Despite this being his first ever title shot and the most dangerous test of his young career, 22-year-old Teofimo Lopez wore the same demeanor into the ring as in his previous fourteen appearances. That being the look of a young man on the threshold of greatness. The look of a fighter, with complete conviction and confidence, chasing his destiny.
Entering Madison Square Garden to the tune of “Empire State of Mind”, you could just feel the exuberance and supreme confidence in Lopez’s stride. One sensed that Richard Commey had no idea the magnitude of the challenge in front of him. One sensed “The Takeover” was about to begin.
The first round was fought at a modest pace, both punchers jockeying for position and looking to set one another up for the shot that would electrify the crowd. It didn’t come in the first round, but less than a minute into round two, Commey and Lopez exchanged right hands and then … boom! Commey was gone. First his knee hit the deck; then he fell face forward as he tried too quickly to get up. It almost felt like we’d been transported back to 1986 and were watching Trevor Berbick flounder around the ring after a 21-year-old Mike Tyson knocked him into next week.
Needless to say, it didn’t take long for Teofimo to finish his man. He smelled blood, and while referee Dave Fields deemed Commey fit to continue, Lopez was all over him, battering him from pillar to post until Fields stepped in shortly after.
“I’m at a loss for words right now. This is a dream come true,” said Lopez. “Commey is a bad man. His shot could’ve done the same to me if he hit me with that shot. You all know who I want to fight next. 2020 is going to be a big year. ‘The Takeover’ has arrived, and you haven’t seen anything yet.”
Unified lightweight champion Vasiliy Lomachenko, who was ringside last night, was amenable to the unification, which according to Bob Arum should take place in Madison Square Garden in April.
“We want to ‘unificate’ all four titles,” said Lomachenko. “Now he’s a world champion so he’s in position to fight me.”
The atmosphere was so electric following Teofimo’s win that it was easy to forget the the main event of the night had yet to take place as arguably the pound-for-pound best fighter in the world, Terence “Bud” Crawford was about to step into the ring. It was a match destined to be forgettable in many fans’ eyes anyway, given how easily most figured “Bud” would dispatch Egidijus “Mean Machine” Kavaliauskas.
However, any groaning and moaning about the Crawford-Mean Machine match-up went out the window in round three when the unheralded challenger jarred “Bud” with a right hand that sent the champion sprawling to the canvas.
“I wasn’t hurt at all,” said “Bud” later. “I got up and went straight to him. I wasn’t hurt by no means. I walked through everything he threw all night.” Crawford appeared toalmost take offense in the post-fight press conference when the media pestered him on the question. It was a moot point, however, as referee Ricky Gonzalez ruled it a slip. But even if it wasn’t an official knockdown, the message was clear: “Mean Machine” had come to fight.
But despite feeling the challenger’s power, “Bud” really put the heat on Kavaliauskas in the coming rounds, tattooing the Lithuanian with pinpoint shots to the head and body out of both stances. “Mean Machine” remained dangerous, however, staying in the pocket like a cobra waiting to strike, and landing some heavy leather of his own. It wasn’t until round seven that his body finally began to give, as Crawford floored the challenger with an overhand right out of the orthodox stance.
Kavaliauskas appeared beaten physically at this point, but that didn’t stop him from getting to his feet and mounting a game effort for as long as he could. However, two more knockdowns in round nine led to the end as Terence “Bud” Crawford retained his WBO welterweight championship of the world.
“I thought I had to entertain ya’ll for a little bit,” said Crawford who was forced to dig deeper than just about anyone in attendance expected him to. “He’s a strong fighter, durable, and I thought I’d give the crowd something to cheer for.” Then, addressing the elephant in the room, Crawford declared that he was “not ducking anyone on the PBC side or Top Rank platform. I want to fight all the top guys.”
With Errol Spence recovering from his October car accident, the name that’s currently being mentioned by different people is former two-time welterweight champion Shawn Porter, who is affiliated with PBC. “Bud” said afterwards that his mind is not currently on a fight with “Showtime” Shawn, but insisted that if himself and Porter want that fight to take place, the promotional powers that be should be a non-issue.
Probably easier said than done, considering the welterweight conglomerate that PBC has in their stable, but Porter is by no means their cash cow. That doesn’t make him disposable either, and certainly Arum and Haymon would have their work cut out for them in putting a deal together. Either way, let’s hope “Bud” Crawford can escape from the Top Rank exclusive cohort of sub-tier welterweights in 2020, for the greater good of his legacy and the sport. — Alden Chodash