Although Teofimo Lopez was victorious in a title eliminator against Masayoshi Nakatani, the rising lightweight star had to go the distance in a 12-round fight for the first time in his career.
Headlining their first Top Rank on ESPN+ card from Oxon Hill, Maryland, Lopez and Nakatani battled to a 12-round decision but Lopez easily won the contest with scores of 119-109, 118-110 and 118-110. With the win, Lopez is now the mandatory challenger to Richard Commey’s IBF lightweight title and the two could be facing off next.
Though Lopez was heavily favored in this fight, he did not produce the highlight-reel knockouts many are accustomed to seeing from the undefeated youngster. Instead, the opening rounds saw Lopez trying to figure out how to best attack the much-taller and more experienced Nakatani. Lopez did eventually figure him out and in the fourth round, dropped Nakatani thanks to a right hand, but the referee ruled it a slip and not a knockdown.
As the fight progressed, Lopez would continue outboxing Nakatani, but Nakatani had his fair share of moments bruising his opponent’s face with right hands and even some accidental head clashes. Despite this, Lopez was never in any serious danger of losing the fight. Though Lopez was not happy about his performance, he was glad that he went the distance to prove that he can fight for 12 rounds.
“They wanted to see me go the distance. I did 12 rounds. I’m still a champ,” Lopez said in a post-fight interview. “I just need little tune-ups. It’s part of the process. I’m thankful right now. It was my first main event. It was 12 rounds. Am I proud of it? No, but I’m proud that I showed everyone I could go 12 rounds."
Now that Lopez has his sights set on Commey, the two will look to do battle next with not only the IBF title on the line but also a potential future fight down the road against the winner of Vasiliy Lomachenko vs. Luke Campbell for the unified WBA, WBO and WBC titles, taking place in London on August 31. Should the winner of the two face each other, likely in 2020, it would crown an undisputed champion at 135 pounds since Pernell Whitaker was the undisputed champion from 1990 to 1992.