Teofimo Lopez Jr. vs. Masayoshi Nakatani on July 19 on ESPN+

Image: Teofimo Lopez Jr. vs. Masayoshi Nakatani on July 19 on ESPN+

By Kenneth Friedman: Undefeated #4 IBF Teofimo Lopez (13-0, 11 KOs) will be taking on unbeaten #3 IBF Masayoshi Nakatani (18-0, 12 KOs) in an IBF lightweight title eliminator on July 19 on Top Rank Boxing on ESPN+ card at the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland. Unlike Lopez’s recent fights, his match against the 29-year-old Nakatani will be the main event on the card.

The 21-year-old Lopez had recently been saying that he won’t be fighting on undercards any longer, and it looks like that could be true. With Nakatani being an unknown with the casual and hardcore boxing fans in the United States, a lot of them will complain about Lopez facing him in the main event on ESPN+ subscription service. Fans pay $4.99 per month to subscribe to the ESPN+ streaming service to watch boxing events. They expect a lot for the money that they’re paying out. Many fans are already complaining about the Lopez vs. Nakatani fight since the news of the fight was revealed earlier on Friday.

The fans want to see Top Rank match Teofimo against Vasiliy Lomachenko already rather than letting that match-up marinate for another year. If not Lomachenko, the fans want to see Lopez fight the likes of Luke Campbell, Jorge Linares, Devin Haney, Ryan Garcia, Rances Barthelemy, Robert Easter Jr., Jose Pedraza, Zaur Abdullaev, Denys Berinchyk or Aik Shakhnazaryan. Those would all be excellent fights for Teofimo. However, you can’t blame Top Rank for Lopez facing Nakatani. It was the IBF that made the choice of ranking Nakatani so highly with their organization. That puts Top Rank and Teofimo in a difficult situation where they’ve got to fight a guy with no experience against upper level world class opposition. The U.S fans aren’t familiar with Nakatani, so they’re not going to be as eager to watch this fight as they would if Teofimo we’re facing a recognizable opponent.

Nakatani, 5′11 ½″, will be enjoying close to a four inch height advantage over the 5’8″ Teofimo, and a three inch reach advantage. Nakatani could make it difficult for Lopez to land his power shots if he’s able to move around the ring, and avoid Lopez’s big punches. Lopez hasn’t taken on anyone with that kind of height and reach during his career.

The winner of the Lopez vs. Nakatani fight will be the mandatory for IBF 135-pound champion Richard Commey (28-2, 25 KOs). Lopez is counting on beating Nakatani, and then challenging Commey for his IBF lightweight belt by December. What could potentially get in the way of Lopez realizing his dreams is WBA/WBO lightweight champion Vasiliy Lomachenko (13-1, 10 KOs). He wants to unify the 135 lb. division, and he’s talking about wanting to face Commey for the IBF belt. It’ll ultimately be up t Top Rank to decide which of the two of their fighters they want to face Commey, Lomachenko or Teofimo.

Lomachenko, 31, is suddenly in a big hurry to unify the lightweight division for some reason. When Lomachenko was fighting at super featherweight, he wasn’t as ambitious in going after the other champions. After beating Roman ‘Rocky’ Martinez by a fifth round knockout in June 2016 to win the WBO 130-pound title, Lomachenko chose to defend it three times in beating Nicholas Walters, Jason Sosa and Guillermo Rigondeaux before moving up to lightweight with the goal of unifying the division.

Lopez was counting on being able to fight Commey in the summer, but that’s not going to happen. Lopez will need to first beat the Japanese fighter Nakatani to earn the mandatory spot with the International Boxing Federation, and then he’ll need to count on the IBF to order Commey to defend against him in a prompt manner. If the IBF lets Commey sit on his title for a year before they get around to ordering him to defend it against his mandatory, then Lopez will likely give up that belt and move up to light welterweight to go after the champions in that weight class.

Teofimo says he’s not going to stay at 135 beyond early next year. By then, Lopez wants to be the IBF champion in order to face Lomachenko in a unification fight. Unfortunately, in boxing things don’t move fast when it comes to the sanctioning bodies ordering their champions to defend against mandatory challengers. Former WBC light heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson didn’t defend against a mandatory challenger for close to five years after making an initial mandatory defense shortly after he first captured the belt in 2013.

Nakatani, who comes from Osaka, Japan, has fought his entire eight-year pro career in his home country. Most of the fighters that Nakatani has fought have been from Japan, and most of them obscure fighters. He hasn’t been fighting a lot of world level guys unfortunately. That doesn’t mean Nakatani isn’t a good fighter. In looking at clips of his past fights, he has talent, but he’s not faced the best opposition.

In Nakatani’s last 10 fights, he’s beaten these fighters: Hurricane Futa (25-8-1, 15 KOs), Izuki Tomioka (5-2-1, 1 KOs), Amphol Suriyo (23-4, 19 KOs), Ryan Sermona (21-10-1, 14 KOs), Krai Setthaphon (28-4, 18 KOs), Allan Tanada (15-8-3, 7 KOs), Tosho Makoto Aok1 (20-14-2, 17 KOs), Kazuya Murata (13-6, 5 KOs), Accel Sumiyoshi (11-5-3, 3 KOs) and Futoshi Usami (14-3, 11 KOs). There’s no getting around it, Nakatani’s opposition during his career has been nothing short of woeful. He’s not been taking on the same type of talent that Teofimo has during his short three-year pro career that he started in 2016.

Teofimo looked sensational last month in stopping Edis Tatli in the fifth round on April 20th at on the undercard of Terence Crawford vs. Amir Khan on ESPN pay-per-view at Madison Square Garden in New York. Lopez dropped the 31-year-old Tatli with a powerful right hand to the body. It was a crushing shot that Titli was not able to handle. Teofimo at times had problems landing his shots to the head of the well schooled Tatli. Eventually, Lopez found enough hopes in Tatli’s defense to take him out. In Lopez’s last four fights, he’s beaten Tatli, Diego Magdaleno, Mason Menard and William Silva. Top Rank is slowly improving the opposition for Lopez with each fight. The real test for Teofimo will come when he shares the ring with Commey. If Lopez is the real deal, he’ll dispatch Commey in the same way he’s been doing against the other opposition he’s been facing since he turned pro in 2016.