There's no boxing division creating more buzz than lightweight, headed by four young stars -- Teofimo Lopez, Gervonta "Tank" Davis, Ryan Garcia and Devin Haney. Of that group, Lopez has the biggest win to date and the most belts.
Lopez is still enjoying the fruits of his massive victory over Vasiliy Lomachenko in October, but sources told ESPN that Lopez's next fight will be in the spring, in the United States, against his mandatory IBF challenger, George Kambosos Jr.
Belts are extremely important to Lopez, who has the IBF, WBO, WBA, WBC franchise and The Ring Magazine lightweight titles. So he wants to take care of business against his mandatory challengers before taking on the rising stars, starting with Haney.
Lopez (16-0) is coming off foot surgery following the Lomachenko fight, but he already is looking ahead to a mid-March start of training camp for what's most likely to be a May or June bout. His biggest goal headed into his next fight is to have fans in attendance, with New York as a leading option and Texas and Florida among other state options.
Lopez spoke to ESPN about a variety of topics, including his ranking of the lightweight division and breakdowns of his potential fights, what his perfect 2021 looks like and Lomachenko. He even gave us his thoughts on how he would change boxing.
Editor's note: This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
You've talked about fighting your mandatory next, assuming a deal is finalized. Will you be healed enough for a May fight?
I've been in the gym now. I'm able to run. I'm slowly working on that process now so the weight cut won't be that difficult. I was training the whole time with the boot on, but now that it's off, I can do it all. I'm at the rate of 70 percent, so there's still some work to be done here and there. But I know I can keep stretching the muscle and I'll be 100 percent by the fight. Hopefully, we'll be back in the ring sometime in May.
What is it like switching from the young, under-the-radar hunter to big belt holder in the lightweight division?
It's crazy. Going back to the boxing world and just being around sports, I do get acknowledged. I get that respect. People tell me I'm a bad man. What I did is something that isn't easy to do against a pound-for-pound fighter like Lomachenko, but we made it look easy. It's definitely been different. I definitely have seen a lot more fans, a lot more people coming out and a lot more from crowds. It's good to see that from all my accomplishments. Now it's time to progress and grow. Canelo [Alvarez], he came to me after his fight [against Callum Smith] and congratulated me. We had a sit-down; he invited me to the gym. So it was great to do that and become 2020 fighter of the year.
The buzz now is the four young lightweights. Should we expect round-robin fights in the next couple of years?
I'm the king of the group when it comes to boxing. Those guys have their own platforms that they use, and it's working for them. It generates more for all of us when the time comes for us all to face each other. That's what it's all about. The lightweight division is hot right now. You got Garcia, Tank and Haney; hopefully, we can make these fights happen this year instead of just talking about it.
A common issue with boxing is young fighters and promoters waiting for the big fights to marinate for whatever reason. Why are you and this division going to be different?
I set the tone. That's why we call it the Takeover. I put my 0 at risk fighting a pound-for-pound No.1 at the time in Lomachenko. You got to take risks. If you believe in yourself, you got to go for it. And look what happened: I became undisputed world champ at 23 years old; that motivated and pushed all the other fighters in that new generation. We're paving the way: The 0 and that stuff doesn't matter; it's all about making fights for the fans. The difficult part is the promoters and the money. A lot of fighters want to cash out if they are putting their 0 on the line. I'm a warrior. I don't care. I trust in my abilities because I know I'll win.
What does your perfect 2021 look like if you could control everything?
Haney looking past Garcia, focusing on Lopez
Devin Haney tells Cameron Wolfe that he doesn't think Ryan Garcia will fight him and is focusing on Teofimo Lopez instead.
Devin Haney first. Then Garcia or Tank, probably at 140. And Josh Taylor-Jose Ramirez winner at 140. The winner of that fight becomes undisputed at that weight division, and I'm trying to go back-to-back [being undisputed] at 135 and 140. It's never been done before, and that's what I love. I love doing things that have never been done before.
How would you rank the lightweight division?
Teofimo, Loma, Garcia, Devin and then Tank. The reason I have Tank last is because he's only fought once at 135. At least the other guys have fought a couple of other guys at 135.
You mentioned you have Lomachenko at No. 2. Have you talked to Loma since the fight? What are your thoughts about his comments about the judging and a potential rematch?
Lopez stuns Lomachenko to become undisputed lightweight king
Teofimo Lopez withstands a late surge from Vasiliy Lomachenko, with a masterful 12th round, winning by unanimous decision to become the undisputed lightweight champion of the world.
Nothing. We haven't talked. He knows what he's doing. That's Lomachenko for you: He can say whatever he wants, but everybody saw what happened that night. I beat the man, clearly. I moved on from Loma. It's all about what's next.
So referring to what's next, what is the state of a Lopez-Haney 2021 bout?
The only thing that is holding it up is my mandatory. I have to pay my respect to Kambosos. He fought his way up, the same way I had to fight my way up to be IBF lightweight world champion before I got to the point where I fought Vasiliy Lomachenko. I'll deal with that process first, negotiate, see what happens, and if they agree with all the terms, that will have to be the guy. It's not because it's who I want but because it's my mandatory. A lot of fighters say I'm ducking a lot of people, but I'm not. I got to go through the process; that's just part of the game. If things go south, Devin Haney is the next guy, and hopefully, we can make that fight happen without him trying to overprice himself ... I'm a true champion. I'm not letting go any of belts. So if that's what it takes, that's what it's got to take.
What would a Haney-Teo fight look like stylistically?
Devin Haney on matching up vs. Teofimo Lopez, Ryan Garcia
WBC lightweight titleholder Devin Haney talks with Cameron Wolfe about how he would match up against Teofimo Lopez and Ryan Garcia.
It would start off as a technical fight, but in the mid-rounds, toward the end of the rounds I'll put him on his ass. Devin is the type of person, to me, that I want to knock out. I'm coming in with bad intentions the whole time. It's been too much talk; the thing about me is when you talk too much about me, I put you on my hit list. It'd be an intriguing, interesting fight for everybody to watch -- two young, hungry fighters.
I look at it like this: None of those guys fight like Loma. Loma was a true technician who knows what he's doing in the ring. I know Devin. He tries to do a lot like Floyd [Mayweather]; he tries to compare himself to "Pretty Boy" Floyd. I know he'll always be on the back foot and in defense mode. That I already expect. Devin isn't the kind of fighter that presses; he's more of the type to catch and shoot, take his time, counterpunch. What a lot of people don't know is I'm very smart when I'm in there. I'm a technician. I'm like Albert Einstein, I'm just calculating everything. I'm downloading everything that you're doing. Since me and Devin sparred in the past, things have changed; we've progressed and gotten better. It'll be very nice to see that. I like challenges. I don't think that's a full challenge for me, but it's definitely a fight that everybody wants to watch, and I'm all about the fans.
You said you don't think Haney is a full challenge. Who do you anticipate being your biggest challenge?
Maybe seeing those guys at 147; it's a bigger weight class, and they probably can handle a few more punches. I don't think anybody in my weight class -- I would like to see them fight somebody of the likes of Lomachenko. A lot of people are steering away from Lomachenko, but I still have Lomachenko as my No. 2 fighter in the division behind me. It'll be great to see all those guys fight each other. I want to see at least one of them be an underdog in a fight. Two fights that I've had back-to-back I've been the underdog [against Richard Commey and Lomachenko].
What do you think a Tank Davis-Teofimo Lopez fight would look like down the line?
As long as we're able to make that fight happen, it'd be a great fight for the fans. You got two powerful hitters. One shot from either hand is going to knock you out -- that's what people love. They love to see a knockout. They love to see a fight they perceive as 50/50. I'm about fights where fans think it's 50/50. I love when the odds are against me because it's all in my favor. Tank is southpaw, me orthodox, two different styles and styles make fights. That's a fight I'd love to see.
Ryan Garcia proved he deserved to be mentioned among the top five lightweights after beating Luke Campbell. What do you think of his sudden rise?
Devin Haney: Teofimo Lopez is not the undisputed lightweight champ
Devin Haney takes a moment to remind Max Kellerman that Teofimo Lopez is not the undisputed lightweight champion as Haney still holds the WBC title.
It showed that he's got heart. That's what you need in this sport: heart. It was great to see him bounce back from being dropped. It was the first time being dropped in his career, and it was against a top-10 fighter. These top-10 fighters are no joke. What else can Ryan do is what I'm interested to see. Congratulations to him on all his success because when he's winning, everybody [in boxing] is winning.
If you could evaluate where we are in boxing right now, what would you change to make it better?
Let's change the amount of belts they throw out that are not valid. The amount of accomplishments and who you face for the major belts should keep the principle to why it matters a lot to be a world champion. As long as they keep belts as the most prestigious to win rather than how many followers you got, it'll pave the way for boxing. I'm old school, my mentality is a little different. That's why I'm working on figuring it out with all the followers. I'm not into all the TikTok or that stuff. I know what I'm able to do and I know who has all the real belts -- that's Teofimo. I'm undisputed. So it's one fight at a time and I guess one follower at a time.