Teofimo Lopez emphatically announced his entrance into boxing superstardom on Saturday by defeating Vasiliy Lomachenko to claim lightweight world titles from all four major boxing sanctioning bodies. Lopez shocked the world, and not by utilizing his potent knockout power, which was the way most in the boxing world believed the underdog could do it, if he could find a way to beat one of boxing's greatest technicians.
From Round 1 on, Lopez put his own timing and technical prowess on display and outboxed Lomachenko.
So what do you do when you manifest your dreams into reality? Two-division world champion and ESPN broadcaster Timothy Bradley Jr. breaks down the most pivotal night of Lopez's career, from how he managed to defeat Lomachenko to what lies ahead as Lopez hopes to continue to build his star in the boxing world.
How surprised were you about how the fight ultimately played out?
I knew he had a lot more to his game than just being a puncher, and I said he had exceptional timing, but I really liked the way that he took control of the range and dictated the pace early on -- he proved he's a boss in there.
We were all well aware heading into this fight that Lomachenko is a slow starter. Yes, he downloads information -- I understand that -- but while he was downloading information, Teo took advantage of it. He controlled, I believe, the first five out of six rounds, and maybe the second round might've swayed slightly to Loma, but I wouldn't argue if someone was to say Lopez won that round.
Lopez came out and fought every minute of every single round. But it wasn't just Lomachenko making his calculations -- he was clearly frustrated with what he was seeing. It was the timing. It was the speed. I don't think Lomachenko really understood how fast Lopez was. He was actually faster than Loma, as well as longer, stronger and just bigger.
Lomachenko just poured on the gas a little bit too late. He started coming on in Round 7, and took control in Round 8. By that time, Lopez had a huge lead going into the championship rounds.
Why was Lopez able to succeed where so many fighters had previously fallen short against Lomachenko?
A lot of fighters who have stepped in with Lomachenko were overwhelmed by the way that Lomachenko fought them. Lomachenko figured them out, took them into deep water and then finished them as the rounds went on. Positioning was a key factor in all of those fights, and Lopez didn't fall for that. He stayed calm and poised and kept popping his jab out there, which isolated the offense of Lomachenko.
What I really liked about what Lopez was doing was that every time Loma would do something, he would react. This is something that I talk about with a lot of young fighters coming up. The best fighters in the world, they each have this ability to not get hit, and then hit themselves. It's the transition game. So every time Loma did something, Lopez countered, or at least tried to counter. Early on, he had Loma skeptical about attacking because of the power, because of the speed and the accuracy and the supreme skill of the young Lopez. Every time Lomachenko tried to create an angle, Lopez rolled with him.
Every time Lomachenko would try to do something or step in on Lopez, he would get a reaction from Lopez, and it wasn't the reaction that he wanted to see. It was an educated reaction, and Lopez was either ready to punch or punch right back with the counter.
Lopez had every punch that was needed to interrupt the rhythm of Lomachenko. The hook was key. Did you see Lomachenko spin around Lopez once? He couldn't. Every time he tried to, Lopez stepped with him. That's ring IQ. That's experience.
Lomachenko did not want to get caught exchanging, so he took a very cautious route. Even when he opened up in those later rounds, Lopez took the damage and didn't let himself get dragged down, even though it got pretty intense at a few points. He was smart, and he stayed calm enough to weather the storm.
What was your reaction to his performance in the 12th round?
That last round was the defining moment, I felt, and it was the reason why I felt like Lopez won that fight. Loma had Lopez on his heels at the end, and Loma felt that Lopez was starting to fade, and he did look like that, especially in the 10th and 11th. But Lopez stayed resilient.
Even at 23, he had the experience and the confidence to dig deep in the 12th. He also had the experience to not listen to his father in the last round when he said it was a blowout. When it comes down to scorecards, shoot, you don't want to leave anything up to chance, and you don't know how they're scoring some of the close rounds in any fight.
He faced down that championship round, fought past his exhaustion, and he went out and threw 90-plus punches. Lopez showed what he was made of. Lomachenko tested him -- tested his spirit, tested his ego, tested his conditioning -- tested everything. Both of those guys, in that last round, showed what they're made of.
Lopez just had a little bit more. That was it. It doesn't take much. If Loma was going five miles an hour, Lopez was going six. That's all it takes.
Where do you think Lopez currently stands in terms of boxing's best?
Lopez impressed me. I knew that he was special, but on Saturday he showed everybody that he's a superstar. There are stars and there are superstars, and superstars typically do things just a little bit different than a typical star to reach that next level. The attributes that Lopez has -- how brash he is, how confident he is -- add in his timing, his power, all of those things together make him a superstar.
He kind of reminds me, with his speed, his timing, his reflexes and quick decisions on the fly, of a young Roy Jones Jr., one of my favorite fighters of all time.
So what's next?
One of the things that Lopez needs to understand is that there's a lot more he can do in boxing. It might not feel that way, because he's at the top of 135 already. With this one fight, it catapults him there easily, not to mention the No. 2 or No. 3 spot easily on any pound-for-pound list. Maybe you can even argue that he's No. 1, because according to the ESPN rankings, Lomachenko was the No. 1 P4P fighter in the world.
I'll temper that a little bit, because you have to think of guys like Terence Crawford, Naoya Inoue, Canelo Alvarez, who have been in the business a very long time and have been consistently effective and destructive.
He's done at 135. He beat arguably the best pound-for-pound guy in the world at 135 and he took all the straps. He has no business left at 135, and he doesn't have to struggle to make that weight anymore. He has the ball in his court now. It's time to go up to 140.
Lopez has to continue to challenge himself. He just fought arguably the best fighter in the world. Where do you go from here? I'm not going to say I'm a mad genius, but I'll just put it this way. He's already been a part of a historic event. If he wants to be a part of another one, there's two fighters at 140 that are going to be unifying the titles, likely at the beginning of 2021.
Why not go after the winner, whether it's Josh Taylor or Jose Ramirez. Top Rank has both of those guys under their promotional banner, and the fight can easily be made. So you'll have the undisputed 135-pounder (or unified champion, depending on how you want to put it, because Devin Haney was basically handed his title) versus the undisputed at 140 pounds. He will move up and he will face the undisputed champion at 140.
Where does Lomachenko go from here?
This 14-month layoff did Lomachenko no justice. A fighter with that many fights, at that age, you have to stay active, and that's how you stay sharp.
Lomachenko will be looking for a rematch. There's no doubt in my mind, because he's a winner, and he came up a little short in this fight. No matter what the scorecards say, it was a close fight -- I had it as a two-point edge for Lopez, 115-113. Loma just started late. The speed, the size. I mean, there's a lot of things that he had to worry about.
I don't know if Lopez would give him that, because there was no rematch clause in the contract. If Lopez doesn't grant him the rematch, Lomachenko needs to go back down to 130 and try to just see what he can do there. Lomachenko still has the skills, and the ability. We saw what happened when Lomachenko opened it up and started putting the pressure on Lopez late in that fight.
He is a fantastic fighter, and let's not take anything away from him and what he's done in his career. One loss to a top-level opponent doesn't mean that he is not great. Lomachenko has already cemented his resume, and cemented his name in the history books. He's still a fighter that I want to see fight.
Lomachenko should go down 130 pounds where I think things will be a lot more suitable for him. I think the weight definitely played a factor in this fight, along with the punching power.
What I admire about Lomachenko is that he wants to not only be good, he wants to be great. He wants to be excellent. He's willing to take the necessary risks to chase history. You have to take risks to be great. And Loma took risks -- he knew he was risking it all. He came up a little short, and that's OK. But the battle is not over. Go back down and wait, build himself back up, and he can become an undisputed champion at 130.
You look at Muhammed Ali, "Sugar" Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, Roy Jones Jr., Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield. All these guys had losses, and they're still talked about today. It's not over for Lomachenko.
If I know one thing about winners, it's like death to them when they lose. They'd rather die than lose.