He calls his ascension “The Takeover,” a title that brings to mind fellow Brooklynite, Jay-Z, whose own “Takeover” also claimed an industry. Repeated ad nauseum the term loses its appeal, and what catchphrase isn’t beaten to death in “the big drama show?” But it isn’t without its charm. “The Takeover” sounds aggressive, more violent than “ascension” or “arrival”; it conjures thoughts of usurping force, a hostile wresting of power.
Teofimo Lopez completed the takeover in the bubble at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas Saturday night, becoming the undisputed lightweight champion of the world with a unanimous decision over Vasiliy Lomachenko. A hostile takeover it was not, but the championship rounds were spirited, the future ratified, and the fallout likely to echo for some time.
The underdog Lopez also struck a victory for ambition. He didn’t have to. Lopez could have milked the belt he took from Richard Commey last year—like any other supposed wunderkind navigated deftly to a title—and defended it as softly as his promotional imprimatur permitted while building his brand with bandwidth instead of blood.
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But that isn’t Lopez, and you get the sense he’d find the suggestion of such a career course more inscrutable than insulting. Lopez took Commey’s title to get Lomachenko—when he became a champion he acted like one. This is what sets him apart from stablemates Edgar Berlanga, whose first-round knockout streak becomes less impressive the longer it goes, and Shakur Stevenson, who for all his promise has yet to defeat a champion for a title.
Devin Haney is a talented lightweight too, but were someone to mail Lopez a title, is there any doubt he’d scribble “Return to Sender” on it and have Ace Ventura deliver it personally.? Lopez is better than padded records and vacant titles. He knew it, Top Rank knew it, and now Lomachenko does too.
Nor did Lomachenko take much convincing. He didn’t squander the first half of the fight “downloading” his opponent—Lopez took it from him. And what was more striking, the sight of Lomachenko handcuffed or the simplicity of the strategy that left him so? Lomachenko cannot employ his frightful synergy, those liquid transitions between offense and defense if he is backing up. Lopez knew it and took nary a backward step over the first six rounds.
Some might attribute this line drawn in the sand to Lopez’s physical advantages—his size. speed, and power—but his irreverence was no less crucial. Lomachenko applies himself to opponents; he is surgical, precise, as he can be with opponents’ cowed by his style. Lopez, 16-0 (12), would have none of it. He took center-ring, jab pumping, right hand cocked, and wished a motherfucker would.
Half a fight passed before Lomachenko would. Saturday showed that while Lomachenko is a volume fighter, even an inimitable one, his style is contrived, reflective of the father’s plan more than the son’s disposition. Faced with the same risks, a fighter like Tim Bradley or Shawn Porter would’ve simply thrown more punches, reassured by the activity if not its effect. Not Lomachenko, who waited too long for the opportunities he typically makes.
He is a champion, though—there’s no denying or revising that. Lomachenko–Lopez became a fight because Lomachenko made it one; at a time when he had to imperil himself to save his titles, he stared down Lopez’s right hand and went to work. There was none of his dizzying footwork, no mockery of the unmanned; instead, Lomachenko walked Lopez down not to win the remaining rounds but to eliminate them. It was refreshing to see him pressed, to see that Lomachenko’s thrill in humiliating opponents is a decadent offshoot of something more primal. Lopez’s father and trainer, Teofimo Sr., saw it too, and at the end of the eleventh round implored his son to simply preserve the victory. To his credit, Lopez refused and outfought a desperate Lomachenko in the best round of the fight.
Measured and found wanting, what Lomachenko does next will be revealing. The narrative that he was masquerading at lightweight might be true if he can indeed make 130 pounds comfortably, but there’s something unbecoming about invading a division, unifying it, and then leaving it after being beaten, especially for a fighter who has spoken so often about his legacy. If that is holding Lomachenko to a higher standard, it is a standard he invites. Now, for the first time in his career, greatness and vengeance share coordinates. Whether Lomachenko pursues them will reveal what motivates him, and what he and his father took from the loss.
Lomachenko was oddly indifferent about avenging his only other professional defeat, a decision loss to Orlando Salido. Maybe he thought the rematch was beneath him, that he could better distinguish himself elsewhere. It’s hard to look at his career and quibble, especially since he would have been a heavy favorite over Salido whenever they fought again. But a Lopez rematch is different. In much the same way Antonio Tarver knew he belonged in the ring with Roy Jones Jr. after their first fight, Lopez goes into a second Lomachenko fight knowing just how little respect he needs to show him. That Lomachenko needs to start sooner doesn’t mean he can, and if Lomachenko does fight with greater urgency the counters Lopez found in the twelfth round will be there in the thirteenth. The question for Lomachenko then, is this: Is Lopez where your ambition blossoms or where it wilts?
Lopez, meanwhile, now holds the most impressive victory in boxing since Srisaket Sor Rungvisai anesthetized Roman Gonzalez in 2017. And if that is being a prisoner to the moment, well, all the better.