A meeting between Vasiliy Lomachenko and Teofimo Lopez was supposed to be one of the most anticipated and highly competitive boxing matches of 2020.
After a contentious week of negotiations, the lightweight unification fight that once seemed like a foregone conclusion is officially on the ropes, and now, a backup fight for Lomachenko by way of Felix Verdejo is in place if a change of heart doesn’t happen quick.
Lomachenko (14-1, 10 KOs) and Lopez (15-0, 12 KOs) have been on a collision course to meet following Lopez’s devastating second-round knockout of Richard Commey in December for the IBF title. The WBA and WBO 135-pound champion Lomachenko confronted Lopez in the Madison Square Garden ring immediately after, and the steady steam from previous months about a potential matchup quickly led to a boil.
An original date was diagrammed for Memorial Day Weekend on May 30 at Madison Square Garden before the Covid-19 pandemic stalled the sport. It was then switched to Sept. 19, and later changed again to Oct. 3 at a location to be determined, with even the Las Vegas Raiders’ stadium as a possibility outside of the MGM Grand “Bubble.”
A fight now appears to be farfetched, after a tense week of frigid developments came out from all parties, including Lopez, his manager David McWater, Lomachenko and his manager Egis Klimas and Top Rank boss Bob Arum, the promoter for both figures.
Let’s first set the table with the sequence of events.
The Athletic’s Mike Coppinger first reported on July 30 that Lopez was not satisfied with what he considered to be a lackluster $1.25 million purse, just as Lomachenko accepted a package in excess of $3.25 million.
“We explained to them we have no gate [revenue], no closed-circuit [revenue],” Arum told ESPN.com’s Steve Kim on Tuesday. “I mean, we’re willing to pay [Lopez] a big price, but again, I’m not going to lose millions of dollars on an event because he thinks he’s worth more … If we don’t make a deal with him, we’ll move off. But I’m optimistic still that we’ll come to terms.”
McWater also told ESPN’s Kim that “everybody is trying to do the right thing, but there doesn’t seem to be enough money for everybody.”
“We were willing to take a hair cut from what was expected before, but not one of the magnitude presented to us,” said McWater. “I think more likely we would take another fight at 135 and revisit [the Lomachenko fight] … To me, a lot of this has to do with ESPN. I mean, if they want the fight, I think they should find a way to make it work for Top Rank. Bob’s right, Top Rank shouldn’t have to lose money on this — but neither should Teofimo. The big winner here would be ESPN. I feel it should be incumbent on them to find a way to make this happen.”
A representative for ESPN declined to comment for Kim’s story.
In an interview filmed the week of July 27 but published Aug. 5., before the deal was beginning to unravel, Lomachenko took to his YouTube channel to explain his positioning.
“I haven’t seen the contract personally. My understanding is that the contract is already in place, and we should be signing it [week of July 27]. But all the verbal agreements have been made. The only question is if it’s going to be a regular ESPN fight or ESPN pay per view.
“I think if we wanted to [change the conditions of the contract], we could, yes. Probably so. More yes than no. We are waiting for the official announcement from our promoter and the organizers of the match. That’s it … I have said ‘yes’ to it, and it doesn’t matter to me what the contract looks like and what the details are. I am ready. What is the date? Oct. 3? I’m in for it. Let’s go. That’s my position. What his position is — I don’t know, but judging from everything, he isn’t avoiding it anyway either.”
Klimas clarified on Thursday that Lomachenko’s comments came before he was aware of Lopez’s stance that he was unhappy with his financial compensation.
“Everything Lomachenko said at the moment of the interview was the truth,” said Klimas. “On our side, everything is agreed, and everything is in place. All we are waiting for is for Top Rank to send me a contract, and Vasiliy can sign it. We had an agreement with Bob about 10 days ago … It’s a promoter’s job to make that fight happen. We did everything on our side for that fight to happen. It’s now up to the [Lopez] side.”
Klimas said he wasn’t completely satisfied with Lomachenko’s purse either, but they were ultimately willing to take it with hopes of bringing the fight to the finish line.
“To me, if you don’t want to fight, the easiest way in boxing is to say, ‘there is not enough money.’ I am not confident at all [that this fight will eventually happen], due to what’s happening with their team. I can’t be confident, especially during the pandemic. I am not confident for any fight until they walk in the ring.”
Klimas said that if the Lopez fight is lost, they will move on to Plan B, which for the time being is for the three-division champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist Lomachenko to fight Verdejo (27-1, 17 KOs).
“Maybe we’ll fight Verdejo if it’s not Lopez,” said Klimas. “We want Lopez. Let’s sign the documents and go for it.”
Carl Moretti, Top Rank’s vice president of operations, told BoxingScene.com on Thursday he had no comment.
Both sides need to quickly come to a solution. It should not be lost on either party that the sport’s economic structure is an entirely different ecosystem during the pandemic.
The 32-year-old, pound-for-pound frontrunner Lomachenko has not fought since defeating Luke Campbell via unanimous decision last September.
The 23-year-old Lopez certainly does not have Father Time to worry about, but at the moment, he believes he has the youth, the skills, and more leverage, too.
Manouk Akopyan is a sports journalist and member of the Boxing Writers Assn. of America since 2011. He has written for the likes of the LA Times, Guardian, USA Today, Philadelphia Inquirer, Men’s Health and NFL.com. He can be reached on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube at @ManoukAkopyan or via email at manouk[dot]akopyan[at]gmail.com.