Teofimo Lopez didn’t give either Vasiliy Lomachenko, the WBA-WBC-WBO lightweight champion, nor IBF champ Richard Commey, too much to worry about Friday during his IBF title eliminator bout at the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland.
But Lopez, one of the elite young prospects in the sport, did what he needed to do. He earned a title shot against Commey in his next bout by winning a far more difficult-than-expected match against the previously unbeaten Masayoshi Nakatani.
The judges scored it 118-110 twice and 119-109, far wider than the bout in the ring appeared. Yahoo Sports had Lopez 116-112.
Lopez, who went 12 rounds for the first time, had difficulty with the 6-foot Nakatani’s range and height. He entered the bout with a 13-0 record with 11 knockouts, but never got close to a KO in this one.
He wasn’t crazy about his performance, either.
“Horrible,” Lopez said in the ring when asked about his performance. “Horrible. But it is what it is. He’s tall; he’s 6 feet tall, man. From this point on, I’ll be fighting guys my own height. I don’t have to worry about that any more.”
Nakatani worked a jab that Lopez had difficulty getting past. When Lopez did get inside, he was able to land hard shots to Nakatani’s head.
His promoter, Bob Arum, saw it as a learning experience.
“He has a lot to learn,” Arum said. “It’s the tallest guy he’s ever fought. It was tough adjusting to it. The guy was a dangerous puncher. It was a good performance. I wanted him when he had the guy going, to put the pedal down. The good thing that comes from this is that we know he can go 12 rounds. That’s always been a question in my mind. Could he go 12 rounds and the answer is yes.”
But as one of the most heralded and hyped prospects in the sport, that’s damning him with faint praise. Lopez looked vulnerable and never was able to seriously hurt Nakatani.
The best he could point to was he went the 12-round distance for the first time.
“It was my first main event and I went 12 rounds,” he said. “Am I proud of it? Nah, but I still went 12 rounds.”
He’ll fight Commey for the IBF belt in the fall, and then Lomachenko next year assuming he wins that and Lomachenko keeps winning.
But he has a lot of work to do to regain the luster he brought with him into the fight. He was the Yahoo Sports Prospect of the Year in both 2017 and 2018 and he appeared to be getting better every time out.
It’s hardly time to give up on him and he has a lot of the tools he needs to be a star, but this is the second fight in a row where he hasn’t performed at the top level.
He may need to bring in a veteran trainer to either help his father, Teofimo Lopez Sr., or replace him entirely. But he needs to fix a few fundamental flaws — he fought almost the entire fight with his left arm at his hip Friday — that have plagued him for a while.
This could be a blip on the radar if he takes it seriously and dedicates himself to improving, or it could be an indication that perhaps he’s finally found his level.
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