Like many millennials, Brooklyn-born boxer Teofimo Lopez wants to be part of the excitement of what’s happening now.
He’s made himself an internet sensation by delivering a “Fortnite” video game dance during one knockout-victory celebration. He stirred the masses again by donning Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray’s jersey following a potential knockout-of-the-year performance in December, giving a Heisman Trophy pose minutes after Murray won the award across town in New York.
Lopez (11-0, nine knockouts) returns to the ring Saturday at the Dallas Cowboys’ practice facility, Ford Center at the Star, on the undercard of a four-fight card headlined by the World Boxing Organization light-heavyweight title rematch between Eleider Alvarez and Sergey Kovalev.
Lopez, 21, already has scripted his latest victory dance in preparation for veteran left-hander Diego Magdaleno (31-2, 13 KOs).
“You need to be outspoken and do something entertaining to catch the eyes of the fans and the people outside of boxing. These are things we discuss and it pops,” Lopez said. “So I already have this one pinpointed, and I received help on it from Mississippi’s four-star wide receiver Elijah Moore. He’s very talented. He told me, ‘You want to go viral again? This is the one.’ ”
Lopez’s boxing has been just as infectious. The lightweight was voted the sport’s prospect of the year by numerous writers, and his first-round destruction of Mason Menard in December at Madison Square Garden, in Menard’s 38th professional fight, affirmed the choice.
Lopez has won over Top Rank chairman Bob Arum, who presided over the development of Floyd Mayweather Jr., and Top Rank vice president Carl Moretti, veteran fight men well aware of the cautionary tales attached to young talent.
“You always worry about something like that with someone coming up, but Teofimo’s never missed weight, never gotten into trouble, never done things outside the ring to make you concerned — he relishes this Cowboys thing, being on TV,” Moretti said, and added, “Teofimo didn’t come this far just to get this far.”
In Magdaleno, Top Rank has confronted Lopez with a former lightweight title challenger who’s fought on big stages.
“Diego seems pretty confident,” Moretti said. “He’s in great shape, and when there’s no hesitancy in signing the contract, you can hear the thinking: ‘I’m better off fighting [Lopez] now than 10 fights from now, and if I beat him, I know I’ll get something after this.’ ”
Lopez, aiming for a title fight this year, isn’t flinching, saying “nothing” concerns him about Magdaleno.
“They talk highly about these fighters’ [credentials] and that’s good because it shows where we’re heading. But I do not see a former contender .… I just see a fighter who has fear and knows what’s coming to him,” Lopez said. “We come to bring the fight every time. He’s never faced a fighter like Teofimo Lopez.”
Straddling supreme confidence and reckless cockiness is part of a gifted prospect’s test.
“It is true,” Lopez said, knowing that with each victory the acclaim and people telling him how special he is will amplify. “It’s good that they believe that, because I believe it, too. My father has always talked highly of me since I started boxing and through those years I’ve always worked to back him up. So it’s almost the same with everyone who’s behind me now.”
The praise, he says, “is a blessing for me to not ever let it get to my head. The moment you forget where you came from and where it all started, forgetting the hard times that happened, that’s when you will fall.”
Lopez said he’s also keeping in mind the disappointment of his 2016 Olympics experience. He ultimately fought for Honduras after USA Boxing awarded the Olympic team’s lightweight spot to Santa Maria’s Karlos Balderas.
“They had plans for me for the 2020 team, but I had my own plans,” Lopez said.
“God humbled me three times in the amateurs when I was caught in the thinking I knew everything. I know you can lose it all in a split-second in this sport by being too comfortable.”
A victory over Magdaleno would open the door for Lopez to an April 20 spot on Top Rank’s pay-per-view undercard of welterweight champion Terence Crawford’s title defense against England’s Amir Khan at Madison Square Garden. Lopez said he expects to fight recent lightweight champion Jose Pedraza sometime this year.
“Boxing has made me who I am, and the politics have taught me not to let the judges dictate if I’ll win the fight,” Lopez said. “I’ll tell you how I’m winning it.”
And then he’ll show you his latest dance.
Main Event: Eleider Alvarez (24-0, 12 KOs) vs. Sergey Kovalev (32-3-1, 28 KOs) for Alvarez’s WBO light-heavyweight belt
Where: Ford Center at the Star, Frisco, Texas
Television: ESPN (7 p.m. Pacific), ESPN Plus (9 p.m. Pacific)
Undercard: On ESPN — Oscar Valdez (24-0, 19 KOs) vs. Carmine Tommasone (19-0, five KOs) for Valdez’s WBO featherweight belt; Richard Commey (27-2, 24 KOs) vs. Isa Chaniev (13-1, six KOs) for vacant IBF lightweight belt. On ESPN Plus — Teofimo Lopez (11-0, nine KOs) vs. Diego Magdaleno (31-2, 13 KOs), lightweights