NEW YORK — Is Teofimo Lopez Jr. the real deal? That was the key question for the 2018 ESPN prospect of the year going into his shot at lightweight world titleholder Richard Commey, who was by far his most significant opponent, on Saturday night.
The answer: A resounding yes.
Lopez is for real.
He annihilated Commey in the second round to take Commey’s IBF lightweight world title in emphatic fashion in the Terence Crawford-Egidijus Kavaliauskas co-feature at Madison Square Garden.
“I’m at a loss for words right now. This is a dream come true,” Lopez said. “[Commey] is a bad man. His shot could’ve done the same to me if he hit me with that shot.”
Commey (29-3, 26 KOs) had previously suffered only two highly competitive decision losses — to Robert Easter Jr. in a world title bout and to contender Denis Shafikov. He had never been overwhelmed before, until facing Lopez.
Commey, 32, a Ghana native fighting out of New York who was making his second defense, looked good in the opening round, touching Lopez with a couple of right hands. But then Lopez destroyed him in the second.
Lopez wobbled Commey with a left hook, then floored him seconds later with a right hand on the chin. Commey was unsteady when the fight continued, and Lopez stormed after him. Lopez landed numerous right-left combinations and had Commey in all sorts of trouble and backed into the ropes.
As Lopez (15-0, 12 KOs), 22, of Brooklyn, New York, who represented his parents’ native Honduras in the 2016 Olympics, continued to blast away, Commey was helpless. Referee David Fields finally stepped in and waved off the fight at 1 minute, 13 seconds of the second round.
Lopez, as he always does, celebrated with a backflip. Then, as he did when he fought on Heisman Trophy night in 2018, Lopez struck the Heisman pose in the ring while wearing newly crowned Heisman winner Joe Burrow‘s LSU jersey.
“The kid has dynamite in his hands,” said Lou DiBella, Commey’s promoter. “I knew that was possible. Richard got caught with dynamite. He’s a very athletic puncher. His offense is so dangerous I don’t think he’s out of it against [Vasiliy] Lomachenko. The kid’s gonna get better. He’s a dangerous little f—er.”
Pound-for-pound king and unified lightweight champion Lomachenko (14-1, 10 KOs), 31, of Ukraine, was seated ringside to scout the fight, because the plan called for him to fight the victor — Lopez — to further unify the 135-pound title in the spring.
“We want to unificate four titles,” Lomachenko, who holds two of the major 135-pound belts, said of Lopez. “Now he’s a world champion, and now he’s in position to fight me.”
Lopez and his father, trainer Teofimo Lopez Sr., have been very vocal calling Lomachenko out, and now it looks like they will get the chance.
“You all know who I want to fight next — 2020 is going to be a big year. ‘The Takeover’ has arrived, and you haven’t seen anything yet,” Lopez said.
Conlan gets revenge
Featherweight Michael Conlan got his revenge against amateur nemesis Vladimir Nikitin, and it wasn’t close.
Conlan won 100-90, 99-91 and 98-92 to avenge two amateur losses to Nikitin, including a decision in the 2016 Olympic quarterfinals that cost Conlan a medal in a fight that has gone down as one of the most controversial in amateur boxing history.
“It was a lot of pressure going into that fight, but it’s nice to get it done,” Conlan said. “I just needed to get that one back.”
Conlan, who had claimed a 2012 Olympic bronze medal, also lost to Nikitin in the 2013 world championships quarterfinals. Then Conlan appeared to easily beat Nikitin in the 2016 Olympic bout. But Nikitin got the decision, after which Conlan famously flipped the judges double middle fingers for their scoring of a bout that left Nikitin so busted up he withdrew from the tournament and was unable to fight in the semifinals.
But in their professional rematch, Conlan (13-0, 7 KOs), 28, of Northern Ireland, dominated, and this time he had his hand raised.
“I needed to right this wrong,” Conlan said. “Full credit to Nikitin, who fought his heart out. There’s no bad blood. There never was. Now, we can put this chapter of my career behind me.”
The crowd erupted in the third round when Nikitin hit the canvas, but referee Harvey Dock correctly ruled that Nikitin (3-1, 0 KOs), 29, of Russia, had slipped.
Conlan was content to box Nikitin from the outside using his jab and throwing hooks and body shots here and there, while Nikitin tried to pressure him and get inside.
Nikitin applied pressure but was wild with many of his punches. He landed some overhand rights, forcing Conlan back with one in the fifth round.
The two traded fierce shots throughout the seventh round, with Conlan connecting with several right hands to the head. But Conlan does not have big punching power, and Nikitin seemed to take them with no problems.
Dock warned Conlan for a low blow in the eighth round and later in the round admonished both fighters for fouling. Seconds later, Conlan appeared to wobble Nikitin, whose face was marked up, with a right hand during an exchange as the pro-Conlan crowd cheered.
Late in the 10th round, as the crowd cheered him, Conlan raised his hands in victory.
“Who do I want? I want a Christmas dinner with ham and all the trimmings,” Conlan said. “I want to enjoy this.”
Vargas outpoints Murphy in slugfest
Junior welterweight Josue Vargas won a unanimous decision over Noel Murphy to claim a vacant regional title in an action-packed battle. All three judges scored the bout 98-92 for Vargas (16-1, 9 KOs), 21, a Puerto Rican southpaw from the Bronx, New York. Vargas won his 10th fight in a row since his lone defeat, a disqualification in 2016 for hitting his opponent while his back was turned.
Vargas landed several solid left hands, including two big ones in the fourth round. As the fight wore on the action picked up and the crowd got into it, especially in the seventh round, when the fighters traded at close quarters for a long stretch. Vargas rocked Murphy (14-2-1, 2 KOs), 25, an Ireland native fighting out of Woodlawn, New York, with a left hand as the bell ended the round.
By the end of the seventh, Vargas’ eyes were swelling and Murphy’s face was reddened from taking so many shots. They slugged it out for the rest of the bout.
“What a blessing to fight in front of my home fans and put on a show for them and everyone watching on ESPN+,” Vargas said. “The belt means the world to me. I know this isn’t a world title, but I am on my way. To be 21 years old and fight at the Garden is truly special.”
Another first-round KO for Berlanga
Super middleweight knockout artist Edgar Berlanga made it 13 first-round knockouts in his first 13 fights, as he tormented Cesar Nunez for most of the round before putting him out of his misery with a second knockdown.
Berlanga, 22, a Puerto Rican from Brooklyn, dropped Nunez to his knees with a left hook early in the round, then battered him relentlessly with an assortment of clean punches. Nunez (16-2-1, 8 KOs), 34, of Spain, never seemed to have steady legs.
Berlanga appeared to notch a second knockdown, but referee Mike Ortega ruled that Berlanga’s right hand landed behind Nunez’s head and he did not count it. Berlanga kept banging away until an accumulation of punches sent Nunez to the mat again, and Ortega waved off the fight without a count at 2 minutes, 45 seconds.
Berlanga said he came into the fight determined to keep his first-round knockout streak going in honor of his late cousin, Anthony Santana, who he said was murdered during training camp.
“Next fight, I want to go more rounds, but I wanted the first-round knockout for my cousin,” Berlanga said. “I want to be the one to carry the Puerto Rican flag and represent the island in New York.”
Rodriguez handily outpoints Mendez
Junior welterweight “Hammer Hands” Julian Rodriguez took a few clean shots but landed way more in a one-sided decision over Manuel Mendez.
Rodriguez won 80-71, 80-71 and 79-72 and knocked Mendez down with a clean left hook in the first round. Rodriguez nearly stopped Mendez in that round when he was unloading punches on him during a follow-up attack, until Mendez finally grabbed him to stop the onslaught.
Rodriguez’s most potent weapon was his left hook that he used to rock Mendez numerous times. But Mendez (16-7-3, 11 KOs), 29, of Ontario, Oregon, while unsteady at times, never went down again after the first round and got a second wind in the last few rounds, during which he landed several shots.
Rodriguez (19-0, 12 KOs), 25, of Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey, won his third fight of 2019 after missing all of 2018, mainly because of a shoulder injury.
Kambosos edges Bey
Australian lightweight up-and-comer George Kambosos Jr. scored the biggest victory of his career, a split decision over former lightweight world titlist Mickey Bey in the first fight on the card.
Kambosos won 97-92 and 96-93 on two scorecards, while one judge had it 95-94 for Bey.
Kambosos (18-0, 10 KOs), 26, assured himself of victory with a big 10th round. That’s when he dropped Bey (23-3-1, 11 KOs), 36, of Cleveland, with a right hand followed by a left uppercut, then landed several clean shots that rattled Bey during the follow-up attack.
Kambosos has gained notoriety as one of Manny Pacquiao’s chief sparring partners, and he was anxious to test himself against a former titleholder. The fight was Bey’s second following 27 months out of the ring.