SAN DIEGO, Calif., October 16, 2020 – At Friday’s weigh-in at the MGM Grand Hotel’s ‘Bubble’ venue in Las Vegas, it was a steely-eyed smirk and fiery trash talk on display from unified world lightweight ‘franchise’ champion Vasiliy Lomachenko and WBO world lightweight champion Teofimo Lopez Jr. It was a spot on display of the two personalities and approaches to boxing.
It fuels fans’ high anticipation for this fight on Saturday to determine the world unified lightweight division champion between the Ukrainian and the Brooklyn native. It’s one of those rare moments in boxing to believe the hype.
The fight sells itself. It’s the best matchup of the pandemic sports era and in line to be one of 2020’s top fights. Best of all for fans, it’s free to viewers of any ESPN platform, including Plus and Deportes. The card airs live on Saturday, October 17, starting with undercard fights at 7:30 pm ET/4:30 pm PT.
Lopez came right at Lomachenko, no social distancing in sight for the faceoff. “That’s how it should be. This is a fight. I don’t like this covid stuff. This is what it is. I came out negative, he came out negative,” said Lopez. Lopez promised, “Lots of body shots, lots of headshots, everything I can do. I’m excited, man and I’ve very grateful for this opportunity. Now everyone can see it.”
Lomachenko said, “You have a chance to see this tomorrow. I know what I need to do. I mean, I want to do 12 rounds. I don’t want to finish this fight very fast. I want all 12 rounds, I want to punish him.”
Whatever flames burned brightly, they are embers now. Both men have their game faces on. It’s all business as they steel themselves for Saturday’s division unification fight.
A rare 50-50 matchup free to all boxing fans
WBC Franchise/WBO/WBA and Ring Magazine lightweight champion Lomachenko (14-1 20 KOs) at age 32 is without peer as a master craftsman in the ring. Run down the list: ring generalship, position, footwork, accuracy, timing, and effective aggression. Perhaps there’s a fighter here and there better at one or two skills. But no one puts them all together like the Ukrainian amateur standout and Olympic gold medalist.
IBF lightweight champion and fast-rising star Lopez (15-0. 12 KOs) is a decade younger at age 23. At every step of the ladder he’s been climbing, critics have predicted he’d hit his ceiling. It hasn’t happened. Lopez destroyed the formidable Richard Commey to win his title, and his punching power is matched by the strength of his confidence in himself. Now he takes on the world’s top pound for pound champion and wants to make believers of many doubters left.
Before discussing the matchup any further, both men deserve immense respect for risking their titles, records, and reputations by taking this fight. Promoter Bob Arum of Top Rank and ESPN also deserve credit along with the fighter teams for putting on the fight in the current pandemic environment without a live gate for free. There simply isn’t too much credit to go around.
Will the fight deliver the goods boxing fans crave?
Lomachenko vs Lopez: The elements in play
Reviewing every last element in play in this competitive fight would exhaust both writer and reader. We select these key elements in play as the ones to watch.
Experience: On the surface, the professional records seem similar, but Lomachenko’s experience is superior by every measure. Lomachenko has fought 131 pro rounds; Lopez just 60 rounds. Lomachenko’s amateur records dwarfs that of Lopez, along with his two Olympic gold medals. Experience can translate to wear and tear, and this is among the biggest questions for Lomachenko to answer. Assuming there are no physical issues, this goes in favor of the Ukrainian.
Power: Both men have all the power they need to stop their opponents. However, Lomachenko is a natural featherweight and he’s had to bulk up for this fight. Lopez’s greatest strength is his strength. He’s a pure power puncher who can strike early. It’s his best chance against Lomachenko. If he can manage to get close to Lomachenko and use his size to bully him, or simply land a so-called “lucky” shot, it will vault Lopez to true boxing stardom.
Speed: Both men have plenty of speed behind their strength. Real power demands speed to deliver blows that score knockouts. Lomachenko’s speed lies in his feet. He is nimble and balanced like a classical dancer or acrobat. He knows how to use the ring and force his opponents to try and catch him. But he cannot make a mistake, or Lopez will capitalize on it.
Defense: Lopez hasn’t needed to rely on much defense; his defense is his good offense. Lomachenko will have the edge here. He is masterful at slipping shots and frustrating his opponents. But it bears repeating: he can’t make a mistake against Lopez.
Training: Both men are trained by their fathers. Anatoly Lomachenko has numerous Trainer of the Year honors and works with other top fighters, including the greatest modern cruiserweight, Alexandr Usyk. He began training Vasiliy with a defined game plan from the time he was very young. His unorthodox training methods have gone from being questioned to being copied. Google his name, and “Anatoly Lomachenko training methods” is the first thing you’ll see. He employs tools designed to train a fighter’s mind, not only his body. They involve hand to eye coordination. The goal is to allow Lomachenko to process stimuli flying at him quickly, slow it down to think through it, and react in real-time. Lomachenko turns the ring into “The Matrix” as he acts before an opponent can see it coming.
Teofimo Lopez Sr. has pushed his son to become a champion, and what he’s done has worked beautifully so far. He gets criticism for living vicariously through his son, and Lopez Jr. has gotten emotional in pre-fight interviews admitting the pressure has hurt their relationship. It was Lopez Sr. who came at Lomachenko in a hotel lobby two years ago and confronted him. Whether it was alcohol talking or not, Lopez Sr. is the antithesis of the cool and calculated Papa Lomachenko, who rarely reacts visibly to anything. One thing’s for certain: Lopez Sr. will not throw in the towel no matter what happens in the ring.
Mindset: Lomachenko has been called a diva by the Lopez camp. It seems to amuse him. If he is, he’s earned it. He doesn’t let his emotions fuel him. Lopez Jr. emotes nonstop, but it pales in comparison to his loud, proud father. Both have been full of proclamations about what they say will happen in the ring. Lomachenko has mostly said, “wait and see,” but the mean streak comes out when he toys with his overmatched opponents in the ring like a cat with a mouse.
If you read the weigh-in tea leaves, it was Lopez who turned away and broke his gaze first after mouthing off to the amused Lomachenko.
Et cetera: Lomachenko’s enemy is age, wear, and tear. He has suffered injuries to his hand and to a shoulder. He has been out of the ring for 14 months. It may be a blessing in disguise, allowing his injuries to heal completely. Lomachenko trains consistently and doesn’t overtrain.
Lopez is a big lightweight. If he doesn’t win, he will likely move up to 140 pounds, where a wealth of talent in the Top Rank stable awaits him. He is young and so far injury-free.
Lomachenko can be a slow starter. He takes his time assessing his opponent with his calculating mind and determining how best to exploit any openings or weaknesses he sees. Lopez rushes in like a marauding bull at full strength, and he will want to muscle Lomachenko early.
The referee is Russell Mora. Judges are Tim Cheatham, Julie Lederman, and Steve Weisfeld, three of the best referees currently working. While there are no fans in The Bubble per se, 250 Las Vegas area first responders are being provided tickets to watch the fight. VADA testing is in effect for this 12-round championship fight.
Prediction: Lomachenko by unanimous decision
The matchup will pit the blazing fire of Lopez against the cool steel of Lomachenko. We see the steel standing up.
All fights are won or lost in the mind long before fighters step into the ring. Bluster often hides nervous energy. Lopez has never found himself under this type of scrutiny. Lomachenko lives in it, and it hardly ruffles his feathers. He will keep his cool and execute his plan. If he can turn the fight into a technical beat down, he will do it.
When Lomachenko wins, he should thank Orlando Salido. The Mexican brawler handed Lomachenko his only loss by using his greater size, bullying the Ukrainian, and playing dirty as only Salido knows how. Lomachenko and his father learned their lessons well and used them against Nicholas Walters, Miguel Marriaga, and Guillermo Rigondeaux. All were expected to push Lomachenko None had ever been stopped, and all three were humiliated. Walters and Marriaga said, ‘no mas.’
Lopez may have a ‘no mas’ moment as well, but if he proves more resilient it will speak well for him even in a loss. His boxing future will not suffer for it. It could teach him what his father can’t and propel him into being a truly great champion. But not yet.
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal is an award-winning boxing journalism covering the Sweet Science for Communities Digital News based in San Diego, California. Read more Ringside Seat in Communities Digital News. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego.
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