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Teofimo Lopez’s mastery of Vasiliy Lomachenko has turned boxing into a game for young men

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Teofimo Lopez changed the game.

The 23-year-old shocked the boxing world by dethroning arguably the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, Vasiliy Lomachenko, via a unanimous decision to become the unified 135-pound champion.

Lopez showed tremendous poise as he put in an excellent performance to get his hand up in the win with scores of 116-112, 117-111 and a ridiculous 119-109. Regardless of that last score, the right guy won.

It wasn’t just that Lopez beat Lomachenko, but that he beat him like he did. Had Lopez knocked out the Ukrainian, the opponents would have implied a lucky punch was involved. Instead, Lopez implemented a masterful game plan, kept his cool when things turned uncertain, and accomplished the unthinkable: beat Lomachenko in a boxing match.

But what Lopez did on Saturday night went beyond fulfilling his personal prophecy. He also kicked open the door for young fighters to get opportunities now. If a 23-year-old can outdo the greatest amateur boxer on Earth, what can the rest of the audience under 25 do?

LOMACHENKO-LOPEZ: Highlights of the entire map

For years, boxing has forced young fighters to wait their turn before they have the chance to become world champions against the biggest names in the sport. Boxers hit world titles with smashed records such as 35-0 with 30 knockouts pitted against a litany of names people have never heard of. There’s nothing wrong with a hunter going around to see different looks and hone their skills. But there are also fighters who turn their wheels against no-name opponents in anticipation of a chance.

And the fans have suffered as rising stars have been embroiled in countless mismatches to build records. It’s not fun for the fans and it can’t be fun for the fighters who think they are ready now.

To be clear, some fighters really need the rounds. Deontay Wilder was far from being a material world champion, despite starting his career with 32 knockouts in 32 wins. There were gaps in his game that needed to be plugged and looks from opponents to be seen. Rising super middleweight demolition machine Edward Berlanga could certainly withstand a resurgence in enduring opponents; he has collected 15 consecutive first-round knockouts to start his career.

Then there are fighters like Lopez, Devin Haney, Ryan Garcia, Gervonta Davis, Jaron Ennis, Shakur Stevenson, Vergil Ortiz and many others who have been told they weren’t ready for the spotlight.

Not only did Lopez ditch that idea, he also crushed it with his starry performance against Lomachenko. Fighters under 25 should rejoice; now they can go through that door and have their own shot at that 36th fight.

Quite a few hunters under the age of 25 have become world champions, but they have rarely been champions against the best in the business. Have a chance against perhaps the best in the world? Even more unlikely.

Lomachenko-Lopez was very much positioned as Floyd Mayweather’s 2013 clash with Canelo Alvarez, when Mayweather learned an opponent 13 years younger than him. It was seen as a dangerous fight for Mayweather, who faced a younger and of course bigger fighter. It was certainly a risk, but Mayweather put on a masterful performance where the experience was far superior to the youth. Canelo still got the much-needed rub for his career and has since become a top pound-for-pound fighter.

Lopez and, to a greater extent, his father should take a lot of responsibility for this fight that takes place. The oldest Lopez spent the last few years telling the world how wonderful his son was. It’s to the younger Lopez’s credit that his dad looks like a genius on every outing. From the highlight knockouts to the show-stealing festivities, Lopez Jr. took advantage of the social media era by creating viral moments. He didn’t just win; he also looked good winning. All the while, his dashing father kept telling the media that his son would take out the greatest amateur in boxing history.

It was a clear fate.

But Lopez, the hunter, still had to keep his half of the deal.

There were legitimate questions as to whether he had the IQ to surpass Lomachenko. Brute force alone wouldn’t work. Little did the boxing world know that Lopez was way ahead of everyone else.

Unlike Canelo, Lopez stuck to a game plan that included a steady diet of jabs and body punches hard enough to force Lomachenko to wait his turn. And that’s what the Ukrainian did, lap after lap after lap. Clearly, Lomachenkos intended to break Lopez mentally by dissecting his plan and then turning it upside down. Unfortunately for Loma, Lopez rarely broke the pass. When the seventh round started, Lomachenko found himself in a hole. It wasn’t Lopez who didn’t figure out how to reach him, it was Lomachenko who couldn’t get Lopez out of his rhythm.

That forced Lomachenko into the rare position of having to fight from below and apply pressure in hopes of breaking the focus of the younger fighters. He got close sometimes. On laps 9-11, an outraged Lomachenko Lopez tore apart with a combination that appeared to be pulling steam out of Brooklyn.

What Lomachenko didn’t expect was Lopez biting his gums, never breaking his character and staying within himself to not give “Hi-Tech” the opening he needed to win the fight.

It wasn’t power and speed that beat Lomachenkobut’s boxing IQ earlier. Lopez proved that he was mature enough to use his physical attributes in a way that would not expose him to danger. It was a performance that we had to talk about for a long time.

It also took away the door hinges that kept out a new generation seeking its pound of meat from the best fighters. Not everyone will be as successful as Lopez, but these are the fights fans want.

The boxing world is already drooling over the idea that Lopez is facing Haney or Garcia. Or maybe Lopez will take to the road and challenge Jose Ramirez’s winner against Josh Taylor. Davis lurks too; at the end of October he is on PPV against Leo Santa Cruz.

All of these fighters have the chance to vote for the fictional pound-for-pound list sooner rather than later, thanks to Lopez.

A lot of credit must also go to Lomachenko. Yes, he wanted the title that Lopez had, but he wasn’t afraid to challenge the young lion. In retrospect, he might have had to rethink that position. But that’s what great fighters do. And the best never turn down an opponent, regardless of age.

Are the older hunters up to the challenge of the new wave hunters? Thanks to Lopez, now they have to.



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