One of the most anticipated fights of 2020 seems to be finally on its way, as Vasiliy Lomachenko (14-1, 10 KOs) and Teofimo Lopez Jr. (15-0, 12 KOs) are scheduled to meet on Sept. 19, according to Top Rank’s Bob Arum.
Three of the four lightweight world titles are at stake, as Lomachenko holds the WBA and WBO titles and Lopez is the IBF titleholder. While Lomachenko previously held the WBC title, his designation was changed to “franchise” champion in October and Devin Haney was elevated to the primary world titlist at 135 pounds.
A victory for Lomachenko would symbolize another notch in his belt and another title in his collection. A Lopez win would undeniably signal his status as a young superstar in the sport.
It’s a matchup of disparate styles and personalities who have been jawing for years. They seem to have an open disdain for one another. That alone is a reason to tune in.
Is Lopez ready to face Lomachenko?
Nick Parkinson: Yes, this is a great time for Lopez after a series of impressive wins over good opponents. The second round destruction of Richard Commey erased any doubts the 22-year-old was good enough for the top level. Lopez has confidence, power and youth on his side — and the Commey performance was the perfect springboard for him to go into a fight seeking to unify titles against one of the best fighters in the world. Coronavirus has eliminated the possibility of an interim fight and Lopez was right to seize the chance to fight Lomachenko, and possibly elevate his career to another level. Lopez has nothing to lose: he is young enough to rebound should he lose, and he’s riding the crest of a wave.
Steve Kim: Yes. The bottom line is that these are the two best lightweights in the world. Boxing needs more bouts like this. This is a rare example of a fight that isn’t happening too early or too late. It hasn’t been over-marinated — it’s cooked just right, and now it’s ready to come out of the oven.
From the time Lopez turned pro in 2016, he’s consistently proved why he earned the label as one of boxing’s premiere prospects. He was fast-tracked by the normally patient Top Rank because of his prodigious ability and a confidence that is unmatched.
If you look back to his past six fights, Lopez has been matched with a variety of styles against veteran boxers, and outside of a tougher-than-expected night against Masayoshi Nakatani, Lopez has passed every test in emphatic fashion. In his most recent outing, he blew out the normally durable Commey in two explosive rounds, exhibiting his instinctive timing and counterpunching skills.
When Lopez is focused and right, even at just age 22, he is an elite performer.
How does Lomachenko win?
Parkinson: Lopez might produce a scare or two — but Lomachenko should be too slippery and skillful to avoid an upset. His sublime footwork, reactions and imaginative combinations can ensure he stays out of harm’s way and earns a decision vctory. Lopez has reach and height advantages, so keeping at close range puts Lomachenko in danger of being caught by the heavy-handed Lopez. Lomachenko wins this fight unless he momentarily forgets the danger posed by the young, hungry and dangerous puncher in front of him.
Kim: Very simply, by being who he has always been — the Baryshnikov of boxing, with a natural fluidity and grace that is rare in the sport. Outside of his hiccup versus Orlando Salido in his second fight, Lomachenko has just gotten better and better with every professional outing. He has more than lived up to the hype that accompanied his arrival as the most decorated amateur in boxing history.
Nobody gives the looks from angles that Lomachenko does. His in-and-out movements give him the ability to attack consistently while remaining elusive. He punches in rapid-fire combinations and has shown in recent fights that he’s not afraid to mix it up inside the pocket, sacrificing that elusiveness to become a bit more physical in attacking the body and breaking his opponents down. Just take a look at what he did against Luke Campbell.
Against Lopez, he will be the naturally smaller man, and the same right hand that Lopez caught Commey with won’t be easy to find with Lomachenko, who is rarely caught flush or with combinations. There is nobody who changes distance and space the way this southpaw stylist does while throwing a wide variety of punches.
How does Lopez win?
Parkinson: Lopez can’t outbox Lomachenko, but his power is a danger, if he can keep close enough to land his punches. Closing the gap, catching the elusive Lomachenko and tying him up in clinches before attacking at close quarters will be crucial for Lopez. Remember, Lomachenko suffered his only defeat on points to Orlando Salido in the Ukrainian’s second professional fight in 2014. Lomachenko complained about Salido’s rough and dirty tactics, and Lopez may study that fight for tips on how to unsettle Lomachenko.
Kim: Lopez is the natural lightweight in this pairing. Lomachenko began his career at 126, and despite his success has shown some vulnerability at 135. Lomachenko hit the deck against Jorge Linares in their 2018 bout, and then he was touched up pretty consistently by Jose Pedraza later that year. Of course, he ended up easily winning both those fights.
Lopez isn’t just a one-trick pony. While many pundits talk about his punching power, he also possesses the ability to lay counter-punching traps and he is quick off the trigger. He does not lack for quickness in his movements. Under the guidance of his father and trainer, Teofimo Lopez Sr., he has mastered the catch-and-counter style. That might not be the best plan of attack versus the movement of Lomachenko, however, but Lopez has a great left hook to the body that will be instrumental in wearing down Lomachenko.
What’s the X factor in this fight?
Parkinson: Lopez’s momentum, confidence and knockout ability combined represents the biggest danger for Lomachenko since Lomachenko fought Jorge Linares two years ago. Will a threat like this be met with a performance we have yet seen from Lomachenko, boxing’s most skilfull active boxer? Quite possibly, and with three of the world lightweight titles on the line, this could be Lomachenko’s defining, standout moment in the professional ranks. The chance to see Lomachenko, 32, rise to his best, against possibly his most dangerous professional opponent, makes this fight one to look forward to.
Also, Lomachenko, while still a phenomenal fighter, has begun to show his age and has been hampered a bit by injuries. One of the keys will be to assess how healthy Lomachenko is. Also, you cannot underestimate how much Lopez seems to want this one. He has been calling out Lomachenko for several fights. It is by far his biggest fight and something he has strived for for quite some time. Lomachenko has not been the one desperate for this fight. Sure, he’d like to unify titles and has made it a point to say that his entire goal in boxing is to keep making history. But he doesn’t necessarily want Lopez specifically. Lopez desperately wants Lomachenko and that burning desire — or lack thereof — can at times make a big difference.
Kim: There is something to be said about experience. Many other boxers at this stage are barely entering eight-round fights. Yet Lopez is stepping in with a boxer who is atop many pound-for-pound lists.
What’s that old phrase? Be careful what you wish for. Led by his boisterous father, Lopez has asked for this fight over and over again, and he has finally received it. Now he’s on boxing’s biggest and most difficult stage.
We know Lopez is talented. Now we’ll find out if he’s special.