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Teofimo Lopez UD 12 Vasiliy Lomachenko is The Ring Magazine Upset of the Year

Teofimo Lopez, a 3-to-1 underdog vs. pound-for-pound player Vasiliy Lomachenko, beat the three-division titleholder at his own game, outpointing the master boxer over 12 rounds in the highest-level upset of 2020.
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Is it still an upset if the fighter who orchestrated the upset is so confident in his ability to pull off the win, so convinced he will dominate, that he makes it seem like the outcome is a given, that if he wins it’s because he was favored all along?

In the case of Teofimo Lopez’s focused and inspired performance against Vasiliy Lomachenko on October 17, there’s really no other way to describe it — despite his enormous self-belief, what Lopez did defied conventional wisdom and impacted, disrupted and changed the course of boxing in 2020.

In short, Lopez, who at just 23 had nowhere near the experience of his vastly more accomplished opponent, wasn’t supposed to win, and he did. That’s the definition of an upset. Because of all this — Lopez’s coming-out-party against the heavily favored Lomachenko is The Ring Magazine 2020 Upset of the Year.

There were some quality upsets this year. Jeison Rosario’s destruction of Julian Williams in January for his unified junior middleweight titles and Robert Helenius’ stoppage of Adam Kownacki in an WBA eliminator in March come to mind. But those results didn’t shake up the sport like Lopez’s victory over Lomachenko. No other outcome in 2020 came close to matching the shock value.

When Lopez (16-0, 12 knockouts) was announced the winner by scores of 116-112, 119-109, 117-111, it had a cascading, domino effect, immediately reshuffling the pound-for-pound rankings; it forced a reassessment of Lomachenko’s historical greatness; launched a new superstar in Lopez and shifted the balance of power in the lightweight division. With the win for The Ring, IBF, WBA and WBO lightweight titles, Lopez vaulted ahead of other boldface names between 130-135 pounds like Ryan Garcia, Gervonta Davis and Devin Haney.

Lomachenko forced a string of fighters to quit (including fellow two-time Olympic champ Guillermo Rigondeaux) en route to being named Ring’s 2017 Fighter of the Year. Photo by Mikey Williams/Top Rank

Of course, Lopez might see this honor as an affront, since he was just doing what he promised he would do (and also perhaps because he’s Ring Magazine’s Co-Fighter of the Year with Tyson Fury and if he’s that good, how could this be an upset?). But Lopez was the rare voice in the wilderness who thought he would win. In a pre-fight poll conducted at The Ring, only two of 20 experts predicted a Lopez victory. And really, how could the poll go any other way?

This was Lomachenko, after all, a figure whose rise was so swift and unprecedented that he set a record nearly every time he fought. He was one of the most decorated amateurs ever, winning gold twice as an Olympian; he collected a world title in just his third fight (tying a record), captured titles in three weight divisions in just 12 fights (a record); he made four of his junior lightweight opponents quit — they just decided they didn’t want to fight anymore (which should be some kind of record for breaking a person’s will).

And Lopez? Well, he was still viewed as a bit of a question mark when he signed to face Lomachenko. A 2016 Olympian from his parents’ home country of Honduras, Lopez was a well-regarded amateur. However, his absence from the U.S. Olympic team likely hurt his visibility, and his signing to Top Rank, while important, wasn’t met with the same fanfare as the arrival of other Olympians, such as Shakur Stevenson, or even Michael Conlan, who made headlines after he called Olympic judges “cheats” following his controversial loss in the quarterfinals.

Instead, Lopez had to create his own buzz. He compared his ring IQ to the intellect of Albert Einstein, his abilities a cross between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Sugar Ray Leonard. He described his rise up the ranks, not as a series of developmental stages, but as “The Takeover.” He called out the lightweight titleholders, eventually securing a bout with IBF champ Richard Commey, whom he blasted out in two rounds last December, setting up the dangerous match with Lomachenko.

Still, it all seemed a little too fast for Lopez, that he may have skipped some steps before taking on a master in Lomachenko. The consensus was that he would come up short, just as Canelo Alvarez was too green when he faced Mayweather in 2013 at just 23, which, coincidentally, is the same age that Lopez was when he faced Lomachenko.

Well, fast-forward to the start of the first round of their bout, and it’s clear that Lopez was more than up to the task. With a minute left in the round, Lomachenko was already retreating, already hyper-aware of Lopez’s physical advantages. Lopez was bigger, faster, stronger, more relaxed, twitchier, quicker.

Regarded as a slow starter, Lomachenko usually spent the opening rounds “downloading information” on his opponents before mounting an attack, but this was different. He wasn’t downloading, he was mostly staying away, probably feeling the same way we all were from the safety of our living room couches — in disbelief over what was happening.

The Upset of the Year produced the co-Fighter of the Year. Photo by Mikey Williams/Top Rank via Getty Images

Lomachenko hadn’t fought since facing Luke Campbell more than a year before and was rusty, but he also seemed risk-averse and unwilling to engage until the eighth round, when he finally began to come forward and attack. Lopez showed his mettle, fighting off Lomachenko’s incursions in the 11thround, when Lomachenko snapped Lopez’s head back repeatedly and mugged him against the ropes. But as the 11th round came to a close, Lopez actually had Lomachenko backing up, and he continued to press the advantage in the 12th, landing three straight right hands, another right to the body and a big left in the final minute to control the final frame.

As he jumped onto the ropes to celebrate the end of the fight, blood streaming down his face from a head butt, Lopez seemed to realize he had just produced the breakthrough moment of 2020 — and perhaps its most surprising.

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