The moment has finally arrived. Through years of conflict and antagonization, individual paths to titles and finally a global pandemic, on Saturday, Vasiliy Lomachenko and Teofimo Lopez Jr. will step between the ropes to battle for lightweight world titles from all four major sanctioning bodies at the MGM Grand Convention Center in Las Vegas (ESPN and ESPN+, 7:30 p.m. ET).
It’s hard to overstate what this fight could mean, both to the fighters and the sport in general. Lomachenko, the No. 1 pound-for-pound boxer in the world, against one of the fastest-rising fighters in the sport in Lopez, with stakes that couldn’t be any higher.
With all due respect to Devin Haney, the winner of this fight will be seen as the unified lightweight champion of the world.
That doesn’t mean the stakes for each boxer is the same, as each fighter takes this fight at dramatically different points in their respective careers, despite it being the 16th pro fight for both Lomachenko and Lopez.
For Lomachenko, a win would further solidify his claim as the best fighter on the planet. While there are several other boxers who can also rightfully make that claim — Canelo Alvarez, Naoya Inoue and Terence Crawford among them — a win of this magnitude would further set Lomachenko apart. A victory over a gifted young foe who is 10 years his junior would be a significant statement, as he would add another well-known name to his resume at the age of 32.
When it comes to Lopez, a victory would prove that he isn’t just a talented fighter with tremendous upside, but something beyond that — a star. How many other boxers, at just 23 years old, could claim to be the unified champion of division, and accomplish it by toppling an elite boxer in the process?
In an age in which many fighters are guided carefully to world titles and cling to them with second-rate fights for too long, Lopez has taken the road less traveled. If he gets to his destination, the “Takeover,” as he calls it, will be complete.
Can Teofimo Lopez back up his father’s predictions?
While Lopez and Lomachenko face off in one of the biggest title unification bouts in recent memory, the individual who might be on the spot most might not be either of the boxers stepping into the ring.
That mantle belongs to the man who in many ways spoke this fight into existence as he boldly proclaimed that his son — while he was still just a prospect — would topple someone who is considered the best boxer in the world.
Back when Lopez was just cutting his teeth on Top Rank undercards — some of those shows were headlined by Lomachenko — Teofimo Lopez Sr., in the eyes of many observers, committed the cardinal sin of not only failing to bow down to Lomachenko’s greatness but being downright disdainful.
He had the temerity to tell anyone who would listen that his son would defeat Lomachenko sooner rather than later.
Now, as the day of reckoning approaches, does the father feel any extra apprehension?
“Not at all. I don’t see anything I should be nervous about,” he told ESPN. My son is very prepared for this fight. I’ve never seen him as hungry as he is right now.”
Lopez Sr. has described this fight camp, which was once again held in familiar territory for the Lopez clan — in Flemington, New Jersey — as ”phenomenal.” He has not backed away from his statements in regards to this fight and how it plays out.
“We’re going to make this easier than the [Richard] Commey fight,” he said. “I feel bad for Loma, but a new lion’s gotta come in and take over this division.”
For Lopez Sr. — who actually wears a cap that says “Nostradamus” — this vision began long before his son stopped the normally durable Commey in just two rounds to win the IBF belt back in December. He has been calling out Lomachenko for three years.
“I already predicted the fight’s not going six rounds, and that’s just the way it’s going to go,” the elder Lopez said. “We’ve been right all these times and we’re going to be right on this fight, too. There’s no way a 126-pounder is going to beat my son. It’s just impossible.”
Lopez Sr. is part Danny Garcia, part Freddie Blassie, with a bit of Bundini Brown and George Benton mixed in. But you have to give him credit — he has trained his gifted son from the very beginning — and guided him to a world title in just 15 fights. That’s something he forecast at the beginning of his son’s career in 2016. Then he boldly predicted that his 16th bout would come against Lomachenko.
But you wonder, is his son fully onboard with all this? At just 23, in an era when most boxers are judiciously handled and kept away from such stern challenges, Lopez was put on the very fastest of tracks by the father.
“I told him, ‘Hey listen, I’m all-in — if it comes, it comes,'” said the younger Lopez. “That’s how I look at life — if it comes, it comes. Whatever it is, whatever comes my way, we’re going to make things work out. Now, it’s here.”
The younger Lopez makes it clear, though, that while some observers will look upon Saturday night as a referendum on his father, this is about him and his career.
“I love my father,” Lopez said, “but it isn’t about proving his prophecy. He talks whatever he wants to talk. He made this bigger than it needed to be — I think everyone needs to congratulate him on that part. But really what it is, it’s just that he knows what I’m all about. He talks what he talks; he’s very confident about it because he sees in me what no one else sees in me, yet.”
The father has an unending confidence in the son. Not only will he tell you that his son will be the best fighter in the world pound-for-pound in the near future, he doesn’t hesitate to follow up by saying that Teofimo will be the greatest of all time. Yeah, as in GOAT. As you listen to him speak those words, you get the sense he’s actually very serious.
But before they start engraving Lopez’s plaque in the Boxing Hall of Fame, he faces a far from simple task on Saturday — he has to beat one of the best boxers of this generation. Even with all of the talking, the elder Lopez doesn’t feel like he has added any pressure or given Lomachenko too much “bulletin-board” material
“No, I really don’t care about that because what I believe, it always happens,” Lopez Sr. said. “I have no doubts. My son has no pressure whatsoever. Once he’s in that ring, he’s a different animal. That’s why I know my son is ready for this fight. There’s nobody else that we have to fight; this is the fight we have to fight to get all the belts, to be recognized as one of the best fighters in the world.
“That’s why I’ve got no doubts about this fight. Come Oct. 17, the whole world is going to know who my son is, if they don’t know already … This guy Lomachenko, he’s going to make us look good, and I can’t wait. I told everybody the better the fighter is, the easier the fight it’s going to be for us.”
Key stats from ESPN Stats & Information
23 years, 85 days: Teofimo Lopez Jr. would become the second-youngest boxer in history to hold at least three world titles in a division — behind only Mike Tyson (21 years, 37 days)
30: Combined number of professional fights between Lopez and Lomachenko, the fewest ever in a unification bout in the four-belt era (since 1988).
13: Either Lomachenko or Lopez will become just the 13th fighter to hold world titles from all four major sanctioning bodies at the same time since 1988.
Betting odds for Lomachenko-Lopez
As of Wednesday morning, courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill.
Lomachenko by decision/technical decision: -120
Lomachenko by KO/TKO/DQ: +225
Lopez by decision/technical decision: +800
Lopez by KO/TKO/DQ: +500
7.5 rounds: O: -500 / U: +333
8.5 rounds: O: -400 / U: +275
9.5 rounds: O: -275 / U: +200
10.5 rounds: O: -200 / U: +150
Will the fight go the distance? Yes: -163 / No: +120
I’ve been a believer in Lopez from the time he turned pro. It’s not just the skills, but also his highly underrated ring IQ and self-belief. There is this misperception that he’s just a bruising, heavy-handed puncher, but he has the ability to lay traps and counter reflexively. There is no doubting the greatness of Lomachenko, but he is not a natural lightweight, and while he’s still very much an elite fighter, after a long, storied amateur career, there are some signs of slight physical slippage.
Many believe this will be the modern-day version of Joe Calzaghe-Jeff Lacy. But Lopez has many more facets to his game than a typical “underdog” going into a fight against Lomachenko. Lopez will find ways to touch and hurt Lomachenko, and ultimately he’ll stop Lomachenko in the late rounds.
What to watch for on the undercard
⬛ There is a pivotal junior welterweight contest that serves as the co-main event on Saturday inside the Top Rank bubble, as former world title challenger Alex Saucedo (30-1, 19 KOs) faces the undefeated Arnold Barboza Jr. (24-0, 10 KOs) in a scheduled 10-round contest.
It figures to be a fan-friendly battle. Saucedo, who has notched two victories since losing to Maurice Hooker in a fight for the vacant WBO 140-pound title in 2018, is a hard-nosed, aggressive grinder, while Barboza himself isn’t one to back away from a fight himself. Neither man will have to work hard to find one another inside that ring.
Like the memorable war that was waged by Jose Zepeda and Ivan Baranchyk a couple of weeks ago, Saucedo and Barboza are fighting for positioning in the junior welterweight division, which by the spring of 2021 could have a host of vacated belts after Josh Taylor and Jose Ramirez unify the division (and subsequently make an expected move up to welterweight.)
⬛ So far, it’s been 14 up, 14 down in the first round for super middleweight hopeful Edgar Berlanga (14-0, 14 KOs). Top Rank matchmakers have done their best to find foes who will at least get Berlanga into the middle rounds and to get him some valuable experience. This weekend he is paired with veteran Lanell Bellows (20-5-3, 13 KOs), who at the very least is durable. In 28 professional outings, he has never been stopped. With his devastating punching prowess, Berlanga has become must-see TV.
At a certain point, we will see Berlanga fighting in Round 2. Will it be on Saturday night?