email@example.com (Ollie Salt)
Later this evening Teofimo Lopez will bid to etch his name into pugilistic folklore by dethroning Vasyl Lomachenko at the summit of boxing’s mythical pound-for-pound charts.
Lomachenko, a two-time Olympic gold medallist who slumped to just one defeat in 397 amateur contests, is deservedly recognised as the sport’s No.1 fighter having needed just 12 professional outings to become a three-weight world champion.
The Ukrainian wizard (14-1) combines technical mastery with unrivalled intelligence in the ring and it is breathtaking to watch. Terence Crawford and Canelo Alvarez may also stake a claim to the pound-for-pound throne, but neither go through the gears as seamlessly and elegantly as he so often does.
For that very reason, the odds are well and truly stacked against IBF lightweight champion Lopez, 23, becoming the third man to beat him when their paths collide in Las Vegas tonight.
After 15 fights and as many victories the Brooklyn young gun has earned a reputation as one of the heaviest hitters in and around the 135lbs landscape. He has displayed a brutish power in the ring to justify his supreme confidence, claiming 12 wins by knockout and thus catapulting himself onto Lomachenko’s radar.
Lopez poses a serious and dangerous threat to the 32-year-old, yet many feel this mega-fight comes too soon in his professional journey. The common assumption is that Lomachenko’s illustrious amateur background and superior level of previous opposition will prove the difference against an unpolished starlet nine years his junior.
Though the boxing master has long been in his sights. Even in a conversation with Daily Star Sport as far back as 18 months ago, just a few days out from his explosive win over Edis Tatli at Madison Square Garden, Lopez was already convinced he has Lomachenko’s number.
“What makes me so confident [about beating Lomachenko] is the fact that I know what I can do,” he said.
“You guys haven’t seen anything yet. I know what type of fighter I am, I know I can box, I can go in and put the pressure, I know I can catch and shoot, I’m very defensive, I’m very smart in that ring.
“A lot of people discredit that. They underrate what I’m capable of doing, they only see power and speed but they don’t see the intelligence, the ring IQ that I’ve got. The catch and shoots.
“Those catch and shoots, that’s not speed and power – that’s technical. All those things are technical.
“So when it’s all said and done, those are the things that make me just know that I’m the better fighter.”
In contrasting fashion to the 15 opponents that have come before him, Lopez has turned a blind eye to pre-fight pleasantries and instead decided to bait Lomachenko, branding his adversary a “diva” among many other things in the buildup to to their highly-anticipated meeting.
His trash talk has brought out a spite and hostility never seen before from the unified lightweight chief, who has issued his young rival with a chilling warning
“Perhaps they didn’t teach him in his neck of the woods that you have to watch your tongue,” Lomachenko said in an interview with Top Rank.
“And when you’re saying such things, you have to answer for them. You can’t simply insult a person because you don’t like them.
“First of all, I want to win this fight. But if I have a chance to make it unpleasant for him, so that he feels it and remembers, I’ll certainly do so.”
Lomachenko is by no means invincible despite the unique skillset which has propelled him to the top of the sport. He has one blemish on his record, albeit from a world-title bout against an experienced and overweight Orlando Salido in just his second professional contest, while Jorge Linares dropped him to the canvas in their pulsating 2018 clash.
Those slight chinks in his armour will certainly encourage Lopez, the new kid on the block plotting a colossal upset which would shake boxing to its core.
But with his cage rattled for the very first time, Lomachenko will be seeking blood in Sin City and could very well produce his most lethal victory yet.