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While Vasiliy Lomachenko used a flurry of fists to demolish a former lightweight champion and demonstrate why it appears no one in the division is near him, a confident youngster sat impatiently outside the ring and questioned the theory.
Brooklyn’s Teofimo Lopez, 21, was positioned on the same Staples Center front row as Rams Coach Sean McVay in observing Lomachenko’s fourth-round knockout of England’s Anthony Crolla on Friday night.
And Lopez (12-0, 10 knockouts) is also in prime position to meet Lomachenko within the next year, a pursuit that intensifies Saturday night when he meets Finland’s Edis Tatli (31-2, 10 knockouts) in the co-main event to the Terence Crawford-Amir Khan welterweight title fight that headlines an ESPN pay-per-view card at Madison Square Garden.
It’s Lopez’s first bout scheduled for 12 rounds, although it’s not expected to go the distance, given the way he has stopped every opponent in fewer than seven rounds and six of the past 10 in two or fewer.
Lopez promoter Bob Arum told The Times last week that a Lomachenko-Lopez fight could become reality in early 2020 as long as a realistic sequence of events plays out.
Certainly, Lomachenko’s fellow lightweight champion Mikey Garcia stands as the Ukrainian’s most formidable foe, but the four-division champion from Oxnard isn’t expected to remain at 135 pounds after fighting last month in the 147-pound division, and may vacate his World Boxing Council belt this week.
That, Arum said, would set up a September meeting in England between two-belt champion Lomachenko (13-1, 10 KOs) and WBC mandatory challenger Luke Campbell of the U.K.
By winning Saturday, Lopez would advance toward a July bout against new International Boxing Federation champion Richard Commey, Arum said.
The winners would then meet with all four lightweight belts on the line just after the Super Bowl, Arum says.
“All of these fighters say they’re going to ‘try’ to beat [Lomachenko],” Lopez said. “We don’t try. We’ll beat you. He’s already worried about me, saying, ‘Don’t have him in my hotel,’ [last week]. Obviously, we’re in his mind. We’re already winning the battle.”
Lopez’s knockout power is substantial, but does he possess the ring acumen to handle all the boxing prowess that two-time Olympic gold medalist Lomachenko presents?
It reminds me of the 2013 occasion when 23-year-old Canelo Alvarez wanted so fiercely to test himself against Floyd Mayweather Jr. He was outclassed in the ring, but Alvarez proudly displayed his interest in fighting the best, and that attitude boosted his popularity as he proceeded onward.
Why would Lopez want to meet Lomachenko at his peak?
“Why not? Who’s the only exciting fighter out there at 135? Teofimo. So if he wants to fight the best … I’m in that category now and that’s a fight everyone wants to see,” Lopez said. “We’re dominating. This is a takeover.”
Time is also of the essence, Lopez explained, because while three-division champion Lomachenko has said he will not fight at 140 pounds, the growing Lopez said he can only remain as a lightweight for one more year.
“I’m going to try my best to maintain [my weight], but right now I’m nine pounds over and we’re one week away … those last couple pounds will get harder and harder to lose because my body wants to grow,” Lopez said. “My body wants to move to 140. Do I want the [Lomachenko] fight to happen? Absolutely. But I’m not going to force myself to the point I kill myself if they don’t want to push it early.”
Minor injury, major fight
Lomachenko endured a slight break of a finger bone and a dislocated ligament from the fourth-round, right-handed punch to the head that dropped Crolla for good on Friday.
Arum said Lomachenko's hand was in a cast and that he's barred from contact for six weeks. Two weeks of light contact will be allowed after that, and he’ll be free to resume full training by early June to prepare for a September fight.
If Garcia surprises and remains in the lightweight division, Arum said he’ll “see if we can do a deal with him for September first, and if we can’t, then we’ll fight Commey.”
The disconnect with Garcia, harmed already by the fighter's prior 30-month ring absence over a contract split with Arum, is expected to be complicated by Arum's position that Garcia doesn't deserve a 50% purse split by virtue of his March 16 loss to unbeaten welterweight champion Errol Spence Jr.
Garcia can counter that he made a bold attempt to pursue a fifth division title and generated more than 300,000 pay-per-view buys while Lomachenko has never headlined a pay-per-view.
Step up in class
Shakur Stevenson, the unbeaten 2016 U.S. Olympic silver medalist, is taking on a significant task by meeting recent super-featherweight title challenger Christopher Diaz in a featherweight bout on the Crawford-Khan card.
Stevenson (10-0, six KOs) is simultaneously dealing with a misdemeanor battery legal case after video emerged earlier this month appearing to show him repeatedly punching a man inside a Miami parking garage last summer.
Diaz (24-1, 16 KOs) said he intends to “take advantage of the opportunity,” believing Stevenson “is going to learn there’s levels to this sport, and it’s a process … he’s stepping into a war.
“Right now, for sure, he’s asking for a big fighter — so, OK, let’s do it. Let’s make it war, I’ll make a great show for the fans,” Diaz said. “He can box. He can move. You’ll find out Saturday night who has the greater power. He’ll hit me and I won’t move [back].”
Diaz added: “He’s been fighting bum guys. Now, he’s fighting a real guy, so let’s see how he does. I’m fighting Shakur to get to [World Boxing Organization featherweight champion] Oscar Valdez.”
Top Rank matchmakers have expressed concern that Stevenson is taking on an opponent he might not be ready for, according to Arum.
“When the bell rings, we have no control over it and the better man is going to win that night,” Top Rank executive Carl Moretti said. “I don’t care who wins or loses. These are both young kids, and neither of them should be discouraged by having a loss on their record. And whoever wins gets a nice shot, perhaps at a title.”
Until next time