Opening Bell: Lomachenko-Garcia not realistic
NEW YORK -- After pound-for-pound king Vasiliy Lomachenko finished scoring a wide, but tough, unanimous decision over Jose Pedraza to unify two lightweight world titles on Saturday night at the sold-out Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden, he answered how he always does when he's asked who he wants next.
Lomachenko (12-1, 9 KOs), his face marked up with a small cut next to his left eye after his 119-107, 117-109, 117-109 victory that included knocking down the game Pedraza (25-2, 12 KOs) twice in the 11th round, didn't need to ponder the question. For the past few fights, he's had the same name on his lips: fellow lightweight titlist Mikey Garcia (39-0, 30 KOs), whom most view as the only fighter from featherweight to lightweight who would give Lomachenko a competitive fight and perhaps beat him.
"Maybe next year we can make a fight with Mikey Garcia," Lomachenko said of one of the best possible fights in boxing.
But here's the cold reality for anyone who lives in the real world and not in the land of make-believe fantasy fights: Lomachenko-Garcia ain't happening anytime soon, if ever. Forget about it, and don't blame the messenger.
Other than Terence Crawford, Lomachenko is Top Rank's most significant star fighter. Top Rank is exclusive to ESPN. And while Top Rank is most definitely willing to work with other promoters and has on a variety of recent fights, if you want to fight the company's big dogs, you fight on ESPN. Period. End of conversation. Even though I'm not privy to the particulars of the ESPN/Top Rank deal, I can assure you that Lomachenko is not leaving ESPN even for a one-off fight.
Garcia, at least for now, is tied to Al Haymon and Premier Boxing Champions, which has deals with Showtime and Fox. Garcia is making the audacious move to jump up two weight classes to challenge heavy favorite Errol Spence Jr. for his welterweight title March 16 on a Fox pay-per-view. It seems unlikely Garcia, win or lose, will ever fight as a lightweight again. He has already won a junior welterweight title, and that seems like the division he will wind up in post-Spence. Lomachenko is a small lightweight and may have reached his weight ceiling. He said leading up to the Pedraza fight he didn't think he would move up to junior welterweight.
But weight aside, even if Garcia pushed for the fight, I'm doubtful. There is massive bad blood between Garcia and Top Rank, which used to promote him. Garcia's attempt to break his contract with Top Rank a few years ago was ultimately successful, but it cost him 2½ years of his prime while he sat out fighting the case. Neither side wants to do business with the other.
Even though Haymon has been willing to send his lesser fighters to the other side of the street -- John Molina, Felix Diaz and perhaps Luis Collazo as a future opponent for Crawford -- he won't, I repeat, he won't send his A fighters off one of his platforms, just like Top Rank won't. Haymon won't even have a conversation with Top Rank about such a fight, much less make a deal.
Some might say, hey, they could do Lomachenko-Garcia as a joint pay-per-view between ESPN and either Showtime or Fox, and that might be possible, but not if Haymon won't even entertain a discussion.
So forget about Lomachenko-Garcia for the foreseeable future. Don't waste your time on it. Accept reality. It's destined to be another fight we'll never get to see. Or if it does happen, rest assured it will be after its expiration date.
At least Top Rank is making moves that will allow Lomachenko to face solid opponents and/or continue to unify the division. Top Rank's Bob Arum has at least two fights he plans to make for Loma in 2019, and neither faces a hurdle. There's a strong chance that Loma's spring fight will be for a third lightweight title against the winner of the bout between Richard Commey (27-2, 24 KOs) and Isa Chaniev (13-1, 6 KOs) for a vacant title. They are supposed to fight for one of the belts Garcia vacated on ESPN on Feb. 2, although the fight is not official yet. Lomachenko probably would follow that in the summer with a fight against Berchelt, who is co-promoted by Top Rank and Zanfer Promotions. As for a Lomachenko fight in the fall, who knows what the future will bring? But it's almost certainly not going to be one with Garcia.
After a mostly glorious 45-year run as the gold standard of televised boxing, HBO ended its legendary run Saturday night in ignominious fashion with an utterly forgettable tripleheader of noncompetitive, uninteresting fights. I know HBO's boxing history inside and out, and to me it was the weakest card in network history, one so poor that literally only a few hundred fans showed up at the StubHub Center in Carson, California, despite it being a popular venue that has hosted numerous fights.
The A-sides all cruised to pedestrian victories, as Cecilia Braekhus (35-0, 9 KOs) retained her undisputed women's welterweight title over Aleksandra Magdziak Lopes, (18-5-3, 1 KO) by scores of 100-90 (twice) and 99-91; junior bantamweight contender Juan Francisco Estrada (38-3, 26 KOs) forced Mexican countryman Victor Mendez (28-4-2, 20 KOs) to retire on his stool after seven one-sided rounds; and unified women's middleweight titlist Claressa Shields (8-0, 2 KOs) retained her belts by shutout scores of 100-90 across the board against Femke Hermans (9-2, 3 KOs) on a card devoid of competition.
The atmosphere on television came across as one of a funeral even though the telecast was a worthy send-off, other than the poor fights HBO became known for over the past few years as its position in boxing was reduced against heavier competition.
I thought broadcaster Jim Lampley and crew had the perfect tone during an emotional send-off. I appreciated the brief return of legendary broadcaster Larry Merchant to chat with Lampley, and he kept it real, as always.
The telecast's beautiful opening highlight reel set the stage. The closing comments from broadcasters Roy Jones, Max Kellerman and Lampley were from the heart, and producer Dave Harmon's 11-plus-minute closing feature of highlights from HBO's epic boxing history, narrated by Lampley, was time-capsule material. Then came an expanded closing credits montage that featured the return of the iconic theme music the network shamefully and pointlessly got rid of a few years ago. And, yes, I got choked up watching the bittersweet ending to the greatest boxing franchise ever.
Lopez does the Heisman after one-punch KO
Teofimo Lopez knocks out Mason Menard with a brutal right hand then dons a Kyler Murray jersey and does the Heisman pose.
Prospect watch: Teofimo Lopez
If you are not impressed by the potential of lightweight prospect Teofimo Lopez (11-0, 9 KOs), you just don't know what you are looking at. The 21-year-old is electrifying and talented, with a good boxing head on his shoulders, and is mature in the ring beyond his years and under control outside of it as well.
New York-born, Las Vegas-based Lopez, a 2016 Olympian for his parents' home country of Honduras, finished off his second year as a pro in sensational fashion on the Lomachenko-Pedraza undercard.
Thought to be taking a step up in opposition against Mason Menard (34-4, 24 KOs), 30, of Rayne Louisiana, Lopez destroyed him in extremely crushing fashion in just 44 seconds when he slammed him with an overhand right on the chin and knocked him out face first.
Lopez not only has the talent, but he's also the kind of showman that could be a star, doing his signature backflip and then putting on an Oklahoma Sooners jersey and striking the Heisman Trophy pose in honor of Kyler Murray, who had won the award minutes earlier on the preceding ESPN broadcast.
He has the talent and the kind of charisma and exciting style that could make him a future pay-per-view star. Having the kind of highlight-reel KO that he had against Menard playing over and over on SportsCenter can't hurt.
The next step: He will likely return in February or March, but Top Rank is already toying with the idea of stepping him up to an ESPN main event this time next year on Heisman night in the main arena at Madison Square Garden, matching him with the very credible and difficult Pedraza.
Fights you might have missed
Saturday at Indio, California
Junior lightweight Rene Alvarado (30-8, 20 KOs) W12 Carlos Morales (17-4-3, 6 KOs), title eliminator, scores: 117-111, 116-112, 115-113.
In the main event of a Golden Boy card on Facebook Watch, Alvarado, 29, of Nicaragua, won his sixth fight in a row and moved a step closer to a world title shot against Alberto Machado. He fought through a cut over his left eye, suffered in the third round from an accidental head clash, and outworked and effectively countered Morales, 28, of Los Angeles, who has lost three of his past four fights.
Saturday at Zagreb, Croatia
Heavyweight Filip Hrgovic (7-0, 5 KOs) W8 Kevin Johnson (33-12-1, 17 KOs), scores: 80-71 (three times).
Top heavyweight prospect Hrgovic, 26, a 2016 Olympic bronze medalist for Croatia, was supposed to have a hometown fight against Ytalo Perea (11-3-2, 7 KOs), but Perea dropped out the week of the fight and was replaced by American journeyman Johnson, 39, who is based in Germany and had won a fight a week earlier.
Hrgovic did not get the knockout against the very durable Johnson, who has been stopped only twice in 12 defeats, but he got valuable rounds in the shutout. Hrgovic did come close to stopping Johnson when he dropped him with a flush overhand right in the second round.
Friday at Trujillo Alto, Puerto Rico
Junior bantamweight Jeyvier Cintron (9-0, 4 KOs) W-DQ8 Marvin Solano (21-3, 8 KOs).
Cintron, 23, a Puerto Rico's only two-time Olympic boxer, retained his regional belt when referee Roberto Ramirez disqualified Solano, 28, of Nicaragua, for his dirty tactics. Solano, who got knocked down in the fifth round, threw several low blows, pushed Cintron and lifted him off his feet. He continued to foul, and Ramirez had seen enough.