Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Was Lomachenko-Lopez A Let Down?


There is nothing quite like the anticipation that comes before sporting events. Whether it is major team sports respective playoffs such as the NHL's coveted Stanley Cup playoffs, which more often than not culminates in an encounter between the two best teams in the league facing off in the finals, or a similar playoff structure that culminates in Major League Baseball's World Series, one commonality that all sports fans can relate to is the anticipation and excitement that usually comes before those events.


In Boxing and by extension all combat sports, the one thing that can equal the anticipation of the world championships that are determined in team sports is when two world champions put their world titles on the line to determine who is the best. Similarly, such anticipation also occurs when two recognized stars of the sport do battle in a fight the public wants to see. Such an encounter took place on October 17th when Lightweight world champions Vasyl Lomachenko and Teofimo Lopez met at the MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas, NV for the Undisputed Lightweight championship of the world.


An encounter that was one of, if not the most anticipated fight of 2020. Of course , as is usually the case when it comes to anticipated fights in Boxing this fight also faced significant hurdles before the two fighters finally got in the ring. Unlike many previous marquee battles throughout the sport’s history, the hurdles that for a time stood in the way of Lomachenko-Lopez coming to fruition did not come in the form of the various business aspects of the sport that all too often serves more to the determent of Boxing than it does it’s benefit, but rather due to the ongoing global COVID-19 epidemic that has impacted daily life around the world and has also severely effected sports as a whole. While it is in a way refreshing that the business of the sport did not have a deciding influence in this fight taking place, the delay of the encounter, which was originally aimed to take place earlier this year was nonetheless frustrating for everyone that wanted to see it take place.



With the fighters willing to take less money than what would normally be the case when the sport is in its normal active state, with Hall of Fame promoter Bob Arum and cable television network ESPN making the reasonable decision to resist the temptation of putting this fight either on the overpriced and outdated model of pay-per-view here in the United States or as an exclusive event of ESPN’s digital subscription streaming network ESPN+ given the current economic conditions due to the epidemic, instead opting to air the event not only on ESPN’s main cable network, but also on ESPN+, it ensured that this fight had the opportunity to be seen by more eyes than would normally be the case. It was simply time for the two world champions to determine who was the best in the talent-deep 135lb. Lightweight division.


In previewing this fight, this observer stated that this came down to a scenario of experience versus youth. In that due to his overall experience both as an amateur and his experience in world championship fights as a professional, Lomachenko appeared to have the edge in terms of experience compared to Lopez, who was nine years younger and had only recently fought for and won a world title for the first time.


This was also a classic scenario of a boxer versus a puncher in that although both men had shown the ability to get an opponent out of there if the opportunity arose, Lomachenko was more known for his Boxing ability whereas Lopez had built a reputation for his ability to score head-turning and often brutal knockouts. No matter how a fight might look on paper however, Boxing truly is a sport where one should always expect the unexpected.


What was unexpected was the Boxing ability of Lopez. For the majority of the twelve round world championship bout, Lopez not only consistently forced the action, but also displayed poise in his approach. This was not the seek and destroy attacker that Teofimo Lopez had built his reputation on, but rather a disciplined boxer who was able to picked his spots. While this differed significantly from what many had anticipated, what it also did was limit Lomachenko’s offensive output and create difficulty in getting into a rhythm.


Although what became a tactical chess match is not always the most entertaining type of fight to watch, particularly for casual fans, for combat sports aficionados that enjoy watching strategies play out in a measured way, this was a very interesting fight to watch. In this observer’s eyes, Lopez’s strategy by not looking to overwhelm Lomachenko with offense, but attacking in tactical spurts, but also limiting Lomachenko’s ability to land counter punches and attack in spurts of offense himself, is what allowed him to sweep the first six rounds of this fight in my mind. At the same time, because tactical fights like this aren’t always the easiest to score and there are times where moments in a round can sway opinion as to has the upper hand in a fight, I did not have a sense of which way the official judges might be seeing this bout even though based on overall activity and more specifically, Lomachenko’s inability to let his hands go consistently, I felt Lopez had a clear edge after the first half of the fight.


As this fight progressed, it in some ways reminded me of the first encounter between then Undisputed Middleweight world champion Bernard Hopkins and Jermain Taylor in July of 2005. A fight that saw the then unbeaten Taylor outwork Hopkins over the first half of the fight only for Hopkins to seemingly get the better of the action and seemingly take the second half of the fight. The end result, a split decision victory for Taylor signaled the end of a historic reign atop the Middleweight division for Hopkins, but also fueled demand for a rematch based not only Hopkins’ long standing as a dominant world champion, but also the controversial decision in the eyes of some as the impression of many was that Hopkins had done enough over the last six rounds of that fight to retain his world championship.


Although this fight was not similar to Hopkins-Taylor 1 in how it was fought, the similarity between the two was like Hopkins, Lomachenko stepped up his offense over the second half of the fight against Lopez with the eleventh round appearing to be his best round of the fight where he outworked Lopez clearly. Much like what became the first of two meetings between Hopkins and Taylor, the question became did Lomachenko do enough over the second half of the fight in order to sway the view of the three official judges in his favor. Shortly after the final bell of Lomachenko-Lopez, I commented on social media that it was a good fight, but I didn’t know who won it. This is because of the difficulty that often exists in fights that are fought in a tactical way as this was. It may indeed be a clich√©, but sometimes even with as much experience as one might have in watching fights and/or covering the sport as this observer has done for most of his life, you truly do not know or have a sense of how judges might be seeing things. 


The official decision being unanimous for Lopez was not surprising, but what was a bit of one was the scorecards of the three official judges, who turned in scorecards of 119-109  eleven rounds to one, 117-111, nine rounds to three, and 116-112 eight rounds to four all for Lopez. What made the scoring disparity a little bit of a surprise at least in my eyes was because this fight was not an action-packed give and take battle, but was rather tactical and a technical Boxing match all the way through, I felt that the possibility existed that there could be narrow scores at the end of this fight, not unlike numerous fights I have covered over the years that to my eyes appeared more conclusive in terms of how they were fought in being able to distinguish the victor. Nevertheless, I do not feel this was a controversial decision and felt that Lopez won eight rounds to four on my unofficial scorecard, which mirrored the scoring of judge Tim Cheatham’s 116-112 official scorecard. While some fans may choose to voice their displeasure over the scoring and in particular the scorecards of judges Julie Lederman (119-109) and Steve Weisfeld (117-111) respectively, it is important to keep in mind that the way this fight was fought was not the type of battle that appeals to the casual fan, who more often than not are drawn to the idea of seeing an action-packed fight. While this is in no way disrespectful to the casual observer, it can lead one to question how scorecards like these could be rendered like this. Although the three official judges are the only ones who can speak as to what they saw, the one constant throughout the entire fight was Teofimo Lopez forced the action. In a fight that not much back and forth action is occurring, it will often come down to which fighter is taking the initiative.


Even though I felt back in 2005 when Bernard Hopkins lost his Middleweight world championship to Jermain Taylor that he had done enough to win and felt similarly when he lost the rematch with Taylor later that year in two fights I covered, the one commonality between the two fights that creates a legitimate argument for Taylor as having won those bouts is he forced the action both times from the beginning of the fight. Although I can only speak for myself, the common piece in both fights that worked against the more experienced Hopkins was he turned up his offensive output too late in the fight to turn both in his favor on the scorecards. Similarly, an argument should be made that if Vasyl Lomachenko’s strategy was to use his experience and try to tire the normally aggressive Lopez and gradually step up his pace offensively in the middle and late rounds, he instead ended up giving away rounds that were likely on the table early in the fight and that led to his downfall, as was the case when Hopkins fought Taylor in two competitive and close fights fifteen years ago. 


Should the Boxing fan feel let down by a fight many felt would be the Fight of the Year in a frustrating 2020? This observer does not feel so. It is important for the fan whether they be a casual observer or a Boxing aficionado to keep in mind however, that Boxing is called the sweet science for a reason. Much like other combat sports, Boxing is a martial art and no matter how a fight might look on paper, there are times where it will not evolve into a knock down, drag out war. While it is indeed true that such battles do create the most interest and in turn also draw the interest of casual fans as well as create memories that can be discussed and debated for a lifetime, most of the time for the fighters involved, those wars do not always translate into a long and successful career. The big takeaway from this fight should also be, no matter how a fight might look on paper, there is also the possibility that a fighter known for one aspect in being able to score knockouts can show a new wrinkle to their skill set when it is least expected. The new Undisputed Lightweight champion of the world Teofimo Lopez proved that in this fight.


“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”


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