The Vasiliy Lomachenko vs. Teofimo Lopez Jr. lightweight title unification fight on Saturday started off as a yawner.
Lopez was in control in the first half of the 12-round battle in Las Vegas, with Lomachenko showing little sign of mounting an attack. That changed in the seventh round, and suddenly fans had the fight they were hoping for.
Lomachenko, ranked No. 1 in ESPN’s pound-for-pound rankings, threw blistering shots the rest of the way and appeared to make the fight a close call. His rally wasn’t enough, however, and Lopez walked away with all four major 135-pound titles and surefire superstardom ahead of him. Now the question is: Was the excitement of the final six rounds reason enough for fans to want a rematch?
Speaking of must-see, Edgar Berlanga extended his first-round knockout streak to a whopping 15 on Saturday. He finished Lanell Bellows at 1:19 of Round 1, marking the first time the veteran had been stopped in 29 pro fights.
Now 15-0 to start his career, Berlanga can start thinking about higher-profile fights. Could a title shot be in store for him in the near future?
When you talk about high-profile, there aren’t many fights bigger than trilogies featuring Canelo Alvarez vs. Gennadiy Golovkin and Tyson Fury vs. Deontay Wilder. But both matchups have key factors that need to be worked out. Will either bout take place?
ESPN boxing experts Ben Baby, Steve Kim, Nick Parkinson and Cameron Wolfe discuss what’s real and what’s not real concerning those topics and more.
Real or not: Lomachenko-Lopez will have a rematch next.
Baby: Not real. Lopez immediately shot down any notion of a Lomachenko rematch.
“For what?” Lopez said in his post-fight news conference. “I beat him, and I did everything that I had to do to beat him.”
Lopez went as far as to say that there was no rematch clause in the contract for Saturday’s fight, and Top Rank instead told him what purses will look like for other fights after Lomachenko, which to Lopez suggested that the promoter didn’t plan on his winning.
Aside from any potential politics, Saturday’s fight illustrated why a rematch doesn’t make much sense. Before they stepped into the ring, Lopez was eyeing a move to the 140-pound division, which suits him better than lightweight. Meanwhile, Lomachenko has not been nearly as dominant since he became a lightweight, and he struggled to deal with Lopez’s size and power early in the fight. If Top Rank wanted to put Lopez and Lomachenko in the ring again, there’s a good chance that the fight would look like it did in the first six rounds: a snoozer that was salvaged with an exciting finish.
Then there’s the aspect of Lopez’s career trajectory. He needed the Lomachenko matchup to prove his legitimacy as a worthy champion. Now that he has that, the best approach for him to continue his path to superstardom could be to face younger champions with similar name recognition.
“Out with the old, in with the new,” Lopez said.
Real or not: Edgar Berlanga is ready for a title shot in 2021.
Edgar Berlanga KO’s Lanell Bellows for the 15th first-round knockout of his career.
Wolfe: Not real. Berlanga has not faced stiff enough competition to be thrown into a title bout, but he’s certainly ready to face more respected contenders. His first-round KO streak has been a lot of fun, and it is helping him earn a larger fan base, particularly among casual sports fans. Hopefully in 2021 we will see him against worthy opponents. Then maybe 2022 could be the year that he circles a title shot.
A few worthy opponents I would love to see Berlanga face in 2021: Badou Jack, Caleb Truax and Anthony Dirrell. They would help him get rounds and show off his skills beyond power.
Real or not: Oleksandr Usyk will win a heavyweight title in 2021.
Parkinson: Real. This depends on whether the WBO will agree for mandatory challenger Usyk to wait for the outcome of a clash between rivals Anthony Joshua (WBA, IBF and WBO champion) and Tyson Fury (WBC champion), which is the hope and plan for both boxers and their promoters. The plan is also for Fury-Joshua to happen twice next year, and it seems unlikely that the WBO would put its mandatory defense obligations versus Usyk on ice until 2022.
What is more likely is that Joshua relinquishes the WBO belt to make the Fury fight. If AJ delays fighting Fury to face Usyk, that puts the money-spinning Fury fight in jeopardy.
Promoters/broadcasters would prefer to go straight to AJ-Fury next year, rather than doing Fury-Deontay Wilder III and AJ-Usyk.
Unless he has an off night like his good friend and training partner Vasiliy Lomachenko had last weekend, Usyk’s movement, speed and boxing IQ will see him beat any of those in the WBO’s top 10 next year to claim a world heavyweight title. Other heavyweights are bigger and more powerful, but they are not as clever or mobile and are not as experienced as Usyk.
Depending how Usyk progresses over the next year after stepping up from cruiserweight, the Ukrainian could emerge as a real threat to Fury, AJ and Wilder in ruling the heavyweight division.
Real or not: Roman Gonzalez/Juan Francisco Estrada is the best junior bantamweight in boxing.
Kim: Given the fact that Estrada is the consensus No. 1 fighter at 115 and the fact that Gonzalez is coming off a strong outing against Kal Yafai, there is an argument to be made that whoever wins their showdown in early 2021 is the best fighter in the division.
Although Estrada is currently rated atop the division by ESPN, Gonzalez has a victory over him. That came in 2012 at junior flyweight, so it might not have much meaning as it pertains to this discussion. However, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai certainly has an argument. He has split two fights with Estrada and has two victories on the official record against “Chocolatito.” But to be honest, his recent performances have been lacking.
Here’s how this should be settled: After Estrada and Gonzalez battle it out next year, the winner faces Sor Rungvisai.
Real or not: Canelo-GGG 3 will happen before Fury-Wilder 3.
Kim: I have no idea. This depends on the legal situation as it pertains to Canelo Alvarez with DAZN and Golden Boy Promotions. If that isn’t settled, well, chances are that he will sit for a while (and it looks like he won’t fight at all in 2020). Gennadiy Golovkin will most likely fulfill his IBF mandatory in late November. Then he will wait for his long-awaited third chapter with Canelo, provided he isn’t sidelined.
As for Fury-Wilder III, should Fury face Anthony Joshua in the spring, as planned, Fury-Wilder III most likely wouldn’t take place until the second half of next year.
Really, it’s a toss-up as to which fight happens first.