Richard Commey vs. Teofimo Lopez prediction: Why focus is key

Kevin IoleCombat columnist
IBF lightweight champion Richard Commey (L) defends his title Saturday vs. undefeated Teofimo Lopez in the co-main event of Saturday's Top Rank show on ESPN. (Mikey Williams/Top Rank)
IBF lightweight champion Richard Commey (L) defends his title Saturday vs. undefeated Teofimo Lopez in the co-main event of Saturday's Top Rank show on ESPN. (Mikey Williams/Top Rank)

Teofimo Lopez won the U.S. Olympic Trials at lightweight in 2016, but it was not enough to earn him a spot on the American team that competed in Rio de Janeiro. Because of his father’s birth, he was eligible to fight for Honduras, so that’s what he did.

Only 19, Lopez drew a difficult match in the opening round, facing France’s Sofiane Oumiha. Oumiha was 22 and had far more experience.

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Oumiha won a close fight, sending Lopez packing before he could even think of a medal.

But, he was among the most impressive fighters in the Olympics, and was one of those fighters who most people seemed to know would be a better pro than he was an amateur.

A little more than three years later, Lopez is ready to fulfill that immense potential. The only fighter to be the Yahoo Sports Prospect of the Year twice, Lopez will face IBF lightweight champion Richard Commey on Saturday (9 p.m. ET, ESPN) in the co-main event at Madison Square Garden in New York. 

Lopez has moved inexorably not only toward a title fight with Commey, who is 29-2 with 26 knockouts, but also toward a unification showdown against unified champion Vasiliy Lomachenko that is largely the creation of his outspoken and frequently over-the-top father, Teofimo Sr.

Lopez has compiled a 14-0 mark with 11 KOs and has done it mostly in spectacular fashion, albeit against far more limited opposition than Commey has faced.

But, the story of Lopez’s 2019 campaign to this point, which includes knockouts of Diego Magdaleno and Edis Tatli and a decision victory over Masayoshi Nakatani, is not anything he’s done in the ring.

It’s the battles he’s had with his parents and his siblings about his wife. And for the first time in his pro career, Lopez has shown a bit of vulnerability as he’s fought his way to the title opportunity against Commey.

He admitted that the turmoil his father created in his life and in his camp impacted his performance, particularly in the fights against Tatli and Nakatani. Lopez’s raw talent allowed him to overcome those impediments, but Commey presents an entirely different story.

Both fighters are 5-foot-8, but Commey has a 71-inch reach compared to Lopez’s 68½-inch span. Commey has also fought far better opposition and his only losses came in back-to-back fights in 2016 via split decision against Robert Easter and Denis Shafikov. Those two are vastly better than anyone Lopez has faced as a pro, and many believed that Commey was robbed of a win in the Shafikov fight.

Since then, Commey has won five in a row, including his last four by knockout, and battered veteran Ray Beltran before knocking him out in the eighth in June.

Richard Commey (R) scored an eighth round knockout of Ray Beltran on June 28, 2019 at Pechanga Resort Casino in Temecula, California. (Mikey Williams/Top Rank)
Richard Commey (R) scored an eighth round knockout of Ray Beltran on June 28, 2019 at Pechanga Resort Casino in Temecula, California. (Mikey Williams/Top Rank)

Lopez is a -270 favorite at the MGM Grand Sports Book, while Commey is +220, but that number is probably based largely on their physical skills. Lopez is the flashier fighter with a harder punch, quicker feet and more hand speed.

Commey, though, has not only faced significantly better opposition, he’s been able to go on the road and do it in hostile territory, which Lopez has yet to have to do.  He’s also got plenty of motivation because Lopez has commanded nearly all of the attention not only in the build-up to their fight, but throughout the year when it became obvious they were on a collision course to fight for the title.

The fighter I saw in Rio de Janeiro, the fighter I saw in so many dynamic wins in 2017 and 2018 and even in his bout against Magdaleno in February, is a guy who combined elite talents with determination, effort and focus.

That changed as the drama played out in his personal life. His mother didn’t attend his wedding. His father created problems for him not only in talking trash to anyone who would listen, but seeking out Lomachenko’s team and unloading on them. Lomachenko is regarded by many as the best pound-for-pound boxer in the world and he’s got an impeccable reputation.

Teofimo Lopez punches Masayoshi Nakatani during the eleventh round of their lightweight IBF World Title Elimination fight at The Theater at MGM National Harbor on July 19, 2019 in Oxon Hill, Maryland. (Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
Teofimo Lopez punches Masayoshi Nakatani during the eleventh round of their lightweight IBF World Title Elimination fight at The Theater at MGM National Harbor on July 19, 2019 in Oxon Hill, Maryland. (Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)

The Lopez who faced Nakatani is a vastly different character. He deserves credit because Nakatani is a veteran who had a significant height advantage but Lopez won 10 of 12 rounds on the cards of two judges and 11 of 12 on the third. That says something about him that when he’s at the low point of his professional, he still is good enough to walk away with an overwhelming victory.

By all accounts, his camp for the Commey fight has been far better, and drama free. Lopez Sr. relented and allowed his son to bring in another trainer to assist, and Joey Gamache has added not only stability but a veteran mind in his corner. Former light heavyweight contender Derrick Harmon also spent much time in Lopez’s camp, making sure he stayed on point and nipping issues before they grew out of control.

Lopez Sr. deserves credit for welcoming those in and not pushing back in a fit of pique. He was convinced that bringing on Gamache and Harmon was in his son’s best interest and that the three of them had to work collaboratively to benefit Teofimo II.

Commey, though, would be a tough match if Lopez had the greatest team of trainers in boxing history in his corner and didn’t face any distractions. He’s a skilled, smart professional fighter who is fighting with a chip on his shoulder because of a perceived lack of respect.

If I were convinced that Lopez is fully over the personal issues, he’d be my pick in the fight. He’s the greater physical talent and has the tools to mature into one of boxing’s biggest stars.

But those kinds of issues have a way of wearing on a boxer and Commey is too good to face at anything less than your best.

As a result, I’m going with Commey by decision.

As for the main event, expect Terence Crawford, an overwhelming -2000 favorite over challenger Egidijus Kavaliauskas in their bout for Crawford’s WBO welterweight title, to cruise to an easy victory and perhaps stop the Lithuanian. Kavaliauskas is +1200 at the MGM.

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