Lightweight sensation and ESPN 2018 prospect of the year Teofimo Lopez will challenge IBF lightweight world titleholder Richard Commey on Dec. 14 at Madison Square Garden (ESPN), but there's much more on the line than just this one title.
The winner gets a chance to become the undisputed ruler of the 135-pound division.
Waiting in the wings is Vasiliy Lomachenko, who has possession of the WBA, WBC and IBF titles. You can call Commey-Lopez an elimination bout of sorts.
Ghana's Commey is a hard-nosed and seasoned veteran, and Lopez is a brash prodigy who seems destined for big things. This is a real fight between two legitimate top-10 lightweights.
Is Lopez ready for a title fight?
Lopez and Nakatani land series of punches in Round 10
Masayoshi Nakatani hits Teofimo Lopez with a right hand punch, and Lopez answers with a punch of his own. For more Top Rank Boxing, sign up here for ESPN+ https://plus.espn.com/.
Rafael: In an ideal world, he would have at least a few more fights to truly be ready, but he is in a hurry to make the money and won't be able to make 135 pounds for much longer, so he's going for it as the mandatory challenger. And while Lopez is facing a good opponent in Commey, he is the weakest of the titleholders in the division, so it's certainly a winnable fight, given Lopez's physical gifts, speed and power.
Kim: I know a lot has been made of Lopez's last bout, his 12-round decision victory against Masayoshi Nakatani, which had people reevaluating their belief in him as the game's brightest prospect. Nakatani's unusual size and dimensions (he's listed at nearly 6 feet tall), coupled with his stout chin, provided Lopez with a valuable learning experience that will serve him well in the future. Sometimes you have to slog your way through against tough opponents. The reality is that, since turning pro at the end of 2016, Lopez has put himself on the fast track to a title shot, and his run at 135 is coming to an end. Sometimes, talent trumps experience.
If you were Lomachenko, who'd you like to face, Commey or Lopez?
Rafael: To me, it's six of one, half a dozen of the other. The guy he faces will come into the fight with a good win over the other guy and the belt Lomachenko wants to be undisputed. So I do not think Lomachenko cares at all. They bring different attributes to the table against Lomachenko. Commey is probably a bit more rugged and takes a great shot and has a lot more experience against top opposition. Lopez is faster and more skillful, but very green. Either way, it makes no difference to Lomachenko.
Kim: Commey, because he has a more straightforward, methodical style, which is much easier to decipher than that of Lopez, who has not only power but quick reflexes and speed as well. Both are heavy-handed, but you can see Commey's punches much easier than Lopez's. Also, Commey is strong, but stiff, and not very elusive in terms of head movement. Now, that's from a style perspective. From a personal standpoint, with all the talking that Lopez's father has done the past year or so about knocking off Lomachenko, you get the sense that he wants to give him his comeuppance.
How do Commey and Lopez match up?
Rafael: It's a good match. They are just about the same height, so physically they compare well. Commey brings excellent pro experience that Lopez does not have yet, and he also brings a sturdy chin. Lopez has the power, speed and youth advantage. We're not sure of his chin just yet because he has faced very limited opposition so far. That's the big question mark. Commey represents a huge step up for Lopez, but he does seem to have a lot of talent and a good amateur background that includes an appearance in the 2016 Olympics. To me, it's the kind of fight where reasonable people should be able to find good reasons to pick either guy to win, and that makes it a good match between guys who are entertaining.
Kim: Their styles should mesh well. Commey is a strong fighter who likes to come straight forward and wing hard shots. But as was shown in his recent fight against Ray Beltran, even while he had the veteran on the floor numerous times, Commey was still susceptible to counterpunches. And counterpunching is something that comes very naturally to Lopez, as he has worked for years on the slip-roll-counter. But you wonder, how does he react if he gets hit by the right hand of Commey? Nakatani was very successful with the right hand against Lopez, but he doesn't have Commey's power. Commey is by far the most dangerous offensive fighter Lopez has faced in his professional career. You never really know how a young boxer will react to getting hit on the chin until it actually happens.
Will Commey's experience help him in this fight against a less experienced Lopez?
Commey scores two knockdowns in 1st round
Richard Commey sends Ray Beltran to the mat with a left-right combo and then shortly after pins Beltran against the ropes for a technical knockdown.
Rafael: Experience never hurts, and Commey has the big-time advantage in this fight. He's a little underrated, in my view. His only two losses were split decisions many observers thought he deserved to win, against Robert Easter Jr., whom he knocked down in a vacant title fight, and a title eliminator against Denis Shafikov on Shafikov's turf in Russia that was an outright robbery. So Commey brings excellent pro experience, which also includes a knockout of the very tough Beltran in a June title defense, not to mention the confidence Commey surely gained by winning a world title in February and already defending it once.
Kim: You look at Commey's record and you see that he had two very close losses on the road against Easter and Shafikov. So don't expect this 32-year-old to be overwhelmed by the moment, or intimidated in the least by Lopez. The question is, when that bell rings, will Lopez have a clear mind coming into this fight, and will he be able to live up to the great expectations that have been placed upon him? While Commey, who is rated No. 3 in the ESPN lightweight rankings, is thought to be a solid pro, the expectation is that Lopez (rated No. 7) is special. Can he manage that kind of pressure? I think he can.
Who has more pressure to win?
The rise of Teofimo Lopez comes with help from his dad
Teofimo Lopez is one of boxing's biggest rising stars, but it doesn't come without an enormous amount of help from his trainer, his father, Teofimo Lopez Sr.
Rafael: Lopez for sure has more pressure. Commey is not the big name and not the guy everybody has labeled a can't-miss prospect. Lopez is supposed to become a star and has talked about how great he is before he has accomplished anything. His father has bragged endlessly about how his son is already the best fighter in the world and has been comparing him to Sugar Ray Robinson since he turned pro. When you write those kinds of checks, you'd better be able to cash them, so Lopez definitely has more pressure on him than the lower-key, more humble Commey.
Kim: Without a doubt, Teofimo. Bottom line, with the type of statements his father has made the past few years, you wonder if Sugar Ray Robinson, Henry Armstrong. Muhammad Ali and Marvin Hagler could live up to those promises. He hasn't just said his son will be the best fighter in a few years, he says he'll be the greatest who ever lived (and he seems to actually mean it). So, you expect Teofimo to defeat a guy like Commey and then go on to bigger and better things.