Rapid reaction to Teofimo Lopez’s unanimous decision victory over Vasiliy Lomachenko in Las Vegas on Saturday night.
A star is born
Lopez is 23, with one significant win on his resume, a knockout of Richard Commey in his last fight, a win that garnered him his first world title. But he didn’t hesitate when offered a chance to fight Lomachenko, and when the COVID-19 pandemic pushed boxing behind closed doors—eliminating valuable live gate revenue—Lopez went ahead with the fight anyway. And he submitted a star turning performance. Against arguably the top pound-for-pound fighter in the world, Lopez was brilliant. He controlled the pace against a startlingly inactive Lomachenko early (more on that below) and in the final round, with Lomachenko starting to come on, Lopez beat back Lomachenko, digging deep to become the undisputed 135-pound champion.
For weeks, months even, Lopez had been promising he was the better boxer than Lomachenko. He trashed talked the 32-year old star, calling him a diva, sneering at the idea that Lomachenko was this complex puzzle of a fighter that could not be figured out. He talked the talk, and then he went out and walked the walk. He is now the No. 1 135-pound fighter in the world, top-ten pound-for-pound and one of the biggest stars in boxing.
What happened to Lomachenko?
Lomachenko is a notoriously slow starter, but his inactivity in the first half of the fight was astonishing. For six rounds, Loma allowed Lopez to dictate the pace. He stayed on the move, rarely throwing punches, allowing Lopez to bank round after round early. He did enough to maybe win the second round, but many observers had Lopez winning the first six. After that, it was academic. Loma started to come on strong in the eighth round, and looked sharp in the ninth and tenth, too. But it wasn’t enough, and when Lopez picked up a surge of energy in the 12th, beating Lomachenko back with power shots, you knew it was over. The scorecards (119-109, 117-111, 116-112) were wide, but the right fighter won on all three.
It’s a bitterly disappointing defeat for Lomachenko (14-2), but shouldn’t be a shocking one. Lomachenko is virtually unbeatable at 126 and 130 pounds. But he’s a smallish 135-pounder, and though he was 4-0 since moving to lightweight, he had not submitted the dominant performances he had in the lower weight classes. Lomachenko will undoubtedly want a rematch (there was no rematch clause in the contract, per Top Rank’s Bob Arum), but his best bet may be to drop to 130 again, where Top Rank remains flush with top fighters. A Lomachenko-Shakur Stevenson showdown in 2021 would be appealing.
What’s next for Lopez?
Lopez suffered a nasty cut above his right eye in the closing seconds, so he may need an extended break. But when he does return, he will have plenty of options. Devin Haney holds a version of the lightweight title (Lopez, not missing a beat with the trash talk, referred to Haney as the “two-time email champion” after the fight). Lopez-Haney would be a terrific matchup of young stars. There’s Gervonta Davis, who holds a secondary title of his own. Davis will face Leo Santa Cruz at the end of the month, but if Davis wins a showdown with Lopez would be huge. Ryan Garcia is out there (Garcia challenged Lopez on Twitter after the fight), too. A mega fight down the line could be Lopez against the winner of the Jose Ramirez-Josh Taylor 140-pound title fight. The undisputed king at 135 vs. undisputed at 140? Sign me—and everyone else—up.
Take note, boxing
There’s no reason for boxing to be camped out on the sports fringes, with ratings trending closer to Major League Lacrosse than the NFL or NBA. When big fights happen, the sports world takes notice. The buzz for Lomachenko-Lopez was building all week. On Saturday, it was all over social media. It was a huge event. Fans won’t watch boxing just because it’s on; but they will watch boxing when it’s good, and there is no reason boxing can’t be good, regularly. Promoters can work together. Networks, too. Fighters have to want to fight. Jermall Charlo and Demetrius Andrade, two undefeated 160-pound titleholders, should run towards each other. Same for Terence Crawford and Errol Spence. And Callum Smith and Billy Joe Saunders. Fans shouldn’t settle for anything less than the best vs. the best.
Saturday was a great night for boxing. There should be many, many more of them.