Teofimo Lopez crossed the line with comments about killing Josh Taylor in their title fight on Saturday

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

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

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

They go in, but in some part of their brain they know there’s a chance, however slim, that they won’t come out.

I’ve been at 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 was brutally beating Johnson, but the fight continued until the 11th when he was called off. Johnson walked shakily to his dressing room and was rushed to a local hospital.

He died five days later.

I was in the hospital lobby early the next morning, standing with Johnson’s father, Bill, and members of his family and staff, 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 repeatedly told Bill Johnson as Leavander lay in a trauma ward bed, fighting for his life. Bill Johnson hugged Chávez, assured him he had just done his job, and tried to console him.

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

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

It’s not boxing and it’s not what any fighter signs up for. Anyone who believes this is deranged and needs help.

Lopez doubled down on her comments during a brief press conference Thursday that was packed with security.

Lopez used a line from Hall of Famer Mike Tyson, saying, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face, kudos to Mike Tyson.” Taylor, who was growing increasingly irritated, said, “Mike Tyson again. You never get quotes from you.”

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

Taylor shook her head and sagely said, “No comment.” But Lopez was not giving up.

“You aim 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 are all going to die, but at least if I die, I die for something that means something and will last forever. That’s what the big.”

Yes, death lasts forever, and that’s the point. Everyone is going to die, but it’s not their time when they’re in their prime, with kids who need them, spouses who love them, family members and friends who care. them.

Lopez is a terrific fighter, but it seems the pressure has him in a stranglehold 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 seemed to be in perfect physical condition, but it’s not so clear if his mental state is such.

“I don’t know,” Moretti said. “I don’t know what to think other than it’s weird like we’ve never seen him in a way. Now is he crazy like a fox like thing? There’s other ways to deal with it. But I can’t say anyway.”

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

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

Moretti, who has been involved in boxing for decades, said the only thing that came close was Oliver McCall breaking down in tears in the ring during a fight at the 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.

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

Lopez said in a 2021 interview that he had thought about killing himself several times.

“People think sacrifice kills people,” Lopez said then. “But sacrifice is really just love, and it starts with you. That’s what happened with me. I took a step back and I was like, man, I’m really thinking about Kill myself. This is so serious. Not once. Not twice. Maybe three times. I was like, this is not right. Why am I going to want to kill myself with the blessings I’m getting?

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

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

He didn’t see what so many others have seen, otherwise he wouldn’t have spoken that way.

He didn’t 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 didn’t see Jimmy Garcia get beaten round after round until he collapsed and eventually died on May 19, 1995, just under two weeks after losing to Gabriel Ruelas.

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

But they are inappropriate and question his combat ability.

Boxing is a sport, an entertainment competition. There’s nothing entertaining, funny or reasonable about Lopez’s comments. This should set off alarm bells inside Top Rank, which promotes it; 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 issues, he needs to get help fast. Mental health is so overlooked and it needs to be addressed in an important way in our society.

If he thinks it’s funny or intimidating, he needs to realize that it’s not and stop.

It’s a much deeper issue than an ultimately worthless championship belt.

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