Through the first seven rounds of Saturday's fight, Vasiliy Lomachenko, one of the best fighters in the world, engaged in an elaborate pantomime: moving side to side, turning, using quick jab steps, measuring distance with his outstretched right arm, stepping forward and backward, feinting with his jab, circling. During this period the wise master demonstrated exceptional movement and fluency. But unfortunately for Lomachenko, he was participating in a prizefight and not an interpretative dance. And as he continued with his lengthy non-combative rituals, his opponent, fellow lightweight champion Teofimo Lopez, was actually throwing punches – you know, doing things that a fighter needs to do to win.
I do have a tolerance for movers, counterpunchers, and even runners at times, but there is a minimum threshold of activity that they must cross in order for me to give them any credit in the boxing ring. For me, that number is 20 punches a round, which works out to a punch every nine seconds. And if a fighter can't meet even that paltry threshold, then he or she isn't making a legitimate attempt at winning rounds. Think about how long nine seconds is. Take a brief break from reading this masterpiece to count to nine. And then count to nine again. And then one more time. Man, that's really not a lot of action at all. Lomachenko couldn't even meet that standard. In the first six rounds of the fight Lomachenko's punch volume according to CompuBox was 4, 12, 11, 9, 9 and 13, well below anyone's reasonable minimum threshold. Those are not winning numbers. As a point of comparison, Lopez's output was within a more reasonable range: 27, 35, 42, 45, 44 and 46.
Sometimes punch volume does tell the story of the fight. And in the first half of Lomachenko-Lopez, one fighter met a standard for potentially winning the match, and the other did not. Lomachenko just would not let his hands go, and this is where we need to dig into Lopez's performance in more detail.
|Lopez (right) connects with an uppercut|
Photo courtesy of Mikey Williams
During Lomachenko's elaborate dance early in the fight, he was trying to force Lopez into making mistakes. He wanted to see if Lopez would fall out of position, overcommit with his punches, be slow to react or lose his defensive shape. And Lopez, who was thought by many coming into the fight to be too green, too emotional in the ring, and undisciplined, passed all these tests with flying colors, which resulted in giving Lomachenko very little to work with.
Even though he was only 23 and fighting in just his 16th professional bout, Lopez performed like a grizzled veteran during Lomanchenko's prolonged scouting mission. He didn't rush in out of control, load up on shots, or fall for Lomachenko's myriad feints. He stayed composed and fought precisely in a way in which he knew what to expect. When Lomachenko turned, Lopez turned with him, denying the angles with which Lomachenko had utilized expertly throughout his professional career. Rare Lomachenko forays were met with incisive counters, and Lopez's shots, specifically his right hand, left hook and uppercut, were accurate, fast and hard enough that they discouraged Lomachenko from taking many risks early in the fight.
Perhaps what was most impressive about Lopez's performance was his poise in the ring. He took what was available in the first seven rounds. If Lomachenko's hands were a little too high, Lopez would paste him with hard body shots. If Lomachenko tried to punch on the move, Lopez would meet him with a quick left hook or an uppercut. When nothing was happening in the ring, Lopez would fire off his jab.
Lomachenko did let his hands go more in the second half of the fight and had several moments, especially in the 10th and 11th rounds, where he looked like he had Lopez in distress. And in truth, Lopez was fading to a degree. Lomachenko's quick power shots, pressure and rough stuff on the inside (some of which was legal, some of which wasn't) were having an effect. However, even when Lomachenko was most successful, Lopez's power and defense were solid enough that Lomachenko couldn't dominate with multi-punch flurries or control the distance of the fight. Lomachenko was getting some good work done, but it was usually just one shot, or two at the most. Lopez's threat remained real even in Lomachenko's best moments, forcing one of the best combination punches in the sport to keep it short and not stay in the kitchen for too long.
In the final round, Lopez cemented his hold on the contest with his best punches of the fight. Cracking Lomachenko with lead right uppercuts in rapid succession, the young student had the master in real trouble. This was a scenario that hadn't happened in a Lomachenko fight before; Lomachenko had always been the closer, the late-round dominator. Yet, until a break in the action in the last 15 seconds of the fight to examine a cut on Lopez, Lomachenko was hurt in a way which he had never been in his professional career.
Ultimately, Lopez won by a wide margin (116-112, 117-111 and 119-109) and in my mind he left no doubt about who deserved to win the fight. (A few on social media had the fight a draw. I scored it 116-112 for Lopez.) When one guy is unwilling to throw punches for more than half the fight, he doesn't have a case of winning absent a knockout or several knockdowns. And Lopez remained upright all fight.
|Lopez with all his lightweight belts|
Photo courtesy of Mikey Williams
Teofimo Lopez Sr. needs to receive his just rewards for putting together a spectacular game plan and preparing his son so thoroughly that the fighter seemed perfectly at ease throughout most of the bout. This is a massive accomplishment. His son was in an ideal mental state in the ring. He did not wither from Lomachenko's intense psychological pressure. He knew exactly what punches to throw and when to throw them. He didn't get greedy or lazy. Teofimo Lopez was an elite fighter in the ring on Saturday and his success and execution point to his father's masterful preparation, breaking down Lomachenko's tendencies in a way that no opposing trainer had ever done so before. Despite what has been reported about the relationship between the fighter and his father, they worked in perfect harmony during Saturday's fight, and the result was a mutual greatness. I hope that they continue to work together as long as it remains a healthy dynamic.
I won't want to watch Lomachenko-Lopez again and I don't have much interest in a rematch. It was mostly a dud fight. One guy was there to win and the other guy was too uncomfortable to do anything for the majority of the fight; that's not how I like my action. After the fight I was asked if this was the best version of Lopez that we'll see, and I said no. It's extremely tough to look good against a fighter who won't engage. Facing an opponent who will be there to win from the opening bell, I think we'll see Lopez look more explosive and feature even more of his considerable arsenal. That Lopez looked as good as he did on Saturday is a testament to his prodigious talent.
Hopefully Lopez, and boxing fans as a whole, won't have to endure too many more fights like Saturday's. We want to see action, two competitors going for it. We expect the best to push each other to even greater heights. But what we witnessed on Saturday was Lomachenko mostly as a non-compliant fighter. And it's a shame that the fight wasn't at Madison Square Garden in front of 18,000 fans, because that Manhattan crowd would have booed Lomachenko mercilessly for his inaction, and it would have been richly deserved.