The younger, bigger man also turned to be the better man Saturday night, and Teofimo Lopez holds four lightweight belts around his waist today like a fancy gold equator.
Lopez, 23, rolled up a big lead over Vasiliy Lomachenko in the early rounds, endured a rush by the 32-year-old Lomachenko and nailed it down with a strong 12th round. At the end he still had enough energy to do his customary somersault, even though he was still bleeding from Lomachenko’s accidental head butt in the 12th.
Julie Lederman judged the fight 119-109 for Lopez. Tim Cheatham’s 116-112 card seemed a bit more reasonable, and Steve Weisfeld scored it 117-111.
Lopez goes to 16-0 and Lomachenko, considered one of the best fighters in the world, fell to 14-2. Through it all, it looked very much like a guy who is headed to super-lightweight against a guy who probably will head back down to super-featherweight.
Lomachenko could not get inside Lopez early in the fight and was frustrated by Lopez’s refusal to make a big mistake. When he did go on offense in the eighth round, he couldn’t put enough of them together to get Lopez in trouble.
Regardless of the result, Lopez found himself in the lightweight vortex, and on Saturday night prime-time, in just his 16th professional fight.
At 23 he is the drum major of an aggressive parade of boxing undergrads, the ones who might revive the pay-per-view industry and dominate the rest of the decade.
Lopez and super-featherweight Shakur Stevenson are 23-year-old champions. Welterweight Vergil Ortiz is one year younger than that. Jaron “Boots” Ennis of Philadelphia might be the most dynamic of all, and he’s a 23-year-old welterweight. Jaime Munguia has fought at middleweight and super-middleweight. He’s 24.
They are joined, hurriedly, by 168-pound Edgar Berlanga, 23, who came out in pink trunks and malevolent eyes. Berlanger brutalized Lanell Bellows, opened up a cut under his left eye, and got the TKO in a minute and 19 seconds.
“That first shot, I cut him open,” Berlanga said. “I saw his eyes and I saw that he didn’t want to be in there any more. So I had to get him out of there.”
That was Bellows’ 28th professional fight and the first time he didn’t finish a fight, let alone a first round. Belanga continues his streak of never hearing a second bell. He has 15 first round knockouts in 15 rounds.
At the end Berlanger jumped on the turnbuckle and yelled “I’m a (bleeping) monster!” to the handful of Las Vegas first responders on hand. Then he did 10 pushups under the eye of trainer Andre Rozier.
“I was supposed to do a stepover and then let go of the right hand, was supposed to pivot,” Berlanga said, smiling. “I didn’t do none of that. So I had to pay.”
The Top Rank bubble, at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, has shoved other fighters, ones who didn’t launch out of the starting gate, onto boxing’s empty stage. They found themselves in prime time, ready or not.
Arnold Barboza Jr., born in Long Beach and living in El Monte, was drawn into the vacuum in the lead-in to Lomachenko-Lopez. He is 24-0 and still anonymous. He was trapped in the world of the undercards until he sparred with Mike Alvarado, who absorbed and delivered more than his share of brutality. Alvarado recommended Barboza to Top Rank. Barboza repaid Alvarado with a 2019 fourth-round knockout at Staples Center.
At 140 pounds, Barboza came into The Bubble Saturday night with Alex Saucedo in front of him, but with a name to capture.
“There aren’t any fights after this one if I lose,” Barboza said.
He didn’t lose. Barboza did everything a little faster and harder than Saucedo, whose only previous loss was a championship TKO at the hands of Maurice Hooker. The unanimous decision (96-93, 97-92, 92) now makes Barboza a logical opponent for the winner of the super-lightweight unification between Jose Ramirez and Josh Taylor.
Barboza even survived Nevada’s new instant replay system. He went down in the seventh round, but it was ruled a slip after Barboza’s feet got tangled. But replays showed Saucedo clearly landed a left hook that sent Barboza down. So a 10-9 round became a 10-8 round for Saucedo and it still didn’t do him any good.
“My dream is to buy a house for my kids,” Barboza said, choking down emotion. “I came that much closer today. What I want next is a championship fight. No more messing around.”
Boxing’s upward mobility runs on two tracks, Berlanga’s express, Barboza’s local. On both, time is precious.