If boxing had been enjoying a renaissance, it was epitomized by the prospect of Vasiliy Lomachenko and Teofimo Lopez Jr. fighting for a truly unified title -- all four lightweight belts, May 30 at Madison Square Garden.
No, it wasn't yet signed. Nor does Lomachenko's designation as the WBC's "franchise champion" (as opposed to its "champion in recess," whatever that means) merit any discussion here. It's enough to know that unlike the other prospective super fights -- Tyson Fury-Anthony Joshua, Errol Spence-Terence Crawford or even a nascent provocation on social media like Ryan Garcia and Gervonta "Tank" Davis -- neither party has to cross promotional lines. This fight wasn't merely doable. It had the air of inevitability.
According to Lopez, Lomachenko wanted a 70-30 split of a pay-per-view. "He's trying to cash out in case he loses," he says. "Which he will."
Lopez was looking for a 55-45 split on free TV. But he'd settle for 60-40. He knows Loma has three belts to his one. But those were just numbers. Whatever the split, the winner would make more than a score. It would confer a kind of immortality. No, really.
For Lopez, it would mean beating a legend.
For Lomachenko, it would mean defying perhaps the oldest script in the game: the young star dispatching with an older one. But Lopez, at 22, isn't merely a decade younger, he's a hell of a lot bigger than Loma, who isn't even a true lightweight.
This fight had everything; not just a stylist versus a slugger, but the two most diametrically opposite boxing dads in their sons' corners. Anatoly Lomachenko, who has won a slew of Trainer of the Year awards, says nothing, and Teofimo Sr. has proven himself unable to stop talking and refrain from antagonizing the Lomachenkos.
Then, of course, came the coronavirus pandemic.
On March 16, the young fighter made a decision that belied both his youth and his reputation for failing to proceed with caution. While Lopez has one-punch power, he also has asthma. "I can't get COVID-19," he says. "Even if I recover, it would scar my lungs permanently. That would affect my career."
Or conceivably -- and anything seems conceivable at this point -- end it.
So he rented a Chrysler minivan, filled it with his newlywed bride, Cynthia, her misgivings at leaving their Brooklyn apartment, their three dogs, and a haul of paper towels, bottled water, disinfectant wipes and frozen bread. In about 17 hours, they'd arrive in Jonesboro, Arkansas at the home of his in-laws. Teofimo was exhausted. He had a pinched nerve in his back, and hadn't been able to workout in a while. But in such less-densely populated surroundings, at least he felt safer.
Then came the tornado. Actually, from what he could see, there were two tornadoes that came together in the distance. It was a bizarre mating dance, as two pillars became a single gargantuan monstrosity, 600 yards wide, headed straight for them. Or so it seemed.
A tornado has a distinct color, that of dirt and dust. But as it approaches, you can also make out a texture defined by the detritus lifted into its swirl. Lopez could see planks of wood from someone's shed, uprooted billboard signs, twisted metal, tires and propellers from aircraft at the local air strip. And it was all coming fast - with winds up to 147 mph.
Everyone in the house -- Cynthia, Lopez's brother-in-law, his niece and nephew, ages 14 and 9, crammed into a coat closet. Lopez held a mattress above them, in case something should come crashing down. Cynthia held onto the kids. They waited, just a little. They prayed. Nothing complicated. Please, Lord protect us ...
He didn't think about dying. "There wasn't really time for that," Lopez says.
He just stood there, holding the mattress over everybody. The house began to vibrate. Then shake. Then the shaking became more violent. You could hear things crashing outside, items dropping off shelves.
IBF lightweight champion Teofimo Lopez is okay after a tornado struck the town of Jonesboro, Arkansas.
It lasted 16 minutes. But they still didn't feel safe. "We thought we were in the eye of the storm, and it was coming back at any moment," Lopez says. "But we were only on the edge of it."
After a while, they cleaned up as best they could. Outside, a fence had been destroyed. A trampoline had landed upside down, having been tossed across the yard like a small toy.
Jonesboro would report 22 injuries, no fatalities. But the neighborhood was decimated.
Lopez hadn't been able to work out in weeks, thanks to the aforementioned pinched nerve. Social distancing didn't help much, either -- not if you're accustomed to working in a boxing gym. But now Lopez had to take some inventory -- of himself and his situation. His brother-in-law had a treadmill and a weight set. There was a heavy bag in the garage. Time to get back to work.
But he's 160 pounds, 25 pounds over the lightweight limit, and the most he has ever been.
Going back a year, Lopez has said that the only thing that could prevent a showdown with Lomachenko was weight. He was already bursting, ready to go to 140.
Of course. So this was how the great fight wouldn't happen. No one knows when boxing will return, but when it finally does, it was difficult to imagine Lopez still at 135.
"No, I'll make it," he says quietly. "This fight is going to happen."
"As long as we have adequate time to prepare, I don't foresee it being a problem," says his nutritionist, Paulina Indara of Perfecting Athletes. "Teofimo matured so much as a man and a fighter. He knows he's responsible for himself and his wife. He knows how to buckle down. He knows the script he has to follow. As a team, we can do it."
These aren't days that inspire much optimism, of course. But if you think about it, why not?
You stand over your family with a tornado tearing through the town.
You keep doing everything you can to survive a modern-day plague.
After all that, making 135 is nothing.