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Staff picks and predictions: Crawford vs Kavaliauskas and Commey vs Lopez

Terence Crawford and Richard Commey defend their titles Saturday on ESPN, against opponents seen as having very different chances to take the belts.

Scott Levy/MSG Photos

Tomorrow night on ESPN from Madison Square Garden, we’ve got two world title fights in Top Rank’s final card of 2019, with Terence Crawford defending the WBO welterweight strap against Egidijus Kavaliauksas, and Richard Commey putting his IBF lightweight title on the line against rising star Teofimo Lopez.

We’ll have full live coverage on Saturday starting at 9 pm ET. Today, our staffers break down the fights and make their picks.

Richard Commey vs Teofimo Lopez

Scott Christ

I went back and really tried to study, as best I can, Teofimo’s fight earlier this year with Masayoshi Nakatani, to refresh and see if there was anything to really be concerned about there or if it’s just a lot of talk, the kind hot prospects often will hear when some people would prefer to see them bust instead of boom.

There are concerns — Nakatani landed a fair amount of good right hands in that fight, and Commey’s got a better right than Nakatani does. But when it was all over with, Lopez won clean and clear. He figured out fairly early this wasn’t the type of guy he was gonna blow out and “do Fortnite” after gooming, and he didn’t overreach in that effort. I think Commey’s dangerous here, for sure; he’s a hell of a good fighter. But I believe Teofimo has the better skills and the potential to be special in boxing, which Commey has never had, good as he is. I won’t be totally shocked if Commey catches the kid and blasts him out, but I don’t think the Ghanaian can win a decision, and I think we’re going 12. Lopez will show a fuller skill set and get a well-deserved victory and his first world title. Lopez UD-12

Wil Esco

The more I’ve come to learn about Richard Commey as a person, the more I believe he’s just a genuinely good dude. He is extremely humble and hardworking, having gone on to surpass most expectations of him (mine included). I’ve never been particularly high on Commey as a fighter, but I respect his dedication and the fact that he’s handled his business as a true professional. But in this outing he’ll be going up against a real blue chip prospect in Lopez who has designs on emerging as a breakout star in boxing.

With Lopez on the cusp of becoming a world titleholder, he’s well aware that this fight can either serve as a catapult or serious setback. As far as pure speed and power go, I give the edge to Lopez. But Commey has the edge in experience, which will make this a harder fight for Lopez than I think he realizes. Despite that, I think Lopez coming in 10 years younger than Commey will be a factor. There’s something to be said for youthful exuberance, and pairing that with real talent just might be too much for Commey to overcome in the long haul. I see Commey pushing Lopez through a tough battle but ultimately losing it on the cards. Lopez UD-12

Patrick L. Stumberg

I’m not sure how much is safe to extrapolate from Lopez’s underwhelming battle with Masayoshi Nakatani; Nakatani is far from elite, but his height and reach present a singular conundrum to his opponents. Lopez didn’t appear totally comfortable with the range Nakatani offered, which prevented him from really sitting down and putting together combinations. On the one hand, he’ll have no such concerns against Commey, who’s happy to march forward and bomb away until someone falls over. On the other, eating right hands the way he did Nakatani’s is a shortcut to losing teeth when facing a puncher of this caliber.

Lopez’s advantages in speed and crispness are still enough for me to lean his way, though, especially since defense has never been one of Commey’s priorities. I have it about 60/40 between Lopez putting Commey down with a dazzling combo and Commey knocking Lopez’s head into the third row with a straight right. Don’t take me picking Lopez to end things early as a sign that it’ll be one-sided, just that their mutual aggression means it’ll be decided in an instant. Lopez TKO-4

Lewis Watson

Commey is tough, durable and busy – there is a lot to like about him but nothing you could highlight as being “special”. His work rate is relentless but has enough holes in for an elite challenger to pick apart. Still, Commey poses a real threat to a prospect like Lopez who has been fast-tracked to this platform to try and prove his potential stardom.

Lopez is a savvy operator who took a break from a relentless KO streak in outpointing Nakatani last time out. His claims that he struggled with the height of the Japanese fighter mean the 5’ 8” frame of Commey should be back to his level...

Commey’s got a big chance in this one but will have to get the stoppage. Lopez will be heavily favoured on the cards so the champ may go for broke in the later rounds. That’s when Teo will strike – potentially with a late knockdown. Lopez UD-12

And the staff winner is...

Teofimo Lopez v Masayoshi Nakatani Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

Teofimo Lopez (4-0)!

Terence Crawford vs Egidijus Kavaliauskas

Scott Christ

You know you have a marketing problem when the guy you’re promoting as the B-side has to be called “Mean Machine” on all the promotional material, what with his cRaZy foreign last name and, more important, a total lack of name value. Kavaliauskas is a pretty good fighter, but he wasn’t good enough to beat Ray Robinson. He was lucky enough to leave with a draw instead of an L. And Ray Robinson ain’t Terence Crawford.

I feel bad for ol’ “Bud,” in a way, it sucks that he’s got basically no chance right now of fighting anyone else at or near the top of this division. After he’s done here, then what? You wanna know who the biggest non-PBC name is other than Crawford who currently fights at 147? It’s Amir Khan, by far. You want some more of that? Anyway, Kavaliauskas has no chance at beating Crawford. There’s nothing he does that’s any real danger to Crawford, who is a better boxer by miles and a better puncher, too. Crawford will end this when he feels like turning up the heat. I’m thinking of this as kind of a poor man’s Mayweather-Gatti. Crawford TKO-6

Wil Esco

Terence Crawford is one of the very best talents of this generation. Quite honestly, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a boxer as seamless at fighting from both the orthodox and southpaw stances before. It’s really no secret that I’ve been on the Crawford bandwagon for many years now and I obviously rate him pound-for-pound, but as far as legacy-defining fights go, something is lacking. Yes, Crawford became undisputed at 140, but now he’s campaigning at 147 and has wins over Jeff Horn, Jose Benavidez Jr., and Amir Khan to show for it. If Crawford never gets the chance to fight the other top welterweights in the world (all of whom are aligned with PBC), I really question how fondly Crawford will be remembered down the line.

As far as ‘Mean Machine’ is concerned, well, he’s just doesn’t fight with the same mean intentions that Crawford does. He’s also just not as good of a technician. Add in the fact that Crawford also has much more athletic ability and I think this doesn’t bode well for the Lithuanian fighter. I’m not saying Kavaliauskas is a straight up bum or anything, but there’s an obvious talent disparity here which is why there’s been absolutely zero buzz for this fight. Crawford breaks down and stops him somewhere around the middle rounds. Crawford TKO-8

Patrick L. Stumberg

Kavaliauskas was kind enough to give us a glimpse of what he can do against southpaws earlier this year and the results were, well, uninspiring. There was little to be seen of the “Mean Machine” against Ray Robinson; poor ring cutting and a consistent inability to get his lead foot outside of Robinson’s badly limited Kavaliauskas’ ability to bring his power to bear. Against a rangy, mobile, and above all adaptable Crawford, that’s not going to cut it.

To make matters worse for the Lithuanian bruiser, Crawford actually has the pop to punish Kavaliauskas’ limitations in a way that Robinson couldn’t, and he’s not liable to fade down the stretch and give Kavaliauskas the chance to claw his way back into the fight. People that Crawford can outclass tend to get stopped. He sharpshoots until Kavaliauskas starts to wane, then drops the hammer. Crawford TKO-9

Lewis Watson

“Mean Machine” Kavaliauskas is a fun watch. He’s durable and strong in the punch, finding his best success walking down opponents throwing combinations of hooks swinging from the hips. His best hope up upsetting “Bud” will be in an attempt to cut the ring off and pressure the champion from the opening bell.

I’m not sure the Lithuanian – fighting out of California – has the footspeed or ring IQ to implement this gameplan that could trouble Crawford. He’s no bum, but his limitations can’t be ignored. Crawford is too quick and too slick; he’ll make the challenger pay with comfortable counters. I fully expect Crawford to keep this one at range and box to a shutout. Crawford UD-12

And the staff winner is...

Terence Crawford v Jose Benavidez Jr. Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images

Terence Crawford (4-0)!

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