No. 1 and No. 2 in the historic 135-pound division face-off this weekend in a welcomed return to what boxing does best. A dream match-up riddled with emotion, skill and desire accompanied by a mouth-watering side dish of paternal instruction.
Vasiliy Lomachenko vs Teofimo Lopez signifies much more than the trinkets at stake. Alphabet titles aside, we have the two best lightweights on the planet preparing for their biggest tests yet. Diametrically opposed in style and personality, who’s substance will allow them to scribble their name into the division’s colourful archives?
Here are five things to consider before the opening bell:
Is Lomachenko in too deep at 135?
Standing at 5 ft 7 in, Lomachenko’s natural weight is in the rearview mirror. A perfect run of 5-0 — all by way of stoppage — in junior-lightweight waters painted a vibrant picture of Loma’s very own condensed reign of terror at 130 pounds. Now, fighting as a lightweight for the fifth time, questions are asked of his size and stature coming up against the biggest, brashest puncher he’s faced in the division.
“He’s on the way out of the sport and 135 is just too big,” Lopez said told DAZN this past week, building on the narrative that Lomachenko is well out of his comfort zone. But considering his previous four victories at the weight, Vasiliy has still been able to operate at the very highest level at 135 pounds, despite it acting as a clear ceiling moving forward.
If getting dropped by Jorge Linares and buzzed by Luke Campbell are notable blots on Lomachenko’s lightweight copybook, he quite literally found the eraser in dropping and stopping the Venezuelan; sitting Jose Pedraza down twice; resigning Anthony Crolla to the canvas twice en route to a fourth-round KO, and dropping Campbell late in a fight he took comfortably on the cards.
Lopez’s unorthodox, springy attacks carry real power. His left hook has crippled past foes, and his right hand over the top is devastating. But this is more illustrative of what Lopez will naturally bring to the fight, rather than Lomachenko’s shortcomings at the weight. A lot of what Lomachenko does well — does to near perfection — negates notable artillery landing in riposte, despite giving away physical advantages.
Lopez’s best chance of testing Lomachenko’s worth at the deeper end of the lightweight pool will be in the clinch. If the younger man can lean, pull, rough Loma up and fire off aggressive combos in the pocket, then Salido flashbacks may lead to chinks in the Ukrainian’s armour.
Experience or youth?
At 32, Loma has made no secret about his desire to walk away from boxing in the coming years. He’s seen almost everything there is to see in the sport as a boy and man and is acutely aware of the inevitable decline following a career’s peak. Whether Loma believes he is still peaking is questionable, but the Ukrainian’s story is undoubtedly closing in on its final chapters. Growing old overnight is a common phenomenon in boxing, but it would be unreasonable to suggest that Loma is currently within real reach of knocking on that particular door.
Whether this career longevity and experience has suppressed the appetite of Lomachenko is what Team Lopez will be questioning. We have seen zero evidence of this in recent performances, but if there are the smallest signs of mental fatigue in “Hi-Tech”, then Lopez will attack with the vigour of his nine extra years of physical reserve. Lomachenko is one of the most mobile and athletic champions the sport has seen in recent years, making champion after champion stumble, miss, struggle and quit; Lopez will need to force these lapses in the guard of the pound-for-pound star, rather than waiting.
With experience comes knowledge. Despite Loma’s extra years of hard, gruelling graft, the takeaways from fourteen world title fights in three weight classes are priceless. Behind closed doors caveats and anomalies aside, Loma has consistently delivered at the very top table in the sport, whereas Lopez has only just taken his seat. At a glance, there are gaps in the rungs of Lopez’s climb to Saturday’s feast. His blitzing of Richard Commey was notable and did a lot to erase the troubles he had breaking down Masayoshi Nakatani five months prior.
Like fathers like sons?
If Lomachenko and Lopez are contrasting in personality, then their fathers, Anatoly Lomachenko and Teofimo Lopez Sr, take this sentiment of opposition to the next level.
The quiet, unassuming and thoughtful “Papachenko” is credited with laying the foundations of which he has helped build one of the best boxers on the planet. Through childhood dance classes, hand-eye coordination drills, and breath-holding exercises the Ukrainian has ticked every box of marginal gains over 32 years of detailed teachings. The loud, brash and unrelenting Lopez Sr. received his graduation from the school of hard knocks and has implemented a stricter, more physical method as an authoritarian to craft a world champion out of his son.
Lomachenko once told Sky Sports: “I didn’t separate my father and my coach. Sometimes, of course, we have problems and arguments. But we will always stay as a family.” Whereas Lopez Jr states “I have an ‘on’ and ‘off’ switch. As my father, I respect him, but we go back and forth.”
In ESPN’s “Blood, Sweat and Tears”, Lopez revealed his struggles with separating his coach from his father, but remains a believer of the benefits his this layered relationship brings. “I wish my father could just be my father sometimes, rather than just always my coach,” he stated emotionally. Still, he is adamant on the benefits to his career: “The bond is different. I’m not saying other coaches don’t protect their fighters, but you trust more in your father—you know he will make sure you’re OK.
Lopez Jr and Sr share an animosity towards the Lomachenkos that has underpinned the build-up to this weekend’s contest. Feeding off the fumes of each other’s outpouring of emotion, Team Lopez are relying on that spite inside the ring, born out of genuine hate. “He really thinks he’s a god in this sport. I don’t like him, and I have my reasons why,” Lopez Jr continued. “He [Lomachenko] feels disrespected? He should understand that I don’t like how he carries himself.”
Lomachenko seems unwilling to trade verbal insults before the opening bell and overall seems baffled by the growing rivalry. “I understand just one thing. Whatever you say, you must prove it in the ring. That’s it,” he explained to Sky Sports earlier this year, doubling down on his focus on boxing, rather than the circus surrounding it.
These two opposing mindsets compliment each fighter’s in-ring style. Calmness and beauty exude from every pore of Lomachenko when he is at his best. Aggression and power from Lopez when he is disabling everything in his path. Styles make fights and opposites attract.
How to Watch Lomachenko vs Lopez
Date: Saturday, Oct. 17 | Start Time: 10:00 pm ET (Main Card) / 7:30 pm ET (Prelims)
Location: MGM Top Rank Bubble, Las Vegas, NV
TV: ESPN (Main Card) | Stream: ESPN+ (Prelims)
How does a “100% Lomachenko” look at lightweight?
“I don’t think we’ve ever seen an opponent that has pushed him to be 100% of what he is capable of in the ring. If Teofimo can push Loma to be at his 80% of what he is capable of doing, he can tell he [Lomachenko] has already won. I don’t think Teofimo can push Loma to 100% in the ring.”
These were the words of Egis Klimas, Lomachenko’s manager, who believes that a fully-fit fully-prepared Vasiliy Lomachenko has not yet been seen in the ring at lightweight. With hand and shoulder injuries plaguing Loma over the past few years, a full camp void of obstacles — ignoring the original COVID-19 postponement — could, in Klimas’ eyes, open the door for us to witness the best version of his fighter.
“Everything is good,” he told Sky Sports about previous injuries. “I’ve had a one-year break without a fight. Now I’m healthy and happy. I’m 32, I’ve been very long in this sport so of course, my body has tired a little bit. But I’ve had a break.”
There are two sides to this coin. Sure, Loma being free from injury heading into this fight is a clear positive, but we are yet to see the consequences of his previous injuries on his fighting body. As more and more miles are added to the Ukrainian’s clock — at his maximum weight — his body is sure to be asked more frequent, tasking questions of durability.
Can Lopez time Lomachenko?
Lomachenko’s high output of feints, fidgets and range finders prove hard for opponents to counter effectively. “Hi-Tech” is constantly on the move, opening and closing angles quicker than is usually possible to react, pivoting out of harm’s way and throwing thunder in the form of flashy combinations to counter.
“Every slight mistake, I got punished. He makes you feel pretty useless,” Anthony Crolla told Boxing News. “I thought I knew how good his feet were but the way he judged the distance, it was very surreal being in there.”
Lopez has encountered just one southpaw so far in the pro ranks — crushing Diego Magdaleno in seven following an unconvincing previous six — and will have to gain Lomachenko’s respect early in the fight by hitting the target. Loma’s ability to mix up attacks while judging distance to perfection makes this task tricky, but not impossible. Lopez’s left hook is a real weapon, and if he can open his stance up to allow the left arm to react quicker to any holes Lomachenko presents, he’ll find a route through to the relatively untested chin of the Ukrainian.
Lomachenko has been dropped but hasn’t been tested by the shire destructive power that Lopez possesses in both hands. Lopez’s best shot at timing his foe may well lie in anticipation of his movements, assessing the patterns in the opening stanzas. Blink, and you’ll miss Loma’s adjustments — Lopez should try to be proactive in attack rather than reactive.