What was a lie in the father becomes a conviction in the son.
—Friedrich Nietzsche, The Antichrist
We’ll find out if he’s right Saturday; we’ll find out if he can live up to his convictions too. Teofimo Lopez is getting what he asked for: a chance to unify the lightweight division at the expense of Vasiliy Lomachenko. And to listen to Lopez, the closing clause of that sentence is paramount.
He is right to covet the scalp more than the belt, not only because champions ratify titles—not the other way around—but because the most intriguing fight yet fought in the MGM Grand’s “Bubble” in Las Vegas, indeed in any bubble since COVID-19 put sport and its absence in perspective, provides its victor more than hardware. Considering the shortage of grist for the mill since boxing awoke from its pandemic slumber, and the caution exhibited in matchmaking thereafter, the winner of Lomachenko–Lopez is likely to benefit from the collective need to celebrate something, anything, wholeheartedly. Put more bluntly: if the months since boxing’s return are not justification for returning to boxing, Lomachenko–Lopez and its winner should be.
The fight is intriguing mostly because of what the challenger brings. If that opinion fails to give Lomachenko his due, very well. But by now, a whopping fifteen fights into Lomachenko’s career, one of which he lost, ten of which he ended early, thirteen of which saw him win or defend a title in one of three divisions, there is little to say. If he is not the fighter of his most lustful admirers’ dreams, he is nevertheless better than the fighter his staunchest critics wish he was. “Hi-Tech,” or “Loma,” or whatever moniker most pleases him, is the genuine article. Intrigue, then, is doubly the responsibility of matchmaking.
Hence the appeal of Brooklyn’s Lopez, 15-0 (12), the division’s greatest threat to Lomachenko (unless you’re obligated to suggest a man who needed eleven rounds to stop a one-legged Yuriorkis Gamboa is somehow a problem). Lopez is bigger than Lomachenko, more powerful, as quick, and considering how he’s derided the best fighter he is likely to ever face, appropriately arrogant. What is interesting about Lopez’s prefight bluster is that it is neither self-aggrandizing (think lowbrow “influencer” blathering) nor excessively coarse. When Lopez digs at Lomachenko he does so purposefully, at times even thoughtfully, building on the estimation of his father and trainer, Teofimo Sr., who when asked about Lomachenko a year ago said, “He ain’t got nothin’ special in him.”
Lomachenko’s move from featherweight to lightweight, suggests Lopez, asks too much of his body. And there is something to that. Lomachemko has gone the distance twice in his four fights at 135 pounds and suffered his first knockdown when Jorge Linares sniped him. He’s also suffered two injuries at lightweight: a torn right labrum against Linares, and a broken right hand against Anthony Crolla. Hitting larger men carries a penalty; indeed the very punch that snatched Crolla’s daylights put Lomacehnko in a cast.
Lopez has targeted Lomachenko’s age and the outlay of his extensive amateur career as an advantage for “El Brooklyn” who, at twenty-three, is nine years younger than the Ukrainian. “The man has four hundred fights,” he told RingTV, “If I’m twenty-three and dealing with stuff at this age, I can only imagine what he must be going through at thirty-two with over four hundred fights.” Lopez even suggested Lomachenko’s performances reflect an awareness of his decline. “He tries too hard to make everybody think he can still do it,” said Lopez, “even though he’s thirty-two years old.”
Does Lopez believe this? Does he look at one of the best fighters in the world and see flaws, subterfuge, before all else? Absolutely. Because for prizefighters, who normalize risks most athletes cannot fathom, the lie is a condition of success. For Nietzsche we lie when we “refuse to see what one sees, or to refuse to see it as it is”—and this is at work in Lopez. This refusal makes Lomachenko old, worn, fragile, and aware of all of it. It is a lie, but perhaps the only difference between a lie and a conviction is time, perhaps living a lie long enough makes a conviction of it. Lopez has lived this lie, this bogus estimation; he has tortured himself so he might prove it, so that victory is not possible but inevitable. Yes, Lopez’s assessment of Lomachenko is dishonest insofar as it is inaccurate but it is more powerful than truth.
Another truth is waiting for him, though; one not born of a father’s brash proclamations. Lomachenko too is guided by his father, but the laconic Anatoly Lomachenko lets the preparedness of his son, and the results of that preparation speak for him. And why wouldn’t he? Lomachenko has faced dozens of fighters like Lopez, but Lopez has never encountered a Lomachenko, a fighter whose style is perhaps best characterized as protracted humiliation. It isn’t for everyone, but Lomachenko doesn’t fight for everyone—he fights for himself (and that too, is not for everyone).
“If I get the chance to cause him pain,” Lomachenko told Sky Sports, “I’m going to do it.” What comes before the pain should concern Lopez too—the pressure of an opponent standing ever in your reach, calibrating himself to your movements, punishing your activity and inactivity alike, and, of course, mocking you throughout. That bloody peek-a-boo keeps men on their stools as often as off their feet. If Lopez is faced with that dilemma, what will he choose?
“I can’t wait to put on eight-ounce gloves and pierce Lomachenko’s skull,” Lopez told RingTV. Then don’t wait, young man, because the longer you wait the greater the chance he causes you pain. And humiliation. And the sort of fallout that makes liars of sport’s most honest athletes.