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Teofimo Lopez to return July 19 against Masayoshi Nakatani in IBF eliminator

Teofimo Lopez will get a step closer to a title shot if he can win in July.

Terence Crawford v Amir Khan Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images
Scott Christ is the managing editor of Bad Left Hook and has been covering boxing for SB Nation since 2006.

Top lightweight prospect and emerging contender Teofimo Lopez has his next fight, as he’ll headline a Top Rank on ESPN card from MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland, ESPN reports. There was talk of Lopez fighting in July in a main event, but in New York. There appears to have been no date/venue available to make that happen, but he’s back in July regardless.

Lopez (13-0, 11 KO) will face Japan’s Masayoshi Nakatani (18-0, 12 KO) in an IBF eliminator. As of their most recent rankings, the IBF has no No. 1 or No. 2 contender; Nakatani and Lopez are Nos. 3 and 4, in that order.

The IBF title is currently held by Richard Commey, whose manager told us that he’ll be back in June for his first defense after hurting his hand in February winning the belt against Isa Chaniev. Going into that fight, the plan was for the Commey-Chaniev winner to face WBA/WBO titleholder Vasiliy Lomachenko on April 12, but when Commey got hurt, Lomachenko instead took care of WBA mandatory Anthony Crolla in a fourth round KO win.

Commey’s manager told us that they’re hoping to face someone ranked between Nos. 7 and 10, which would mean one of Lee Selby, Emmanuel Tagoe, Gustavo Lemos, or Devin Haney. You can count Haney right out, as he’s just signed with Matchroom. Former featherweight titleholder Selby is the best-known of the bunch.

If Commey and Lopez both come through and set up a fight, that one could be really interesting, and Carl Moretti of Top Rank tells Kevin Iole that the plan is to get to Lomachenko-Lopez — which is what Teofimo wants, and Loma gave some cold thoughts on it recently — by the end of 2019 or early in 2020.

The 21-year-old Lopez has mowed down his competition thus far, most recently knocking out former European champion Edis Tatli in the fifth round on the Crawford-Khan pay-per-view undercard at Madison Square Garden.

Nakatani, 29, turned pro in 2011 and won the OPBF lightweight title in 2014 in his seventh pro fight. He’s held it ever since, successfully defending 11 times. That sounds great, but it’s a regional title, and nothing Nakatani has done thus far in his career makes him any more of a threat, really, than Tatli was, other than the fact Nakatani does have some power, with four straight stoppage wins and stoppage wins in seven of his last eight outings.

That’s not a knock on Lopez or Top Rank here — the IBF have Nakatani ranked highly, and that’s the path to an eliminator for Teofimo. It’s the fight that’s there for now, and it sets Lopez on the path he wants, world title fights this year.

Oh, and July 19 is a Friday.

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