the case here, at least not physically.”

Lopez said in a 2021 interview that he thought about committing suicide several times.

“People think sacrifice kills people,” Lopez said at the time. “But the sacrifice really is just love, and it starts with you. That’s what happened to me. I stepped back and thought, Man, I’m really thinking about killing myself. It got that serious. Not one times Not twice Maybe three times I was like, that’s not right Why would I want to commit suicide with the blessings I receive?

But just weeks after those poignant words, he performed brilliantly and won the undisputed lightweight title by beating Vasiliy Lomachenko.

Now he is not talking about killing himself, but about killing his opponent.

He hasn’t seen what so many others have s
een, or he wouldn’t have spoken like that.

He did not see Pedro Alcázar die two days after a knockout loss to Fernando Montiel at the MGM Grand Garden due to a previous brain injury. He only saw Jimmy Garcia beat up round after round until he collapsed and finally died on May 19, 1995, just under two weeks after losing to Gabriel Ruelas.

Lopez makes these comments, perhaps trying to appear tough and mask his own insecurities. Maybe he thinks he’s intimidating his opponent.

But they are inappropriate and they call to question his fitness to fight.

Boxing is a sport, a competition for entertainment. There’s nothing amusing, funny, or reasonable about Lopez’s comments. This should set alarm bells ringing within Top Rank, which promotes him; within ESPN, which broadcasts the fight; and within the New York State Athletic Commission, which regulates it.

If Lopez is saying this because he has mental health problems, he needs help fast. Mental health is so overlooked and it needs to be addressed on a massive scale in our society.

If he thinks it’s funny or intimidating, he should understand that it isn’t and stop doing it.

This is a problem that goes much deeper than an ultimately worthless championship belt.

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