There’s a lot of boxing happening this weekend – Terence Crawford fights David Avanesyan, and there’s a couple of solid cards over in the UK too – but probably the most interesting matchup as far as being a competitive fight relevant on the world scene is this one. Teofimo Lopez takes on his first significant opponent in his step up to 140lbs, as he takes on the crafty Spaniard Sandor Martin.
The fight will be available on ESPN and ESPN+, with the card starting at 8 p.m. ET, and main event ring walks expected around 11 p.m. ET.
At the end of 2020, Teofimo Lopez was on top of the world. His shock win over Vasyl Lomachenko had taken him from ‘up-and-comer’ to ‘the man’, holder of three belts at 135lbs and the first of a rising crop of much-hyped youngsters to beat an old-guard pound-for-pound fighter still in their prime. It was a great performance too, showing off perfect timing and precision to pick off the great Lomachenko as he tried to close in.
Then it all went wrong. Health problems, contractual screw-ups and other disputes meant it took him a year to get back in the ring again, and when he did, against George Kambosos, he didn’t look half of the fighter he did against Lomachenko, falling to a loss that was frankly far wider than the official scores had it. He didn’t look right- the coolness of the Lomachenko fight replaced by a confused over-aggression- and he didn’t take it well, insisting he’d won comfortably and generally embarrassing himself in the aftermath.
He’s still on the rebuild from that. He decided – probably fairly, in honesty- that one of his problems was that making 135lbs was no longer feasible, and made the move to 140lbs. He fought one fight at the weight back in April, but Pedro Campa was not picked to challenge him, so he faces the first real test of his ability in this division this weekend.
Sandor Martin has had a very different sort of career. A pro since 2011, he’s managed 42 fights despite not being 30 till next summer, but Spain can be a difficult scene to break out of and it’s taken time for him to get the chance to really prove himself. He’s been at European championship level for a while – his first attempt a 2017 loss to Anthony Yigit, but since then he’s won and defended the belt- but even that didn’t get him the leverage to move onto world challenges, until Mikey Garcia, trying to rebuild his career after a wide loss to Errol Spence and then a long bout of inactivity, gave him a call late last year to travel to California for a 10 rounder. That was at welterweight, above his normal weight, but it wasn’t really Garcia’s weight either- both came in well under the limit- and he boxed well to score the upset win. That got him enough international notice that when Lopez’ original opponent on this date- Jose Pedraza- pulled out, he was given the opportunity at three weeks notice, and has chosen to jump on it.
The first instinct might be to look at the matchup and think that someone who’s mostly fought at European level and once lost to Anthony Yigit has no business being in the ring against someone who beat Lomachenko. Sure, he’s got that win over Garcia, but there are question marks over how meangingful that really is in 2021 and at welterweight so… what can his chances really be? Those questions are absolutely fair, and it may well turn out to be a bit one sided as levels in skill come to light, but there are reasons to believe that it can be more competitive than that.
The main one of those comes in a comparison of styles, and a look at Teofimo’s past. Against Kambosos, sure, he looked emotionally and physically unready on the night, but there was also one key difference between Lomachenko and Kambosos: the Australian made Lopez come to him. Shorn of the chance to read his opponent’s timing and intercept his movement, Lopez resorted to some crude rushes and overcommitted punches, and ended up on the receiving end of the intercepting shots. He didn’t have the defence to compensate for that and couldn’t muster much of the patience and jab-led steady approach he’d probably have needed to get back on par, and he ended up looking rather out of his depth.
Taken just on its own, that could be written off as a one-off, a bad day at the office, not expected to repeat itself. A further warning sign, though, is thrown up by Lopez’ performance a couple of years earlier, against Masayoshi Nakatani. While happy to come forward, unlike Kambosos, Nakatani is huge for the division, and as such able to throw the shots he wanted long before he was in Lopez’s preferred range. While he got the win in the end, Lopez found himself frustrated for large stretches, struggling to close up that final bit of distance and eating shots because he couldn’t rely on range control to keep himself safe. He was so irritated, in fact, that he declared after the fight that he’d never again fight anyone tall.
Martin isn’t that- he’s shorter than Lopez, in fact, despite having spent most of his career at a higher weight. But he is a committed and effective outboxer with a solid jab and good lateral movement. Out-jabbing Mikey Garcia- even a faded version – is no mean feat, but Martin did it. He also took advantage of Garcia’s responses when he tried to close the gap, showing in particular a nice check left hook from southpaw to step around as his opponent attacked. Both of those things will be useful if Lopez hasn’t found ways to press more safely and patiently than he has till now.
The other potentially relevant issue is that we’ve seen them face-to-face in press conferences this week, and while by no means explosive, things got a little spicy. Normally, that would be barely worth any attention at all, but given Lopez’s history of getting frustrated, it’s worth noting- if Martin can bring that side out of him again, his chances improve a fair bit.
It should be noted that the style match doesn’t entirely lean Martin’s way. A little like Lopez himself, he does tend to rely on distance as his primary form of defence, and can be caught if he doesn’t get out fast enough or misjudges which direction he should circle out in. And whereas Martin isn’t likely to trouble Lopez with his power, the reverse could well be a factor. Even a crude swing can do damage if it gets home, and crude swings have been seen to overwhelm distance-based defences before if a good guard or head movement isn’t there to back them up.
What it comes down to, then, is two fighters who have plenty of skill in their favourite aspects, but perhaps lack layers in their game. The battle will be either who can impose their game best on their opponent- in which history does lean a little towards the underdog- or who can find a little extra in the tank on the night, find a new wrinkle or just show an extra level. The probability of the second likely does lean towards the younger, stronger Lopez, and that balance makes this a more intriguing matchup than perhaps it seems at first glance.
What’s on the undercard?
All about the prospects on this one, with several of the most promising youngsters around on the bill. Jared Anderson, an explosive and exciting heavyweight, Keyshawn Davis, an Olympic silver medalist looking to gatecrash the lightweight scene, and Xander Zayas, a Puerto Rican super-welterweight who was seen by man as last year’s best prospect and has continued strong this year, are the current pick of the bunch, but there are number of others and if you want to take a look at the next generation of American talent this is a good card to start on early.
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