In boxing’s biggest fight since the global COVID-19 pandemic, Teofimo Lopez Jr. won a lightweight world title unification bout against Vasiliy Lomachenko in a pretty shocking upset. The common thinking ahead of the fight was that Lopez could only beat Lomachenko by knockout, with Lomachenko being the better “pure” boxer in the fight.
Instead, Lopez won a wide decision as Lomachenko came out of the gate slowly, giving away rounds from the jump and letting his younger, more dynamic and naturally larger opponent pile up an early lead. In the end, Lopez walked away with with the WBA, IBF and WBO lightweight world championships while Lomachenko was left to wonder how his gameplan coming into the fight will ultimately alter the biggest bout of his career.
Here are the three big takeaways from the massive lightweight unification bout that saw Lopez establish himself as a man among the sport’s elite.
Lomachenko shot himself in the foot
One of the standard talking points about Lomachenko is that he’s willing to give away a round or two to “download” data on his opponent. That is not unique to Lomachenko and, in fact, is very typical of elite boxers. What he could not afford to do against Lopez, however, was to give away half of the fight against a truly elite opponent. Lopez is not just “some opponent,” he’s a rare, elite talent who was ready to face off with arguably the top pound-for-pound fighter on the planet despite being just 23 years old.
So, as Lopez banked round after round in the first half of the fight, it started to feel like Lomachenko was allowing the biggest fight of his career to slip away. During a unification fight on ESPN, Lomachenko was landing single-digit punches round after round, while the young stud was able to ease into a fight under the brightest lights he’s seen yet. There’s being an elite boxer who wants to figure out your opponent, and there’s laying an egg while the world is watching. Unfortunately for Lomachenko, his performance fell into the latter category.
Lopez delivered on years of trash talk
It’s hard to salvage a situation where you — and your very outspoken father — spent years trash talking and hounding a pound-for-pound great about how you have his number. Coming up short with a poor performance is the kind of thing that’s hard to rebound from. Had Lopez been overwhelmed by the moment, or trounced by the man considered arguably the best fighter in the sport, it would have been hard to come back from years of big talk, relegating Lopez to a potential boxing version of Brian Bosworth.
But Lopez never looked overwhelmed by the moment. When Lomachenko was willing to give away early rounds, Lopez happily piled up points. When Lomachenko started to come on late in the final third of the fight, Lopez delivered a huge Round 12, showing he could compete with the best-of-the-best when it mattered most. This was a massive performance in the biggest of moments for Lopez as he took control of the story of his career and simply beat Lomachenko without much doubt.
Let’s hold off on a rematch
One place boxing never fails to shoot itself in the foot is holding endless rematches. Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder have spent much of 2020 in a dance around a wholly unnecessary rematch while more appealing fights have been available. Lopez beat Lomachenko, there’s no real doubt about that. We can play the “What if?” game about Lomachenko choosing to step up and fight earlier in the bout. But, he didn’t do that. He gave away rounds to a younger foe who had spent years running him down. It’s not an effort that demands an immediate rematch.
For all the talk on the broadcast of the fight being for “four belts,” Lopez vs. Lomachenko was a fight for three of the four recognized world championships at lightweight. Lopez was quick to call out WBC champion Devin Haney after his victory. Lopez battling Haney to unify all four recognized world championships would be a very interesting and meaningful fight. Let Lomachenko fight his way back to a title shot — consider it penance for giving away rounds to lightweight’s other elite under the brightest lights in boxing’s “pandemic era.” The last thing the sport needs is to be dragged down by promotional shenanigans once again.