Vasiliy Lomachenko vs. Teofimo Lopez Jr. fight: Five things to love about the lightweight unification

When unified titleholder Vasiliy Lomachenko tangles with unbeaten IBF champion Teofimo Lopez Jr. on Saturday in their light championship summit from Las Vegas, fans are very likely to see boxing’s best fight of the calendar year break out. 

Overflowing with prestige, storylines and legitimate bad blood between the two, the fight is both a grudge match and a blockbuster crossroads fight at the same time. Simply put, there are so many reasons to love what this matchup represents on paper. 

Lopez (15-0, 12 KOs), just 23, faces his toughest test to date by far in the 32-year-old Lomachenko (14-1, 10 KOs), a three-division champion who has been a staple atop boxing’s mythical pound-for-pound rankings for years. 

Let’s take a closer look at what to love most about this unification bout inside the MGM Grand Conference Center. 

1. Everything about this challenges boxing stereotypes

Although critics of the sport’s business structure are typically right when it comes to claims that greed and disorganization among promoters, networks and (occasionally) fighters have prevented the best fights from taking place, Lomachenko-Lopez is the exception to the rule. Lomachenko reportedly took a willing pay cut in order to make the numbers work for Lopez to accept the fight given that there’s no live gate during the pandemic (a notion, for the record, Lopez said was apocryphal during an interview this week on “Morning Kombat”). Lopez is also embarking on a serious daring-to-be-great endeavor by seeking the fight to begin with so early in his career while Lomachenko remains on the back end of his physical prime. The best part about this fight, however, for fans and the future health of the sport was ESPN’s decision to take a surefire pay-per-view bout and present it instead on basic cable. Those are just a few of the “throwback” elements to this fight that make it so special.

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2. Lomachenko has never faced this level of danger

A certified wizard inside the ring from the standpoint of speed, footwork, angles and precision, Lomachenko has been able to consistently dazzle opponents from a legendary amateur career that produced two Olympic gold medals to the historic start of his pro career by winning a world title in just his third fight. But it certainly wouldn’t be wrong to suggest that Lomachenko has found his ceiling in terms of a size disadvantage at 135 pounds, where he is 4-0 since moving up in 2018 but has certainly been tested (including a knockdown suffered against Jorge Linares). Lopez, thanks to his athletic and sometimes leaping power shots, has the ability to potentially end Lomachenko’s night with one punch. He’s also the perfect combination of being both brash and unorthodox enough in his style that Lomachenko will never be able to rest or cruise at any point. Yes, the gap in experience between the two (despite having the same amount of pro fights) is glaring and goes a long way in Lomachenko being deemed the betting favorite. But no one Lomachenko has faced up to this point as a pro has presented this much of a threat of being able to physically handle him while retaining enough speed and craft not to be embarrassed trying. 

3. A Lopez win could launch boxing’s next crossover star

For as bold as the above statement reads, every step of Lopez’s short professional career has featured moments that screamed the sport has a future star on its hands. From the one-punch knockouts to the flashy backflips and celebratory dances inside the ring (not far from his fallen opponents), Lopez has had little trouble capturing attention. A native of New York, Lopez’s backstory reads like a movie script given the family drama and obstacles he has overcome. All of it has made Lopez much more mature than his age suggests after being bred for greatness at a very young age by his fearless father and trainer, Teofimo Sr. It was Lopez’s father, let’s remember, who got him into this fight to begin with two years ago when he confronted Lomachenko at Madison Square Garden and told him that his son was going to knock him out. Lopez can talk trash or flash a thousand-watt smile to charm the masses. He also has a TV-friendly fighting style built upon unpredictability that has drawn comparisons to Roy Jones Jr. by none other than Jones himself.

4. A rare undisputed champion will be crowned

Well, that’s both true and false at the same time in a scenario that only a sneaky and confusing sport like boxing could produce. Although the WBC’s controversial decision in 2019 to elevate Lomachenko to its ceremonial status as “franchise” champion complicates things as it opened the door for Devin Haney to be named the WBC “regular” champion for reasons that go beyond logic, it wouldn’t be wrong to call the Lomachenko-Lopez winner the undisputed champion. Technically, Lomachenko’s title as “franchise” champion is a non-transferrable one. That changed, however, when WBC president Mauricio Suliaman accepted Top Rank’s request that the winner of this fight be considered the undisputed champion even if Lopez wins. Yes, it’s a ridiculous mess but don’t let that cloud the fact that in the four-belt modern era, where unifications and undisputed champions are rare, this is a fight that truly matters and should succeed in crowning the best 135-pound fighter in the world. 

5. Let’s be real here: it’s a tossup fight

For a sport that rarely provides legitimate 50/50 matchups, even on the highest level, this one feels special. Whether you favor Lomachenko’s craft or Lopez’s raw power, it’s difficult to be sure which one will win out when matched together. A major reason for that is because it’s hard to imagine exactly what the fight will look like. Both have styles that can be described as anything but traditional, which means each one typically feasts on the idea that opponents who employ a much more orthodox stye have trouble picking up their rhythm or cadences. Yet this fight is essentially two differing styles within the same vein matched up against one another. Which fighter will settle into the role of aggressor and work behind a jab to set the tone? Which one will be more inclined to sit back as the counter puncher? Determining those roles are just as difficult to answer as asking whether Lopez can win if he doesn’t get a knockout or Lomachenko can still be his dynamic self with that level of scary power across from him. Not knowing is why we watch the fights and the main reason why this pairing is so good.

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