Sometimes title fights will exceed expectations while some fall dreadfully short. This fight defied the odds by being tantalizingly close but not fulfilling either.
Teofimo Lopez beat Vasyl Lomachenko by unanimous decision in their 12 round lightweight title unification bout. The fight, for the first six rounds, was a careful dance. Lopez proved to his critics that he can remain patient and doesn’t need an early knockout to win against another champion. He won all (or almost all) of the first six rounds by simply using a regular jab and landing the occasional body shot. Lomachenko was patient. He used his movement to put mental pressure on Lopez, threatening but refraining from pulling the trigger and launching a full-scale attack.
While the casual fight fans (though it’s doubtful many were left by ring walks at nearly midnight) may have been confused, or even frustrated by Lomachenko’s tactics, it was to be expected. He often takes 3 or 4 rounds to “download” the movement patterns, punching power, and footwork of his opponent. Akin to a Soviet supercomputer Loma’s brain calculates the best form of attack which exploits the biggest weakness of his foe, which almost always ends with the opponent defeated and disheartened.
From rounds 7 to 11, that was the script the fight took. Loma launched his attacks, landing combinations and popping away just out of reach, a guerilla warfare attack that left Lopez missing on power punches and rarely landing clean. The Ukrainian champion used unique angles and blink fast punches to power his resurgence into the fight. The lulled rhythm of the first half dozen rounds gave way to an increasingly frenetic pace as by the 11th round Lopez looked unsteady, as Loma looked the king who was overcoming the coup’ d’etat. It left room for a decisive 12th round.
Then the fight snapped again. Teofimo Lopez dubbed has been dubbed as “The Takeover” and he did just that. He landed his best punches of the fight, power shots, and combinations that stopped the constant hopping and probing of Loma’s movement and attacks. Loma remained game, returning fire and landing his own shots but it was Lopez who finished the fight with a greater showing of strength. His hand would be raised minutes later, and now he reigns as the unified champion of the lightweight division, holding the IBF, WBO, WBA, and WBC (the franchise championship, Devin Haney holds the other WBC lightweight title) belts.
The fight can be calculated by several factors. Ultimately a defining factor that stands out is the maturity of Teofimo Lopez. He did not panic, didn’t rush, and stayed disciplined against Lomachenko. He did not put himself in harm’s way in the early rounds, instead stealing them by staying the busier fighter. He also made sure not to be too busy and wear himself down in the process. His speed and patience should help him shed the slugger image he’d built, though his power still is not to be trifled with. Most impressively was his refusal to extinguished. He lost several rounds and took some real punishment, especially in the 11th round. Instead of shelling up and trying to hang onto a scoring lead, he fought for the title, seizing the opportunity as Loma’s strength began to fade as did his comeback hopes.
For Lomachenko, his defeat should not be serving as the death knell of his career that many have rushed to claim. For the now former champion, his loss was just as much a mathematical miscalculation as it was a good performance from Lopez. Should Loma start his attack around or two earlier, or been active enough to split or take a round or two in the first six, he likely would’ve won the fight. He is a tad small for larger 135-pound fighters light Lopez, and at 32 we’ve likely seen the best version of Lomachenko we ever will, but he’s far from being a gatekeeper or has been. Thoughts of him winning a rematch of the two are easily imaginable, and winning another round of belts at 130 pounds remains a possibility.
Both fighters are now launching new phases of their careers. Teofimo Lopez is now the lion of the division and has already been trading trash talk with Devin Haney. Lomachenko, ever understated and quiet will carefully contemplate his next move and his next attempt at a title run.
Other Notes from Fight Night
Arnold Barboza Jr. (24-0-0 10 KOs) looked crisp and effective against Alex Saucedo but did get dropped during his UD win. After winning the WBO International superlightweight strap he’s in line to take on champion Jose Ramirez and he’ll have to be much sharper.
Josue Vargas (18-1-0 9 KOs) continued his recent run of success, with a UD victory over Kendo Castaneda. The lone loss on his record is a DQ loss, and Vargas was close to a clean sweep in his last few 10 round victories. Look for him to start factoring in as a contender very soon.
Edgar Belanga (15-0-0 15 KOs) continued his epic streak. He’s won 15 straight by knockout, and none of his fights have lasted beyond the first round. It won’t be long before the light heavyweight phenom is facing the best of the best in his weight class.