Vasiliy Lomachenko and Teofimo Lopez Jr. have the chance to prove who is the No. 1 lightweight on Saturday as two fighters at contrasting stages of their careers clash in Las Vegas.
The much-anticipated unification contest will take place inside Top Rank’s MGM Grand’s Bubble, a mouthwatering main event in which the two leading protagonists both have a point to prove.
Lomachenko has the pedigree stemming back to a glittering amateur career that included two Olympic gold medals through to winning world titles in three different divisions in the paid ranks.
Yet the Ukrainian, who’s considered not just the best at the weight but also a leading contender to be recognized as the pound-for-pound king, is putting more than just the WBA and WBO belts on the line.
His reputation is at stake against a fighter — and a father — who have not been shy in making clear their intentions for a while, long before the younger Lopez became a champion himself by brutally taking the IBF title from Richard Commey inside two rounds last December.
Teofimo Lopez has long been convinced his son has the power and precision to expose the lauded Lomachenko, and he did not mind telling him as much when they were in the same hotel lobby in December 2018.
That meeting sparked a rivalry that has simmered ever since. On Saturday, the heat will be turned up to the boiling point. The trash talk has riled Lomachenko, and now the younger Lopez has to back it up.
The undefeated 23-year-old has age on his side and is the more comfortable at the limit, a heavy-handed hitter who has so far backed up his and his father’s confidence with 15 straight wins.
Still, this is different: This is Lomachenko, a supremely skilled boxer who has needed to move through the divisions to find bigger challenges, in every sense. He has normally passed those tests with flying colors.
Is this a step too far, though? Can, as his dad has always believed, Lopez be the one to solve “The Matrix” inside the ring? Thankfully, boxing fans do not have to wait too much longer to find out.
As already mentioned, Lopez was ruthless against Commey to claim the IBF strap, handing the dethroned champion the first stoppage loss of his professional career.
That followed wins inside the distance over Diego Magdaleno and Edis Tatli earlier in the year, though Masayoshi Nakatani went 12 rounds in July 2019 before being beaten comfortably on the scorecards.
In contrast to his next opponent, Lomachenko’s previous outing saw him require the scorecards to triumph against Luke Campbell in August 2019. A knockdown in the 11th helped lead to a comfortable points win, though the final margins did not do justice to the Englishman’s brave efforts.
Campbell’s compatriot Anthony Crolla had been crushed four months earlier, while the impressive Lomachenko CV includes victories over Jose Pedraza and Jorge Linares at lightweight.
Tale of the tape
Weight: 135 pounds
Reach: 65.5 inches
Professional record: 14-1 (10 KOs)
Major career titles: WBO featherweight, WBO super featherweight, WBA, WBC and WBO lightweight
Teofimo Lopez Jr.
Weight: 135 pounds
Reach: 68.5 inches
Professional record: 15-0 (12 KOs)
Major career titles: IBF lightweight
Alex Saucedo, whose only loss came against Maurice Hooker in 2018, and the undefeated Arnold Barboza Jr. go up against each other in a super lightweight clash that should help whet the appetite for what is to follow on the menu.
In the same division, Josue Vargas takes on Kendo Castaneda, while unbeaten super middleweight Edgar Berlanga is up against Lanell Bellows in an eight-rounder. The main course is all that really matters this weekend, however.
What the fighters have to say . . .
Lopez to Stats Perform News: “I expect him to get hurt, badly, with the explosiveness I bring to the table. I knew I was the underdog coming into this. Listen, it doesn’t motivate me any different, it doesn’t change anything, you know what I mean? That is really what it comes to. I knew I was going to be the underdog coming into this fight.”
Lomachenko on his opponent’s prefight talk: “For me, it’s just words. On Saturday, we will see.”
Promoter Bob Arum on Lomachenko: “He doesn’t want an easy fight or to win a decision, he wants to win by destroying his opponent. Floyd Mayweather was a great defensive fighter. But unlike Mayweather, Loma is always looking for a way to destroy his opponents. That’s what makes him a fan-friendly fighter.”