By Joseph Hirsch: Roughly a month and a half ago, boxing fans had a fairly clear picture in their heads of how the lightweight division looked. There was Vasyl “the Matrix” Lomachenko, and then there was everyone else. Yes, Loma was slightly past prime, outside of his most comfortable weight class, and he had a host of injuries, a couple serious enough to require surgeries. But he was still THE KING, and all the other young lions could do was preen and snarl about what they would do to him if they got the chance.
Teofimo “the Takeover” Lopez got there first and made a statement. He didn’t allow himself to be blinded by the lights of the big stage. Nor was he swayed by Loma’s accomplishments (or the mythmaking the boxing press engaged in, building the talented Ukrainian phenom up to be more god than man).
Lopez didn’t just use his youth, size, or power to wrest the crown from the King’s head. He went into Lomachenko’s wheelhouse and outboxed him. Where everyone else saw a green cascade of binary numbers rushing across a screen at blinding speed, Teofimo kept squinting until he deciphered a pattern, after which he proceeded to decode the Matrix.
I give him all the credit in the world, as I imagine most other boxing heads do. But those other young lions I mentioned a little earlier aren’t interested in heaping praise upon the head of the newly crowned King. They want his laurels for themselves.
Who, among this group, has the best chance?
First, let’s name them, starting with the ones least likely to face Teofimo, on down to the most likely to cross swords with the King.
There’s Ryan “Kingry” Garcia, who possesses blinding speed and has oodles of crossover appeal (re: he can get females to buy tickets to his fights who otherwise wouldn’t follow boxing). And while he’s far from tested at the same level as Teo, he has passed the tests that have been asked of him thus far. But no opponent can be overlooked, and his next one is Luke Campbell, a former gold medalist with an unusually large wingspan for a lightweight. Campbell has heart, and more than enough skill to be Garcia’s sternest test to date. I think Garcia will pass with flying colors (assuming the fight doesn’t get delayed again). But having said that, I don’t think Garcia is likely to face Teofimo anytime soon.
Ryan’s promoted by Golden Boy who just lost Canelo “Cash Cow” Alvarez to free agency and they’re not going to be eager to risk their biggest remaining investment against a kid who just outboxed the consensus best boxer in the world. Top Rank’s Bob Arum and Golden Boy’s Oscar De La Hoya can occasionally sit at the same table and break bread, but they practically have to be dragged there kicking and screaming. And in this era of Corona Virus measures (which means reduced live gates), this fight goes from looking unlikely to improbable.
But if it did happen… I think Teofimo’s timing would negate Ryan Garcia’s speed, which is his greatest asset. Speed kills, but a boxer cannot live by speed alone. Ask Amir Khan. Garcia is nowhere near as “chinny” as Khan was (that we know of), but Lopez can both out-dog and outbox Garcia. Garcia has more of what Max Kellerman calls “fast twitchies,” but naturally endowed talent cannot overcome experience and intangibles. Garcia would taste the power, shell up, have his moments, but go into survival mode and lose a lopsided decision to Lopez.
A more likely but still not probable dance partner for the Takeover would be Gervonta “Tank” Davis. “Tank” is well-named. He is short, doesn’t have much range, and has more of a destroyer mentality than any boxer out there right now besides Artur Beterbiev. And since Deontay “Bronze Bomber” Wilder has seemingly lost interest in boxing and decided to devote his time to conspiracy theories, Davis probably has the most pulverizing one-hitter-quitter in the business right now.
But Davis is siloed with a rival promoter and most of the barbs he’s traded with Lopez up to this point (outside of sparring sessions) have been about who is the A-side and thus who should get the bigger purse. Promoter egos can sideline fights fans want. If the boxers themselves also can’t get on the same page, we might have to wait years instead of months for this one, by which time the potential fight may have lost its appeal.
But if it happens…Teofimo Lopez vs. Gervonta Davis would be must-see TV. Because both men hit so hard, the temptation would be to predict a knockout (to be fair, Gervonta hits a little harder than Teo). But because both men are as rugged as they are talented, this is likely to turn into a war in which knockdowns might be traded, bruises raised, and cuts opened, but still end in a decision. My gut tells me that if Gervonta Davis can stay focused, make weight, and limit his interactions with Adrien Broner, he can wear Teo down in a classic back and forth clash that might be Fight of the Year. I see Davis getting the nod due to a lead built in part by several early knockdowns.
That brings us to the most likely (but still not sure thing), Devin “the Dream” Haney. Until recently he was the second bluest of blue chip prospects in the game (the bluest being Shakur Stevenson). He has a belt, which means more to sanctioning bodies collecting fees than it does to fans, and there’s some dispute about what the WBC’s newly minted “diamond” belt actually means. But Haney is undoubtedly Lopez’s most likely opponent at 135 among the elite names just bandied about. That Lopez and Haney have kept their trash talking confined mostly to who has the superior skillset (rather than purse splits) also bodes well for this one getting inked. Still, it might not happen.
But if it does…
The tendency right now will be to underrate Devin Haney’s chances. For just as a movie star is only as good as his last hit, we all tend to overweight our assessment of a boxer based on his last outing. And because Devin Haney’s last fight was a less than memorable distance fight against the former hot prospect but now shopworn Yuriorkis Gamboa, there will be those who say his chances against Lopez aren’t that great.
Before you hitch a ride on that bandwagon, though, put down the doobie and regain some of your own short term memory and remember what boxing fans were saying after Teofimo’s match two fights ago with Masayoshi Nakatani.
The Osaka native used his range and his looping changeup speed to penetrate Lopez’s defenses quite well in places. He was tough, durable, and not swayed by the fact that he was supposedly a tune-up for Lopez before his title tilt against belt holder Richard “RC” Commey. No less an authority than Timothy “Desert Storm” Bradley claimed Teo was exposed in the fight, and Bradley’s assessment was the consensus among fans and experts at the time.
And two fights later the world is Teofimo’s oyster.
Is there a blueprint for Devin Haney to follow from the Nakatani fight, something he can use to give him the upper hand against Lopez, if the fight happens? For starters, he just happens to have the exact same wingspan as the Japanese fighter (71 inches). It’s Haney’s speed that ironically might handicap him in ways that Nakatani was not handicapped when he flipped the script against Teo.
For just as some batters hit fastballs better, there are some fighters whose radars achieve peak power against the fastest incoming shots. If timing couldn’t beat speed, someone like a Carl Froch or Sergey Kovalev could have never enjoyed the kind of careers that they had. And Joe “Juggernaut” Joyce wouldn’t have just pulled an upset against Daniel Dubois.
But if the fight happens, Haney has a very good shot against Lopez. Devin is in the boxing equivalent of what the astronomers call “the Goldilocks Zone.” For planets, this is where conditions are ideal (not too cold, not too hot). Haney is not as fast as Ryan Garcia, and nor does he hit as hard as Gervonta Davis. But he is a more balanced boxer than either of them. He doesn’t have Teofimo’s experience at the elite level (none of the other lightweights do), but he may match him or even edge him on IQ.
I’d like to see him against Teofimo Lopez, and sooner rather than later.
Teo is still only twenty-three years old and filling out in his man-strength, and rather than resting on his laurels, he and his father have designs of him becoming an all-time great. That requires going up in weight. If Lopez were to take on the winner of a proposed Josh Taylor-Jose Ramirez unification bout, and were he to emerge victorious, he would go from being in the conversation of pound-for-pound King to being the consensus best boxer on the planet.
If the young upstarts wait too long to break down the door to the King’s castle, they may find the throne room empty, the throne unoccupied.
And then it’s only a matter of time until the young princeling Shakur Stevenson gains a few pounds and decides that he would like to carve out a piece of the kingdom for himself.
But for now Teo is the King. Long live the King.