The consensus is as near unanimous as it gets.
There are two men in the moment who have separated themselves from the pack at lightweight.
They have the same number of professional fights on paper but they arrive at that number on far different tracks. Vasiliy Lomachenko, a two-time Olympic Gold medalist and three-time world amatuer champion, skipped the traditional development cycle above bantamweight and below. Lomachenko entered the title level in his second fight, his only defeat as a professional, and hasn’t looked back.
Putting aside any debate about how to count fights from the World Series of Boxing, Lomachenko is facing his ninth opponent rated in a division by both the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board and Ring Magazine in just sixteen fights. That’s a ratio of well better than fifty percent over his career to date, a career with belts in three weight classes. Lomachenko also defeated former featherweight titlist Nicholas Walters who had slipped out of the ratings for inactivity, and future featherweight titlist Gary Russell Jr. just before Russell became a fixture in the top ten.
That’s as seasoned a veteran as one can be in so few pro starts.
Lopez, almost a decade younger, enters the fight with a title in tow but it comes on the heels of his only win over a notable contender to date. Richard Commey is a solid pro. Before that, a solid veteran in Diego Magdaleno fell to Lopez. Still, this is a quick dive into a deeper end of the pool. It’s gutsy, daring, but we won’t know until we see them in the ring just how timely it is for Lopez.
Lopez versus Lomachenko has been the clear destination shared promoter Top Rank has had in mind for a couple of years. There will be no extra marinade on this one.
Barring a draw, there will be a clear, true lightweight champion of the world come Sunday morning.
Let’s get into it.
Stats and Stakes
Title: WBA/Ring lightweight (2018-Present, 3 Defenses); WBO lightweight (2018-Present, 2 Defenses)
Previous Titles: WBO featherweight (2014-16, 3 Defenses); WBO super featherweight (2016-18, 4 Defenses); WBC lightweight (2019)
Weight: 135 lbs.
Hails from: Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi, Ukraine
Record: 14-1, 10 KO (20-1, 10 KO including World Series of Boxing Contests)?
Press Rankings: #1 (TBRB, ESPN, Boxing Monthly, BoxRec)
Record in Major Title Fights: 13-1, 9 KO
Last Five Opponents: 140-12-3 (.913)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: Orlando Salido L12; Gary Russell Jr. MD12; Roman Martinez KO5; Nicholas Walters RTD7; Guillermo Rigondeuax RTD6; Jorge Linares TKO10; Jose Pedraza UD12; Anthony Crolla KO4
Title: IBF lightweight (2019-Present, 1st Attempted Defense)
Previous Titles: None
Weight: 135 lbs.
Hails from: Brooklyn, New York
Record: 15-0, 12 KO
Press Rankings: #1 (Ring), #2 (TBRB, ESPN, BoxRec), #3 (Boxing Monthly)
Record in Major Title Fights: 1-0, 1 KO
Last Five Opponents: 143-9 (.941)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: Richard Commey TKO2
The Case for Lomachenko: While Lomachenko has more experience against a wider variety of quality professionals, Lopez appears to be the most impressive physical talent Lomachenko has seen at lightweight. While they scaled the same, Lopez is likely to be the notably bigger man in the ring. Lomachenko can use that to his advantage. Lomachenko has some of the most dazzling footwork in the sport and is a smart combination puncher who works the head and body with the sort of angles that can tie opponents in knots. Lopez can sometimes be a sharpshooter, looking to score with maximum damage. Lomachenko working around him, with steady contact, can rack up rounds and force Lopez into the sort of desperate need to land something big that leaves him ever more open to Lomachenko’s offense. If Lopez doesn’t respect Lomachenko’s ability to hurt him, he could be surprised there too.
The Case for Lopez: Lopez has physical attributes that jump out. Lopez is strong, quick, counters well and suddenly, and he can score a knockout with either hand. Fans have seen the left drop plenty of foes. Commey was undone by a detonating right. Lopez is more flat footed than Lomachenko but so far he doesn’t waste a lot of punches. He opens up and finishes well when opponents are hurt and comes in with the sort of confidence and desire we used to see more regularly in guys in their early twenties. There was a time when the age gap between these two would be seen as an advantage for Lopez but more limited schedules have aged the sport. Lomachenko’s toughest fights to date, aside from the loss to Salido, have been at lightweight. Lopez is a more physical threat than Jorge Linares, Jose Pedraza, or Luke Campbell. If he can make Lomachenko feel that threat early, his confidence to keep throwing and keep the pressure on will grow. Lopez will have to rise and mature into the moment in the ring in real time.
The Pick: It’s hard not to wonder if this fight is still a fight or two too soon for Lopez. Lomachenko has a lot of miles on him considering the length of his amatuer career and he hasn’t been quite as imposing at lightweight as he was below. Loamchenko also really hasn’t come close to losing. Linares had him down and used a lot of his own experience to make it a show but ultimately fell. Pedraza and Campbell competed but both lost by wide margins. In Lopez, Loamchenko has the sort of foe who can motivate him to unleash the full depth of his talent and ring knowledge. Lopez will force Lomachenko to be his best for all twelve rounds and should have moments but Lomachenko’s movement and activity will make the target hard to find. Lopez can win the fight but there are more reasons, and more evidence available, to think Lomachenko will. The pick is Lomachenko by decision.
Rold Picks 2020: 19-8
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at email@example.com