There’s a puzzle called a Megaminx. It’s like a Rubik’s cube, but it has 12 sides and 12 different colors. Imagine trying to solve one that’s actively changing shape at continuously variable rhythms, keeps jumping out of your hands, and if you make a mistake you get tased in the base of your scrotum, occasionally hard enough to separate you from consciousness. Eventually, you’re going to give up or just try to manage the pain while you do your best in a losing effort and wait for time to run out.
That’s been the experience of almost every professional opponent of Vasyl Lomachenko as he’s claimed straps and scalps at featherweight, junior lightweight, and now lightweight. Saturday night, from the Covid Bubble at the MGM Grand Las Vegas in a bout televised on ESPN, Lomachenko will face a fighter who has the magic move to beat the magic mega cube. Teofimo Lopez doesn’t need to solve the puzzle because he can detonate it, and he has the power to do so at any time with either hand. The fighter who prevails will be the lineal lightweight champion.
There are myriad storylines and plenty of supposed history leading into the bout, but as Sir Richard Hercules MBE shrewdly pointed out, none of them matter one fucking bit. The two best lightweights in the world are fighting each other at opposing ends of their primes, and none of the drama has to be manufactured. The intrigue lies entirely between the ropes, and it comes from their dichotomous styles.
Lomachenko (14-1, 10 KO) is a mad scientist’s creation. His southpaw footwork is folk dancing set to an improvisational jazz trio after a few rounds of speedballs. Everything is changing all the time in every dimension. No one has thus far been able to keep up with it, let alone interrupt it for good. The closest a recent opponent has come is when Jorge Linares used his length and prodigious speed to briefly deposit Lomachenko on his ass in a competitive 2018 fight that Lomachenko won by a body shot KO four rounds later. Conventional footwork and anything other than otherworldly athletic talent gets you circled, played with, and zapped with hurtful punches to the head and body from angles no one else would think to use, let alone have the ability to find.
Lopez (15-0, 12 KO) is conventional. He’s a right-handed boxer-puncher who works behind his jab and can counter well. Fortunately for him, and for us, his athletic talent *is* otherworldly. The 23-year-old has Fortnite backflipped his way to the top of the lightweight division by rendering all but 3 of his opponents a drooling mess who needs to be told where they are. If there was any question as to whether Lopez’s power would carry to the world-class level, he answered emphatically by knocking out Ghanaian lightweight stalwart Richard Commey in two rounds last December. Commey had never been down as a professional.
Both fighters will be looking to assert themselves early. If Lomachenko can befuddle Lopez with his movement, Lopez may decide to sit back and counterpunch. Lomachenko is hittable while working offense and often counts on his feet to keep him away from danger at razor-thin margins. If he misjudges by a millimeter, Lopez can put him to sleep, and he’ll definitely be going for the KO. Conversely, if Lopez can’t deal with the angles and foot speed, he’s in for a long night of scrotal zaps as the Ukrainian six steps his way to a wide unanimous decision. Both fighters invest in body punching to weaken their opponents and maneuver them into power shots. This fight should be no different, and it will be telling if either abandons the practice.
Lopez is a breathtaking puncher who’s possessed of the self-belief that only fighters with that type of power truly understand. Lomachenko has the same belief in spades but it comes from his dizzying array of weapons and abilities. What we can hope for, and what seems likely to happen, is that both fighters will enjoy success at times, and we’ll get to see each find a new gear in a thrilling war where catastrophe is only a breath away.
My gut is a Lomachenko decision, but I wouldn’t be remotely shocked to see Lopez’s hand raised.