Top Rank led the pack in the boxing realm, putting fights back on while the pandemic played out within the US and there was still a higher level of uncertainty regarding the virulence of the virus.
They sort of dipped a toe in the water, you could say…
Top Rank’s pound for pound superstars Tyson Fury, Terence Crawford and Vasiliy Lomachenko didn’t glove up in March, April, May, June, July, August or September and can we say, in retrospect, that move wasn’t in error?
Bob Arum and company knew enough to know that progress could be heavily impacted if an A side vs A side bout were made…and then one of the A grade boxers tested COVID positive? Of course, there will be no shortage of people willing to argue the point, and some will say boxing lost an opportunity to show off what it can offer while they had the stage almost to themself. Looks to me, though, that Arum and company knew it would be unwise to “go dark,” but they played the long game…and yes, usually that is the wiser play, even during these times, when people have short attention spans and demand what they want, when they want it.
Here is the release Top Rank sent out on Tuesday, sharing deets on their next batch of higher profile face-offs. And you will notice, probably, that “the uncertainty factor” is still somewhat in play. No, a Terence Crawford or a Tyson Fury scrap isn’t listed on this alert. Here are the clashes that ARE cemented, or, actually, cemented as much as is possible in these still uncertain times:
Action-packed lineup, led by Lomachenko-Lopez (October 17), includes Inoue-Moloney (October 31), Beterbiev-Adam Deines (October 23), Navarrete-Ruben Villa (October 9) and Jose Zepeda-Ivan Baranchyk (October 3)
LAS VEGAS (September 8, 2020) — Four belts, one champion. A universally recognized lightweight king will be crowned Saturday, Oct. 17, live on ESPN from MGM Grand Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.
WBO/WBA/WBC Franchise world champion Vasiliy “Loma” Lomachenko, the pound-for-pound “Boxing Baryshnikov” from Ukraine, will fight unbeaten IBF world champion Teofimo Lopez, the knockout artist from Brooklyn who has lobbed verbal haymakers at Lomachenko for more than two years. The two will fight from the MGM Grand Conference Center aka the “Las Vegas Bubble.”
Promoted by Top Rank, Lomachenko-Lopez (ESPN and ESPN Deportes, 10 p.m. ET) headlines a can’t-miss month of boxing on the ESPN family of networks, which also includes the long-awaited return of Japanese pound-for-pound superstar Naoya “Monster” Inoue, who will defend his WBA and IBF bantamweight world titles on Halloween evening, Saturday, Oct. 31, against Australian contender Jason “Mayhem” Moloney.
“Lomachenko-Lopez is the best fight that can be made in boxing, and we are delighted that it will be available to fans for no extra charge live on ESPN,” said Top Rank chairman Bob Arum. “Teofimo and Vasiliy demanded the fight, and we are glad we could make it happen. Vasiliy has never backed down from a challenge since he turned pro under the Top Rank banner, and Teofimo is a fearless young champion daring to be great. This has all the makings of a modern boxing classic.”
Lomachenko said, “Teofimo Lopez can talk all he wants. He’s very good at talking. He has done nothing but say my name for the past two years. I am a fighter, and my goal is to win another world title. Good for Teofimo. When we fight in Las Vegas, he will eat my punches and his words. I will be the better man, and four world titles will come home with me to Ukraine.”
Egis Klimas, Lomachenko’s manager, stated, “Nobody has seen Lomachenko at 100 percent inside the ring. If Teofimo can push Loma to at least 80 percent, it means Teofimo is the best opponent Loma has faced.”
Lopez said, “I will beat up Lomachenko and take his belts. Simple as that. I’m coming to Las Vegas to make history. I don’t like the guy, and I’m going to have fun as Lomachenko’s face is beaten and marked up by my hands. The Takeover is here, and the reign of Lomachenko, the little diva, is coming to an end.”
Added Matt Kenny, Vice President, Programming and Acquisitions, ESPN: “Boxing has long been part of the fabric of our company and we could not be more excited for the October schedule on ESPN platforms, which includes the highly anticipated lightweight title bout between Vasiliy Lomachenko and Teofimo Lopez on October 17. Top Rank was one of the very first organizations to safely stage live events during the pandemic and as the calendar turns to fall, ESPN will be home to fights that will excite boxing enthusiasts and capture the attention of casual fans.”
Lomachenko (14-1, 10 KOs) enters this bout coming off a scintillating decision win over British star Luke Campbell last August in front of a sold-out O2 Arena in London. A two-time Olympic gold medalist who went 396-1 in the amateur ranks, Lomachenko tied a boxing record by winning a world title in his third pro fight. He is a former featherweight and junior lightweight world champion who won the lightweight crown in May 2018 with a body shot knockout over Jorge Linares. In seven years as a pro, Lomachenko is 13-1 with 9 knockouts in world title fights and is ranked by many pundits as this generation’s most accomplished pugilist. From 2016-2017, he made four consecutive fighters quit on their stools, earning him the “No-Mas-chenko” moniker.
Lopez (15-0, 12 KOs), the brash Brooklynite who initially gained attention because of his post-fight “Fortnite” dances and backflip celebrations, soon emerged as boxing’s most charismatic young superstar following his 2016 pro debut. He was the consensus 2018 Prospect of the Year, a campaign punctuated by a one-punch, first-round knockout over Mason Menard on the Lomachenko-Jose Pedraza undercard. Following the Menard knockout, he donned the jersey of Kyler Murray, who’d won the Heisman Trophy earlier that evening. Lopez climbed the rankings in 2019 with wins over Diego Magdaleno, Edis Tatli and Masayoshi Nakatani.
Last December, Lopez knocked out Richard Commey in two rounds to win the IBF world title. Sitting ringside was Lomachenko, who entered the ring during the post-fight pandemonium. Arum waved him over to take a photo with the newly crowned champion. The stage had been set. #LomaLopez was going to happen.
The lightweight unification battle is only the tip of the Top Rank on ESPN boxing iceberg. Here’s what else is in store in October.
Saturday, October 3
Jose Zepeda (32-2, 2 NC, 25 KOs) vs. Ivan Baranchyk (20-1, 13 KOs)
MGM Grand Las Vegas
10 Rounds, Junior Welterweight
ESPN+, 7:30 p.m. ET/4:30 p.m. PT
Zepeda and Baranchyk were scheduled to meet inside the “Bubble” July 7, but a training injury to Baranchyk forced a postponement. Zepeda, a two-time world title challenger, instead fought Kendo Castaneda on July 7, cruising to a unanimous win. Baranchyk formerly held the IBF junior welterweight world title, defeating Anthony Yigit via seventh-round TKO to pick up the vacant title in October 2018. In May 2019, he was dethroned by current WBA/IBF world champion Josh Taylor in a competitive 12-round battle. He rebounded last October with a fourth-round stoppage over Gabriel Bracero at Madison Square Garden. The winner of this bout will be ranked No. 1 by the WBC at 140 pounds for the belt currently held by Jose Ramirez.
Friday, October 9
Emanuel Navarrete (32-1, 28 KOs) vs. Ruben Villa (18-0, 5 KOs)
MGM Grand Las Vegas
12 Rounds, Vacant WBO Featherweight World Title
ESPN & ESPN Deportes, 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT
After five defenses of his WBO junior featherweight world title, Navarrete is ready to conquer the featherweight division. The “Mexican Iron Man” and boxing’s most active world champion, Navarrete fought six world title bouts in just over 14 months (December 2018 to February 2020). He last fought a non-title bout against Uriel Lopez on June 20 in Mexico City, scoring a sixth-round TKO.
The WBO No. 1 featherweight contender, Navarrete has won 27 consecutive bouts, including 14 of his last 15 by stoppage. Villa, from Salinas, Calif., has defeated contenders Alexei Collado, Jose Enrique Vivas and Luis Alberto Lopez in his last three bouts to earn the world title shot.
Friday, October 23
Artur Beterbiev (15-0, 15 KOs) vs. Adam Deines (19-1-1, 10 KOs)
12 Rounds, Beterbiev’s WBC/IBF Light Heavyweight World Titles
ESPN & ESPN Deportes, 2 p.m. ET/11 a.m. PT
Undercard: ESPN+, 12 p.m. ET/9 a.m. PT
Boxing’s only world champion with a 100 percent knockout ratio, Beterbiev (click here to see his BoxRec) will fight for the first time since knocking out Oleksandr Gvozdyk in a highly anticipated world title unification bout last October. A two-time Russian Olympian, Beterbiev has never fought in his home nation as a professional and will do so against Deines, a fellow Russian who now calls Germany home. Deines has won two in a row since a decision loss to Meng Fanlong, while Beterbiev has made three world title defenses since winning the vacant IBF world title with a 12th-round stoppage over Enrico Koelling in November 2017.
In the ESPN-televised co-feature, a WBO light heavyweight world title eliminator, No. 1-ranked contender Umar Salamov will face No. 2-ranked contender Maxim Vlasov, with the winner expected to fight Joe Smith Jr. for the vacant world title. Both Salamov and Vlasov recently signed promotional contracts with Top Rank.
Saturday, October 31
Naoya Inoue (19-0, 16 KOs) vs. Jason Moloney (21-1, 18 KOs)
MGM Grand Las Vegas
12 Rounds, Inoue’s IBF/WBA Bantamweight World Titles
ESPN+, 7:30 p.m. ET/4:30 p.m. PT
A three-division world champion and a consensus Top 5 pound-for-pound fighter, Inoue makes his Las Vegas debut and his fourth bantamweight world title defense against a man who is ranked in the Top 5 by every major sanctioning organization.
Inoue is coming off a unanimous decision over Nonito Donaire last November, a fight named by many outlets as the Fight of the Year. Prior to the Donaire bout, Inoue knocked out four consecutive opponents in three rounds or less, including a second-round stoppage over Emmanuel Rodriguez to win the IBF world title. Inoue’s ring return was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but he has a stiff test in Moloney, an Australian boxer-puncher who made his “Bubble” debut June 25 with a knockout over Leonardo Baez. Moloney has won four straight bouts, all by knockouts, since a controversial split decision loss to Rodriguez for the IBF world title.