In the chief support to pound-for-pound star Terence Crawford’s return to the ring against Egidijus Kavaliauskas this weekend, New York’s super-prospect-turned-contender Teofimo Lopez (14-0, 11 KOs) takes the biggest step up of his career as he faces hard-hitting Ghanaian Richard Commey (29-2, 26 KOs) for the latter’s IBF World Lightweight Championship.
Top Rank’s Lopez shed prospect status in 2019 with impressive victories against Diego Magdaleno (31-3, 13 KOs) and Edis Tatli (32-3, 10 KOs) in the first half of the year before getting by the awkward and problematic Masayoshi Nakatani (18-1, 12 KOs) in July.
The titleholder, meanwhile, won the IBF gold at the second time of asking in February, beating Isa Chaniev (13-3, 6 KOs) for the vacant strap. He then defended his belt against rugged Mexican veteran Raymundo Beltran (36-9-1, 22 KOs) in June, stopping Beltran in the eighth round.
The winner of this fight will likely see themselves in the firing line of unified champion and fellow Top Rank-signee Vasyl Lomachenko (14-1, 10 KOs). The Ukrainian master-boxer holds the WBO and WBA (Super) versions of the world title, The Ring Magazine belt and was controversially elevated to “Franchise Champion” by the WBC, who then handed their belt to #1 contender Devin Haney (24-0, 15 KOs) in a decision that baffled many.
This fight with Commey marks a big step-up in competition for Lopez. It is also Lopez’s first bout with a guy who has legitimate big knockout power, a trait that couldn’t be assigned to any of Lopez’s foes thus far in his career. Lopez’s defence was breached more often than many predicted in his fight with Nakatani, with the tall Japanese fighter finding his range with the right hand over the top on a number of occasions. His effort in the fight was so valiant Tim Bradley declared Teofimo Lopez “exposed” post-fight.
The challenger, who many tip to be a future multi-weight world titlist, could find his success in this fight in trying to outbox the marauding African. Commey has lost just twice in his career, both of them split-decisions against Robert Easter Jr (21-1-1, 14 KOs) and Denis Shafikov (40-4-2, 20 KOs). In both fights, Commey was touted as the “puncher” and was ultimately outboxed in the judges eyes against the technically sounder American and Russian. This could be seen as a possible route to victory for the young American from Brooklyn, with Commey being the come-forward fighter who believes in himself.
In what is an interesting matchup of contrasting styles, this fight for the IBF strap is an excellent co-main for Crawford’s return and could stand alone on top of its own card due to its unpredictable outcome and the importance of its result on the rest of the division. The loser will still be relevant on the world scene, such is the magnitude of the fight, but only the very best in the world awaits the winner.