Unified lightweight champion Vasiliy Lomachenko might have already put his hands on Teofimo Lopez had they been in his native Ukraine instead of Las Vegas.
“Back home, if you insult somebody, you can get hit and you can get in a fistfight right on the street and nothing is going to happen,” Lomachenko said through his translator and manager, Egis Klimas. “Back home, people don’t run their mouth like this because they know they’ll have to answer somehow.”
Lopez will have to answer Saturday instead.
Lomachenko (14-1, 10 knockouts) has ignored most of Lopez’s chatter, knowing he’ll have the chance to humble him Saturday in their unification title fight inside Top Rank’s bubble at the MGM Grand. The savvy 32-year-old prefers boxing to talking and can bolster his billing as perhaps the world’s best pound-for-pound fighter with a victory over the brash, unbeaten 23-year-old IBF champion.
“I’ve always only wanted to fight with top fighters and world champions,” said Lomachenko, who engaged in a tense 30-second staredown with Lopez on Friday after the weigh-ins, disregarding social distancing in the process. “Now I have a top fighter in front of me, and I want only to improve who I am and to improve my legacy.”
Lomachenko’s legacy is already rather secure — at least in the mind of Top Rank chairman Bob Arum, who promotes both fighters and has a vested interest in Saturday’s outcome. Arum casually proclaimed last week that Lomachenko “will go down in history as the greatest amateur fighter in the world.”
And he might be right, because Lomachenko compiled an astounding 396-1 amateur record and won gold medals in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics before signing a promotional contract in 2013 with Top Rank.
Lomachenko’s rise through the professional ranks was characterized as “meteoric” by Arum and includes a world title victory in his third fight. He’s won championships in the featherweight, junior lightweight and lightweight divisions, and made multiple defenses in all three classes.
He’s a brilliant tactician, armed with some of the fleetest feet in the sport’s history. He’s also a master of manipulation, using feints and fakes to secure ideal positioning so he can pounce on his opponents when they least expect it.
Lopez (15-0, 12 KOs) tends to rely more on his power and has not fought past the seventh round.
“He’s a top fighter. He’s a good fighter. It will not be easy for me,” said Lomachenko, who is trained by his father, Anatoly. “For me, I think it will be a chess match.”
Lomachenko is focused on Lopez, but implied he might consider moving back to the 130-pound weight class after Saturday’s fight. He says he feels great and young despite being nearly 10 years Lopez’s senior.
“I don’t think about age,” Lomachenko said. “Who made the rules about age in boxing? It depends on the personal lifestyle.”
Arum said the matchup has all the ingredients of a classic fight, with Lopez the youthful upstart and Lomachenko the steeled champion.
“We’ve matched him with the best fighters we can find,” Arum said of Lomachenko. “He’s always come through, and obviously this fight will continue his legacy should he be successful.”
Who: Vasiliy Lomachenko (14-1, 10 KOs) vs. Teofimo Lopez (15-0, 12 KOs)
When: 7 p.m. Saturday. Main event won’t begin until No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 Georgia conclude their college football game, scheduled to start at 5 p.m. on CBS.
Where: MGM Grand
Odds: Lomachenko -400; Lopez +300 (William Hill)
Tale of the tape
Hometown: Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi, Ukraine
Record: 14-1, 10 knockouts
Hometown: Brooklyn, N.Y.
Record: 15-0, 12 knockouts