The Friday Faceup

Design by and courtesy of Top Rank Inc.

Every decade or so a boxing match comes together between an experienced champion respected throughout the sport for his class and achievement against a brash and talented newcomer. The most obvious example would be a young Cassius Clay taming ‘The Bear’ in February 1964. Charles ‘Sonny’ Liston being known for his ferociousness and experience but still succumbing to the mind games and youthful skills of Clay (aka Muhammad Ali).

These matches are mouthwatering in their build up because no matter how experienced a boxing scribe or so called ‘expert’, there’s that element of doubt whether it is just bravado by the contender, or, if they can actually back it up. This tends to bring an added fascination to the contest and ultimately results in big bucks wagered at the betting booths, generally on the young contender.

Tomorrow (Saturday 17th) in the MGM Grand ‘Bubble’ in Las Vegas, Nevada we have such a contest.

Ukrainian double-Olympic and multi-world champion Vasiliy Lomachenko (as recognised by the WBC/WBA and WBO) will put his lightweight (9st 9lb/135lbs) belts on the line against Honduran Brooklynite and IBF world champion Teofimo Lopez.

Although both are recognised as world champions by their respective beltmakers, the difference in experience and age is striking. The imponderables created by this make the fight fascinating.

Lomachenko (14-1, 10 KOs) at 32 years is closer to the end of his boxing career than beginning, compared to the 23 year old Lopez (15-0, 12 KOs) who is almost just starting out. ‘Loma’, although short in professional fights amassed an amateur record of 396-1, with his sole defeat being avenged twice.

Vasiliy has been boxing since childhood in the tough remnants of the former-Soviet system and, in any argument as to the greatest amateur boxer of all time having won gold medals in back to back Olympic Games of Beijing and London, plus numerous World and European championships. He smoothly transferred into the professional ranks by winning the WBO world featherweight title (9st/126lbs) in his third fight, unprecedented in modern boxing history. Then, within two years picking up the WBO 130lb title and more recently winning and unifying lightweight titles.

Lopez has similarly been boxing since an early age but has limited amateur pedigree despite representing Honduras in the Rio 2016 Games. Being from Brooklyn, New York alone is however usually an endorsement of any fighter and his progression in the paid ranks to date has been excellent.

Teofimo won his IBF title in only his fifteenth professional outing and has steadily built a big fanbase amongst the Hispanic and wider boxing community. Most striking has been the extreme confidence he’s shown in hunting Lomachenko down at every opportunity to secure the match, basically goading him into the contest. The pre-fight build up has focused on this animosity Loma now feels towards his opponent and that could mean bad news for Lopez.

The Ukrainian starts as the betting favourite as he vies to be recognised as pound-for-pound the greatest fighter in the world and further cement his legacy.

The Undisputed finds this a must-see contest but extremely difficult to call the way it will go and the eventual winner. Lopez is a natural lightweight in comparison to the smaller Lomachenko who has moved his 5 foot 7 frame through the poundage over his eight years as a professional. He may be coming to the end of his weight limit and that could be be a bad sign on the night against a big, youthful 135 pounder. However, the smart(ish) money is on Lomachenko winning narrowly on points or more nervously on Lopez winning by early KO.

This writer feels that the superior experience and technical ability of the Ukrainian (almost impossible to hit pivoting from side to side out of any stance and sliding in and out of range) will win through, and that he may be riled enough by Lopez’ pre-fight braggadacio to stop the Brooklynite late somewhere between rounds nine and eleven.

It is without doubt the best matchup since the COVID-19 pandemic hit us, and at year start one of the fights we were desperately hoping would be made. Bob Arum’s Top Rank have moved mountains to secure and promote the fight in the current climate and potentially it could be fight of the year.

Unfortunately it is not being televised on terrestrial or traditional satellite channels in the UK but can be purchased for £9.99 on the FITE streaming channel as a pay per view event. Transmission starts around midnight Saturday but don’t expect the main event to start anytime before 03.00 BST. When it does, it will be worth the wait and expect fireworks !

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