Vasiliy Lomachenko did it again on Saturday, going to London to secure another victory and another world title belt, outpointing Luke Campbell to pick up a third lightweight strap, adding the previously vacant WBC to his WBA and WBO titles.
The big plan for Lomachenko (14-1, 10 KO) is obvious: he wants to take the IBF lightweight title and become undisputed at 135 pounds, at least for five whole minutes or however long the sanctioning body politics would allow it to last. The reality — that because of mandatory obligations and impatient sanctioning bodies, undisputed champions just aren’t going to last in boxing anymore — makes it feel sort of pointless. But the point is in achieving it at all. What happens after is just how this dumb sport works.
The IBF title is currently held by Richard Commey (29-2, 26 KO), a hard-punching, hard-fighting Ghanaian now based in the Bronx. Commey, 32, is a good fighter, but on paper he falls short where lots of “good fighters” have against Lomachenko — Lomachenko is not good, he’s not great, he’s genuinely elite, even fighting at 135, which even Vasiliy himself readily admits is certainly not his best weight.
But Lomachenko-Commey isn’t coming, at least not yet, because Commey has a mandatory title defense to make against Teofimo Lopez, the brash, 22-year-old rising star in the Top Rank stable.
Lopez (14-0, 11 KO) has become notable for his post-knockout celebrations and his charisma, his action style and knockout power, and — if we’re being frank — the big, bold talk from himself and his father/trainer.
But Lopez wasn’t barking so loud after his July 19 eliminator win over Masayoshi Nakatani, either. The Japanese fighter didn’t crumble in one or two or five or seven, he hung around for 12 rounds, exposed a bit of a leaky defense on the young prospect by landing a fair amount of clean right hands.
Lopez was critical of himself after the fight, calling his performance “horrible,” but he didn’t really waver from the goal: he said he’d fight Richard Commey next, and that looks to be a go for Dec. 14, and then he would fight Lomachenko for all the lightweight marbles.
The Nakatani fight may well have been an excellent learning experience for a young and at times arrogant fighter like Lopez, but it could also have given Commey an excellent game plan. Commey may not have amazing skills or anything, but neither does Nakatani, and if Nakatani can land clean on Lopez, certainly Commey can. And Commey hits harder than Nakatani.
I don’t think there’s a truly clear favorite in Commey-Lopez. If Lopez is what he is supposed to be, yes, he should win. Commey is good, but Lopez has been hyped to be more than good. But Lopez, like most prospects, may not be quite what has been sold, and it also simply may be too soon for him. We’ll see, but the winner will await Lomachenko.
But that fight is happening in December, about three-and-a-half months from now. Will Lomachenko wait until next spring to fight again, holding himself out of the ring until they Commey-Lopez winner is ready, or take a fight in the interim?
That wasn’t made abundantly clear yesterday, but Bob Arum did say that Lomachenko is open to fighting at 126 or 130 in addition to his current division at 135, and said later after his in-ring interview that this is possible for his next outing, which could come late this year, perhaps in December to line him up with the Commey-Lopez winner.
It’s anyone’s guess there, really. Top Rank have arguably the top 130-pound fighter in the world in Miguel Berchelt (36-1, 32 KO), a 27-year-ld Mexican with power who holds the WBC title, and they have 33-year-old Jamel Herring (20-2, 10 KO), who scored a big win in May to take the WBO title. Herring appears headed to a mandatory defense against Lamont Roach Jr, while Berchelt’s team have been pretty quiet since his rematch rout of Francisco Vargas on May 11.
Top Rank also have former WBO featherweight titleholder Oscar Valdez, who has vacated and is moving to 130. You can count that out. Valdez has spent this year fighting highly overmatched opponents and vacated his belt as soon as a defense against Shakur Stevenson was ordered, saying the weight was getting too hard to make.
At featherweight, Top Rank have Stevenson, a terrific young prospect who will face Joet Gonzalez for that vacant WBO title. They also have Jessie Magdaleno and Carl Frampton, and partner Frank Warren promotes Josh Warrington, the IBF titleholder who returns next month for his first sort of “soft touch” fight in a while, something I think we can all respect that he’s earned well enough.
The point I’m trying to get to here is that even with a willingness to fight at 126 or 130, the stated goal of only fighting “the best” is going to be difficult.
A lot of the top fighters at 126, 130, and 135 are PBC guys, and a lot of them are guys Lomachenko has already beaten, and a lot of them are young prospects coming up whose teams quite reasonably aren’t looking to have them diced up by Lomachenko.
So will Lomachenko really fight late this year? Maybe, but maybe not. If they do look to make something happen, there has to be a line drawn, and on one side, you make a list of guys it would be worth fighting, and everyone else has to go on the other side, where you at least have to seriously take under consideration that Lomachenko is turning 32 early next year, has had a few injury issues, and maybe it’s not worth risking a broken hand or a shoulder injury just to stay busy when a big fight is on the horizon.
I’m sure he’d rather stay busy than wait until at least March 2020 to fight again, but I think you have to weigh the risk-reward seriously. Is it really worth risking putting the undisputed fight off until much later in 2020 to have Loma clown on someone? Does he need to prove like every other top fighter at 126 has that he can beat Kiko Martinez?
So we’ll see. Top Rank could well come up with something really interesting for Loma late this year, or it may be a while before we see him again, but with the bonus that when we do, it’ll be a big fight.