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Boxing facing critical decision time on big fights like Lomachenko vs Lopez

The lightweight title unification has a target date, but has to be finalized soon to meet it.

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Vasiliy Lomachenko v Luke Campbell - WBC, WBA, WBO and Ring Magazine Lightweight World Title Fight Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
Scott Christ is the managing editor of Bad Left Hook and has been covering boxing for SB Nation since 2006.

A lightweight title unification fight between Vasiliy Lomachenko and Teofimo Lopez is a big card that Top Rank still want to play, as it would be an ESPN+ pay-per-view event that could generate some real revenue, and also it’s just a really good fight between a veteran star and a rising star, with a lot of stylistic intrigue at hand.

The fight was originally being targeted for a date in late May, but that was never actually signed, either, and the pandemic lockdowns took it off the table then. It’s still the idea, with September discussed first, and now Oct. 3 is the target date.

But as Mike Coppinger reports at The Athletic, once again there have still been no formal offers made, and nothing has been finalized. And for a pay-per-view promotion, that would need to change very quickly if Oct. 3 is going to be the date, but as we’ve mentioned before, promoters have been reluctant to actually dig their feet in on major fights, seemingly due to the uncertainty of what’s going to happen without live gates for a fight where the combatants are being paid serious (even if reduced) purses.

Pay-per-view, of course, is a major revenue generator, which is why Premier Boxing Champions are looking at doing a few this fall — they return to action with an Aug. 1 Showtime card — but Top Rank still seem a little iffy on going without any fans for something like Lomachenko-Lopez.

And, again as we’ve said before, everyone organizing boxing really has to kind of accept certain realities right now, a big one being that the United States is lagging horribly in controlling the spread of coronavirus, which means harsher restrictions are coming back into play in a lot of places, because shockingly, despite those places doing everything wrong every step of the way, things still turned out wrong. The fact of the matter is, it’s an increasingly low likelihood we’ll have shows with any significant amount of fans in attendance in the U.S. for at least the remainder of 2020, and the chances were never that great in the first place.

It would appear that the bottom line is Lomachenko-Lopez has to happen without fans if it’s going to happen, and even with PPV that probably means reduced purses compared to what they would have expected to make when negotiating pre-COVID, and we really have no idea how star fighters are going to respond to that, because star fighters haven’t been fighting.

Those who have been talking — which is a lot of them — have largely expressed their own reluctance, but this isn’t going to be going away in two months or three months, either. So they have to fight for something, or not fight at all, which could wind up being career-derailing for at least some of them.

Terence Crawford v Amir Khan Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

This is not to suggest Lomachenko and Lopez — or Bud Crawford or Pacquiao or Errol Spence or Tyson Fury or Anthony Joshua or Deontay Wilder or Canelo or GGG, etc. — should rush in and fight for peanuts. But there has to be more of an open-minded approach here, and fighters and promoters are going to have to try to find an acceptable middle ground.

And I do understand the trepidation for either side, too; for fighters, this is a dangerous sport, and everyone wants to be paid what they’re worth, and for promoters, if a PPV is really leaned on to try and make up the cost of the purses, and that PPV bombs, it’s a serious hit. UFC have done very well since coming back, but UFC also are doing good TV ratings on ESPN, because they’ve put their stars in action in good matchups. Boxing isn’t, because the stars haven’t been fighting and the matchups have largely been weak.

But we’re reaching a critical point where tough decisions have to be made instead of tiptoed around any further. Boxing “being back” is just not enough, the star fighters have to fight, both for themselves and for the health of the sport overall, and there are a lot of hard questions about how to do that without taking a bath right now. But what’s been happening simply can’t sustain the sport for too long.

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