After 12 hard-fought rounds, no one can say that Vasyl Lomachenko vs Teofimo Lopez didn’t deliver. This Lightweight Unification bout had all of the makings of a classic, and boxing fans will count ourselves lucky that we got just that.
The fight started much the way experts had predicted; Lomachenko used his movement to evade and frustrate Lopez, while Lopez came forward and targeted the body. Lomachenko threw just one single jab in the first 3 minutes, shuffling in and out safely behind his guard. Soon, it seemed, Lomachenko would find his rhythm and start landing his accurate punches.
But as the 2nd and 3rd rounds went by, Lopez only grew in confidence, finding his mark more often with sharp two-punch combinations, taking advantage of the fact that his punches were going unanswered. By the 4th round, the pattern was clear: Lomachenko was far too wary of Lopez’s power to confidently mount his own offense. He was in a hole, and despite showing the first signs of resistance, was at least 5 rounds behind going into the 7th.
Fans will speculate and debate as to the reason for this suicidally slow start. Did the year-long layoff cause lasting ring rust? Was Lomachenko tactically gambling on Lopez fading in the second half? Or was he simply intimidated into a purely defensive posture by Lopez’s sharpness and speed? One could surmise it was a combination of these multiple factors.
Whatever the reason, the urgency of the situation was not lost on Lomachenko. After a competitive 6th and 7th rounds that saw sharp right jabs and the occasional counter-left land cleanly on Lopez, Lomachenko seemed to find the answer: instead of circling the perimeter of the ring and trying to counter Lopez, Lomachenko began to advance and push Lopez back. The 8th round saw Lomachenko land consecutive combinations on Lopez, who was far less effective backing up. After Lomachenko would jab his way in, Lopez was a sitting duck, eating lefts and rights from a side angle while out of position to counter. This trend would only continue through to the 11th round. While Lopez continued to fight back with body shots, it was hard to believe that Lomachenko had had such a hard time with Lopez in the first half of the fight, given how easily Loma was able to hit Lopez with accuracy. At times, the fight became a sloppy inside battle, and the usually pristine Lomachenko showed a doggedness in the clinch he’d never displayed before.
Going into the 12th round, it seemed the fight was potentially up for grabs. If it continued Lomachenko’s way, perhaps he could salvage a draw, or maybe even nick a razor-thin decision. But it was Lopez who decided to risk it all and throw with abandon, imposing his size and strength on a fading Lomachenko to put his stamp on the closing minutes.
When the judges’ decision was announced, it was obvious that the fight’s outcome was never truly in doubt – at least not officially. All 3 judges had the fight for Lopez, with scores of 116-112, 117-111, and a shocking 119-109. The latter two wide scorecards differed significantly with Andre Ward’s unofficial scorecard, which had the fight a draw, and this writer had Lopez winning by one round, with a couple of close swing rounds. Regardless, the right man won, and a new generation takes the spotlight as 23-year-old Teofimo Lopez becomes the unified Lightweight Champion of the world.
While fans are still bathing in the satisfaction of witnessing an elite-level contest, questions still remain: what will Lomachenko do next? Will he look to take the dominance he displayed in the second half of the fight into a rematch with Lopez? Or will he look to secure his legacy at Super Featherweight, having reached a ceiling of sheer size? Whatever he decides, it’s unlikely that Lomachenko’s reputation will suffer badly from this defeat. The Ukranian has never shied away from challenging the best available, and taking this fight allowed the sport to bounce back from its drab hiatus in the best way possible. For that, we are tremendously grateful.