Teofimo Lopez leaves Heisman Trophy Night with a split decision victory over Sandor Martin.

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Teofimo Lopez leaves Heisman Trophy Night with a split decision victory over Sandor Martin.

It was all set up to be a big night as Top Rank hosted a stacked card of future stars following the Heisman Award Ceremony, but the main event ended up asking more questions than answering them. Former undisputed lightweight champion Teofimo Lopez (18-1) headlined the card by facing the tricky Sandor Martin (40-3). The 29-year-old Martin replaced Jose Pedraza (29-4-1) but was most famously known for pulling the upset victory over former champion Mikey Garcia (40-2).

The first round went as expected; Martin was circling and using his legs to avoid getting hit with some big shots. Meanwhile, Lopez was looking to establish himself and throw something that would get Martin’s attention. It was a game of cat and mouse which you would expect from a southpaw with movement facing a counterpuncher with power. The second round is when things got interesting as Lopez kept lunging into Martin but leaving his hands down while doing so. World-class fighters will pick up on these habits, and Martin certainly did, which led him to counter with a check right hook to the side of Lopez’s head. The punch and momentum sent Lopez to the ropes and touching the canvas, which the referee counted as a knockdown.

It was the right call by the referee but something of a déjà vu for Lopez, who had something similar happen to him a little over a year ago when he faced George Kambosos Jr. (20-2). It wasn’t in the first round like in that fight, but being that the knockdown was in the second round, it’s hard to imagine that those same thoughts weren’t going through his head at that moment. Lopez shrugged it off, and it was back to business. A clash of heads caused Martin’s nose to be damaged to the extent that he was visibly breathing through his mouth for the rest of the fight.

Teofimo Lopez earns a split decision victory but questions his future right after the fight.

Every round after seemed to be the same each time. Martin was using his legs effectively, and Lopez kept lunging forward, leaving himself wide open for a counter shot. Throughout the rounds, you can hear Lopez’s father telling his son to listen as he felt he wasn’t executing the game plan. Speaking of which, it didn’t seem like there was much of a secondary game plan, and Lopez looked as though he was trying anything to solve the puzzle of Martin. In the seventh round, he was caught with the same punch as in the second, but this time, the referee decided not to call it a knockdown and continued the action once Lopez got up.

Once the final bell rang and the fight went to the scorecards, the confidence wasn’t there with team Lopez, and there was a weird feeling in the room as if the decision was going to be a shocker. When Martin’s first score was read 95-94, the Garden got quiet and eagerly anticipated the following two scores. Then it was announced 96-93 & 97-92 for Lopez, giving him the split decision victory. The fight was close, and there was a split on social media about whether Lopez truly won the fight. Although Lopez turned up his confidence during the post-fight interview, there was a moment captured by ESPN with audio that wasn’t originally on during the telecast. During their post-fight segment on ESPN+, the production team played the audio where Lopez was heard talking to one of Top Rank’s PR members (Gardy Lopez) and asking him, “Do I still got it?”. For a man that usually oozes confidence, for a brief moment, he was unsure about his performance and his future as a fighter.

Many emotions were going through Lopez with his wife and son looking on from ringside. It seemed as though he was looking for redemption in the building where he lost it all, but instead, he added more questions for himself. Lopez failed to speak to the media after the fight but decided to video himself at a gym to reassure everyone that he was ok.

What is next for Lopez? There are big fights ahead, like the winner of Regis Prograis and Jose Ramirez if that gets made, or the winner of Josh Taylor vs. Jack Catterall 2. Lopez mentioned potentially facing George Kambosos Jr. again, but if he does that, it may mean he isn’t quite ready for the top names at super lightweight. Lopez has options, but at this stage of his career, he may have to look at changing some things within his team, starting with the head trainer position currently held by his father. Lopez Sr. has taken his son as far as he could go but now would be the time to make the change so that Lopez can get to the next level in a division that is filled with talent.

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