Young pretender in confident mood ahead of blockbuster title unification bout against three-belt lightweight champion
If it wasn’t for the coronavirus pandemic Saturday’s bout between Vasiliy Lomachenko and Teofimo Lopez in Las Vegas would have been one of the pay-per-view blockbuster fights of the year. It’s a dream match up with the Ukrainian, considered to be the pound-for-pound No.1, up against the Brooklyn-born young raging bull, someone who doesn’t lack confidence.
Instead, the fight is free on ESPN in the United States, and at a cost of £10 on digital platform FITE TV in the UK.
“It would probably be a big pay-per-view with 20,000 in the stands,” said promoter Bob Arum, who has expressed irritation that not one major British broadcaster has opted to buy into the fight.
“But the coronavirus has upset a lot of business and people are dying. We’ve got to be thankful for what we have.”
At the MGM Grand conference centre inside Arum’s boxing bubble will be just 250 people, including sponsors and specially invited first responders from Nevada. ESPN will guarantee a larger audience than the pay-per-view system.
“It could be the biggest possible audience for a boxing match that I can remember,” Arum added.
Lomachenko, the Ukrainian who won two Olympic gold medals in Beijing and London, has claimed world titles in three weight divisions in just 15 fights. Lopez himself is unbeaten in 15 bouts contested as a professional, with 12 knockouts, but has not faced a fighter with the footwork, dexterity of angles and aggressive counter-punching that ‘Loma’ – also known as ‘The Matrix’ for obvious reasons – possesses.
Yet the self-belief Lopez has demonstrated so far in becoming a world champion in the 135lbs weight division means the 23-year-old, nine years younger than Lomachenko, cannot be written off.
“We think it´s a fascinating fight,” Arum said. “Lomachenko is a great machine, a technical genius with the way he does distance and footwork. Yet he’s in with a guy who’s very athletic and is skilled beyond his years as far as boxing knowledge goes.” Lomachenko, who holds the other three 135lb belts and the Ring Magazine title, is a 3-1 favourite and is anticipating a closely fought contest.
“I won’t know how the layoff will impact me until Saturday night. I have never been out of the ring for one full year like this. I don’t know how it will be,” the Ukrainian said.
“I think it’s just a ring and judges and TV. That’s it. And, of course, four belts. I’m thinking only about my future fight and the fight on Saturday. That’s it. For me, I think it will be a chess match.”
Meanwhile Lopez is talking a good game and is confident he has what it takes to dethrone his opponent.
“Hard work pays off, 18 years in, and it’s just the beginning, You haven’t seen anything yet. ‘The Takeover’ is not just a phrase we throw out there,” the 23-year-old said.
“This is the part where I’m leading the new generation. Winning this is a stamp and a mark to put on for the new era. Get your popcorn ready and just enjoy the show. It’s ‘The Takeover’.
“A true champion can adapt to everything. It goes for both of us. He fought in arenas sold out. I fought in arenas sold out. My job and my thing are having all of these belts wrapped around me.”
This will be Lomachenko’s toughest fight. He will play matador to Lopez’s bullish style, and we will be regally entertained. Loma can lose this fight against a naturally bigger, very aggressive fighter who gives no respite. However, Lopez will likely be hit more and even harder than he has been hit before. It’s the most anticipated fight for months and promises to live up to its five-star billing.
If pushed I’d go for Lomachenko to claim victory on points 116-112, and claim all the belts after a very tough first third of the contest.
Elsewhere, super lightweight Lewis Ritson meets former world champion Miguel Vasquez in Peterborough on Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom boxing card. The fan-pleasing Newcastle fighter told The Telegraph that he aims “to make a statement” against the Mexican who has previously lost to Ritson’s British rival Josh Taylor, a unified world champion, by ninth round knockout.
The vacant women’s WBO middleweight world title scheduled between Hannah Rankin and Savannah Marshall on the same card was cancelled earlier this week when Marshall’s trainer Peter Fury tested positive for Covid-19.