Compared to the UFC, boxing has had a fairly quiet 2020 in terms of big fights during this COVID-19 pandemic. This weekend starts a pretty strong stretch of big boxing matches, and none of them is as big in terms of sheer importance and intrigue as the undisputed lightweight title bout between Vasiliy Lomachenko and Teofimo Lopez.
Lomachenko (14-1, 10 KOs) is considered the top pound-for-pound boxer in the world. He’s won two Olympic gold medals and his amateur record was a reported 396-1, and he avenged that one loss twice. You can understand why the Ukrainian wasted no time with the typical slow-rolling of boxing prospects towards the top. He fought for a world title in his second fight and lost to Orlando Salido, but since then he has been a machine. World champions in three weight classes, several instances of making high-level boxers like Guillermo Rigondeaux and Nicholas Walters quit. Most recently he went to enemy territory and bested fellow London 2012 gold medalist Luke Campbell to become a three-belt champ at 135 lbs. His thriller against Jorge Linares to become a lightweight champ represented his toughest victory to date and his most competitive.
Then there’s Lopez (15-0, 11 KOs), the bold, brash, exciting Honduran-American who went to the 2016 Olympics and didn’t medal. No worries, because his future was as a professional. Top Rank saw something special in him and it took him less than three years to be in high-profile slots. His explosive knockouts of Mason Menard and Diego Magdeleno put the 23-year-old in prime position for an eventual title shot. After stopping Edis Tatli and winning a somewhat lacklutser decision against Masayoshi Nakatani, he emphatically whooped Richard Commey to take his IBF lightweight title. Commey was by far the toughest matchup on paper for Lopez and he discarded him with ease.
Lopez has destructive power without being a brawler. He’s a gifted boxer-puncher with a size advantage against Lomachenko, but he’s never fought anyone as skilled as Loma. It’s also not as if Loma is a small-time puncher — his combination work is a thing of beauty, he can do heavy damage to the body, and he is capable of the spectacular one-shot KO just as much as he is the accumulation of punishment.
While Deontay Wilder vs. Tyson Fury 2 will go down as boxing’s most lucrative fight of the year, this is the most anticipated in terms of skill level for both men. If Lomachenko wins he continues his reign as the king of the lightweights and as boxing’s top fighter. A Lopez win elevates him into superstar status. I’m not going to give Top Rank credit for making an in-house fight, but I will credit them for not trying to “marinate” this bout and instead matching up best vs. best right away.
And the best part? There is no pay-per-view. If there’s a “plus” to the pandemic, this fight went from a pay-per-view to being shown simultaneously on ESPN and ESPN+. The entire card will be broadcast on both networks on Saturday, October 17th, with ESPN joining in progress at 7:30 PM ET/4:30 PM PT following the end of LSU vs. Florida... if that game is even played. Main card action begins at 10 PM ET/7 PM PT, so there will be no overlap between Brian Ortega vs. Korean Zombie and Lomachenko vs. Lopez.