Teofimo Lopez Jr. named ESPN 2018 prospect of the year

Teofimo Lopez is one of the most exciting fighters in boxing, and the 2018 ESPN.com prospect of the year. Photo provided by Mikey Williams/Top Rank

Top Rank has a long history of signing fighters out of the Olympics and developing them into champions and superstars. The company has done it time and again, including with three of the biggest stars of their time: Oscar De La Hoya, Floyd Mayweather and Miguel Cotto.

Ask anyone at the company and they'll say they think they have a young fighter in lightweight Teofimo Lopez Jr. who has a chance to follow in their considerable footsteps.

Lopez, 21, was born in New York, raised in South Florida and now fights out of Las Vegas, but he represented his parents' home country of Honduras in the 2016 Olympics and was high on Top Rank's wish list. So far, he has been everything the company hoped for.

From the time Lopez turned pro two years ago he has looked like a future star, and nothing changed in 2018 when he won all four of his fights (three by knockout) and stepped up in competition in a sixth-round knockout of William Silva in July followed by a devastating 44-second knockout of Mason Menard, whom he put to sleep face first with a single right hand that opened an ESPN telecast Dec. 8.

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Lopez does the Heisman after one-punch KO

Teofimo Lopez knocks out Mason Menard with a brutal right hand then dons a Kyler Murray jersey and does the Heisman pose.

The only downside was that Lopez suffered a broken right hand against Silva that required surgery and cost him a fight, but he returned with a vengeance against Menard. After the KO, Lopez did his usual backflip and then, in a clip that went viral, donned an Oklahoma Sooners jersey and struck the Heisman Trophy pose in honor of Kyler Murray, who had won the award minutes earlier on the preceding ESPN broadcast.

The dynamic Lopez (11-0, 9 KOs), who began boxing at age 6, not only has enormous talent and potential thanks to his power, speed, skills and work ethic but he also has an uncommon sense of showmanship, poise and charisma. It's a combination that made him the easy pick for 2018 ESPN.com prospect of the year.

"He has a ton of ability. The sky's the limit and I think as the years go on he's going to get better and better because he's going to get physically stronger. He's very young. Once he gets his man strength, his full-fledged strength, he's going to be a terror," said Top Rank matchmaker Brad "Abdul" Goodman, who is no-nonsense when it comes to assessing the fighters he is charged with building. "There will be no stopping him. His boxing ability, his confidence, he has everything. He has the whole package to be a superstar. The company is in love with the kid. We expect big things in 2019. Top Rank is very excited about him."

Lopez, who is trained by his father, Teofimo Lopez Sr., and managed by David McWater, was approximately 170-20 as an amateur, won a 2015 National Golden Gloves title and went to the Olympics. As a pro, he's on the fast track and gets annoyed sometimes when referred to as a prospect because he already believes he's a contender.

"I'm top of the food chain. I'm the one everyone wants to beat or be like. So I am the best in the game right now as a prospect but you know me; I don't like being called prospect," Lopez said.

But he appreciates the recognition of his potential and though boastful, he doesn't come across as cocky.

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Lopez celebrates KO with Fortnite dance

Teofimo Lopez Jr. lands a grazing right hand that sends Vitor Freitas to the canvas and uses the "Take the L" dance from Fortnite.

"As every opponent gets better I make it look easy," he said. "My skills are getting to the point where the world title will be coming close. You don't let [the hype] get to you. You don't let it get to your head. You just keep doing what you're doing. I could easily, with a lack of concentration, have that all be gone with one fight, with one mistake.

"I've developed a lot since the Olympic Games and we're only getting better. We've grown a lot and I just can't wait for what's to come in 2019."

Besides his deep amateur background, he has gained tremendous experience sparring with numerous top pros, including Shawn Porter, Guillermo Rigondeaux, Gervonta Davis, Yordenis Ugas and Luke Campbell.

Lopez will open 2019 with another fight that is supposed to be a test against former lightweight title challenger Diego Magdaleno (31-2, 13 KOs) on Feb. 2 on ESPN and says he believes he'll fight for a world title by year's end.

"2019 is going to be very huge for me," he said. "No matter what, I declare that in 2019 I will become world champion. I have all the tools. I have everything set for me to become world champion. Every time I fight I'm taking over. I'm doing everything to always steal the show."

Top Rank chairman Bob Arum has been impressed.

"He's ambitious, he and his father both," Arum said. "The kid is a terrific fighter, has a lot of ability and he has so much confidence. He keeps telling me he wants to fight for the lightweight championship and that means going in with [Vasiliy] Lomachenko. That might be a bridge too far, but maybe it isn't."

Lopez's father is as confident in his son's future as the fighter is.

"You know my father can talk a lot, but it's my job to back it up and keep doing what I'm doing," Lopez said. "You know how Canelo signed with DAZN for $365 million? He sees me getting the $500 million contract. You never know."

The rest of the top 15 rising stars

2. Shakur Stevenson (21, Newark, New Jersey, featherweight, 9-0, 5 KOs): Stevenson, a 2016 U.S. Olympic silver medalist who has former two-division champion Andre Ward on his management team, was 5-0 in 2018 and improved with each fight, including showing more power to go with his fast hands and skills. A southpaw who began boxing at 5 and once lived on Muhammad Ali Boulevard, Stevenson had his best performance against his best opponent in October in a first-round knockout of Viorel Simion.

3. Ryan Garcia (20, Victorville, California, lightweight, 17-0, 14 KOs): The 2017 ESPN.com prospect of the year has power, speed and a deep amateur background (215-15 with 15 national titles) but needs to sure up his defense. He's already a popular attraction with a big fan base and Golden Boy believes he can be a star. He was 4-0 in 2018, including a near-near shutout of former title challenger Jayson Velez and a tough 10-rounder against Carlos Morales. After that fight, Garcia knew he needed a more professional corner and began working with trainer Eddy Reynoso, who brought him into Canelo Alvarez's camp.

4. Vergil Ortiz Jr. (20, Dallas, junior welterweight, 11-0, 11 KOs): The Robert Garcia-trained Ortiz, a seven-time national amateur champion who was 140-20, is as exciting a prospect as there is. He has tremendous power in his right hand, a reason he has yet to go past three rounds even though Golden Boy stepped up his opposition in 2018, in which he went 3-0. A fourth fight on Dec. 15 was canceled when the New York commission wouldn't license Ortiz because of a recent procedure to improve his vision though it shouldn't be an issue going forward.

5. Jaron "Boots" Ennis (21, Philadelphia, welterweight, 22-0, 20 KOs): The younger brother of former pros Derek and Farah Ennis, Jaron has boxed only since he was 15 but has come a long way in 2½ years as a pro following a standout amateur career in which he was 58-3 and a 2015 National Golden Gloves champion. He's the full package of speed, power, skills and charisma. He won all five of his 2018 bouts by knockout, including finishing his year in explosive fashion with a highlight-reel second-round KO of Philly rival Raymond Serrano on "ShoBox" in November.

6. Josh Kelly (24, England, junior middleweight, 8-0, 6 KOs): "Pretty Boy," a 2016 Olympian, has looked good in his 20 months as a pro and Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn has him on the fast track. Kelly, who has tremendous hand speed, was 3-0 in 2018 and already has taken a big step up in opposition by hanging a lopsided 10-round decision loss on former world titlist Carlos Molina in March.

7. Devin Haney (20, Las Vegas, lightweight, 20-0, 13 KOs): Haney is a dynamic fighter with all the tools necessary to be a champion. He turned pro at 17 in Mexico in 2015, has sparred with Floyd Mayweather, Shawn Porter and Jessie Vargas and is beginning to come into his own. He has become a darling of Showtime's "ShoBox," where he fought both of his 2018 bouts against solid opponents, a ninth-round stoppage of Mason Menard and a lopsided 10-round decision over former world title challenger Juan Carlos Burgos.

8. Filip Hrgovic (26, Croatia, heavyweight, 7-0, 5 KOs): The 6-foot-6, 230-pound Hrgovic was 2016 Olympic bronze medalist who has looked good since turning pro in September 2017 after a stint in the World Series of Boxing. He has good power, throws nice combinations and has a high boxing IQ. He was 5-0 in 2018 and Team Sauerland has already begun stepping up his opposition. In his past two fights, Hrgovic, who has sparred with David Haye and Kubrat Pulev, had homecoming fights in Croatia, where he's a major star, and stopped fringe contender Amir Mansour in the third round and routed former title challenger and steppingstone Kevin Johnson.

9. Daniyar Yeleussinov (27, Kazakhstan, welterweight, 5-0, 3 KOs): A two-time Olympian, 2013 world amateur champion and 2016 Rio gold medalist, Yeleussinov, a southpaw, turned pro in April and has quickly made the transition to pro boxing. Trained by John David Jackson, Yeleussinov, who is very technically sound, is being kept busy by Matchroom Boxing and boxing all over: U.S., U.K. and Monaco. Yeleussinov could move very quickly.

10. Efe Ajagba (24, Nigeria, heavyweight, 8-0, 7 KOs): The 6-foot-6, 235-pound Ajagba, a 2016 Olympian who went 41-2 with 30 knockouts as an amateur, including a gold medal at the 2015 African Games, is an imposing figure with lights-out power. Now based in Houston, where he trains with Ronnie Shields, Ajagba has an all-star team behind him in Shields, Premier Boxing Champions, manager Shelly Finkel and Ringstar Sports promoter Richard Schaefer. Ajagba has already scored highlight-reel knockouts but drew national attention in August when opponent Curtis Harper exited the ring rather than fight him after the first bell rang, resulting in a disqualification.

11. Daniel Dubois (21, England, heavyweight, 9-0, 8 KOs): Many think the 6-foot-5, 239-pound Dubois can become a star. He was limited to three fights in 2018, with illness knocking him out of a December bout. He's built like a truck, has quick hands, concussive power and respectable defense. He has faced decent opposition, and promoter Frank Warren, hyperbole or not, calls him "the most exciting young heavyweight prospect" that he has had in almost 40 years of promoting. Dubois, who has sparred with Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury, cruised to a 10-round shutout of ultra-experienced former title challenger Kevin Johnson in October.

12. Shohjahon Ergashev (27, Uzbekistan, junior welterweight, 15-0, 14 KOs): Ergashev, a three-year pro fighting out of Detroit (where he's trained by Javan "Sugar" Hill, the nephew of the late, great trainer Emanuel Steward), was a four-time Uzbekistan national champion during a 202-14 amateur career. A southpaw with superb power and an exciting style, he has boxed mainly in Russia but has had four U.S. fights, including an impressive third-round destruction of then-unbeaten prospect Sonny Fredrickson in January in the first of his five wins in 2018.

13. Joshua Buatsi (25, England, light heavyweight, 9-0, 7 KOs): As a young boy, Buatsi moved from Ghana to England, where he became a decorated amateur and claimed a bronze medal in the 2016 Olympics. With unified heavyweight titlist Anthony Joshua as his manager, Buatsi has fought on major Matchroom Boxing cards and shown huge potential. He's well conditioned, has toughness and can punch. In 2018, he was 6-0 and claimed a regional title.

14. Rubin Villa (21, Salinas, California, featherweight, 14-0, 5 KOs): Villa, a southpaw, doesn't get the same hype as some prospects, but he's a skilled boxer with tremendous potential. He began boxing at age 5, was a two-time National Golden Gloves champion, two-time Junior Olympic National champion and went 166-17 as an amateur. Promoters Thompson Boxing and Banner Promotions kept him busy with five fights in 2018 and he'll get his first TV exposure Jan. 11 on Showtime's "ShoBox."

15. Joseph Adorno (19, Allentown, Pennsylvania, junior lightweight, 11-0, 10 KOs): The Robert Garcia-trained Adorno, who grew up in Puerto Rico, has explosive power and a tremendous left hook that has drawn comparisons to the money punch of Puerto Rican legend Miguel Cotto. Adorno was 6-0 in 2018 and though he has yet to face serious opposition he looks like he has all the tools.