Boxing Monthly Mailbox: Lopez, GB prospects and Usyk
Photos (top to bottom): Al Bello/Getty Images; Richard Heathcote/Getty Images; Nathan Stirk/Getty Images
The Boxing Monthly Mailbox returns this week, as Tom Craze considers talking points focused on the potential of Teofimo Lopez, the next generation of GB talent and Oleksandr Usyk's heavyweight mission...
Is Teofimo Lopez the real deal? Can he beat Vasyl Lomachenko?
Tom Craze: There's a strong argument that Lopez is currently the hottest young property in world boxing. Emerging fighters, particularly in the US, can do no better than to have the expert guidance of Top Rank to help map their progress, and it's clear that his handlers have considerable faith in him. At 21 years old, Lopez (12-0, 10 KOs) has already blasted through a two-time world title challenger in Diego Magdaleno and will next turn to Edis Tatli - a man with considerable European title pedigree also once edged out at world level - on 20 April. That Lopez is expected to win that fight as a formality merely underlines his burgeoning reputation.
Technically, Lopez is already excellent, polished to a degree that belies his 12-fight status. He's quick, aggressive, a spiteful puncher and, on the evidence to date, a clinical finisher. Add in his social media meme-friendly soundbites and extravagant - perhaps even over-the-top - celebrations and you have a promoter's dream.
Can he beat Lomachenko? As much as Lopez is already on the fringes of the title scene at 135lbs - and I'd give him a better shot at beating the Ukrainian than almost any other lightweight yet to challenge him - I think that's a step too far. The gap is closing, though.
British boxing is in somewhat of a transition. With the likes of Groves, Bellew, DeGale and more all having retired in the past year or so, who will lead the next generation of UK fighters?
It says much about the healthy state of the sport that the departure of a raft of hugely successful names hasn't felt like a damaging blow to its recent upward trajectory in the UK. Add in Carl Froch and David Haye to the list above and you have the backbone of the British scene at the top level for the past decade, with all five having won world titles and headlined PPVs.
Of the new wave, few seem likely to succeed either Joshua or Fury (and perhaps one day there will be a clear answer as to which of the two really leads the way) in the immediate future, but there's plenty of talent being primed to make a breakthrough in the next year or so -- and, always with this kind of conjecture, there will inevitably be some surprise packages that announce themselves or quieten the critics, too. After all, who'd have ever predicted Tony Bellew to be a film-star, pay-per-view main event at heavyweight, and challenger to the undisputed cruiserweight crown this time ten years ago?
It's hard to shake the feeling that Joshua Buatsi is the crown jewel of the latest British vanguard, and the new British champion is yet to put a foot wrong in the professional ranks, where his explosive style is perfectly at home. Ask me to invest in just one name and it'd be him. Elsewhere though, there's much to be excited about: he's unlikely to be facing Buatsi any time soon, but fellow London light-heavyweight Anthony Yarde is just one fight from being a world champion in a red-hot weight class, and Queensberry stablemate Daniel Dubois, just 21, is a heavyweight worthy of the hype, although will be developed with caution.
There were some excellent nominations on the BM Twitter thread for this. Lawrence Okolie and Joe Joyce both might look ungainly from time to time, but good luck to the opponents trying to solve those particular physical puzzles. Both will surely reach world level, while Charlie Edwards, Josh Taylor, and Callum - all still approaching their peak - are already there. From the amateurs, the safest picks look to be Peter McGrail, Pat McCormack, and Frazer Clarke after, all being well, they turn over after competing for Team GB at Tokyo 2020.
How will Usyk fare at heavyweight?
I think he’ll do very well indeed. Likely no worse than the second-best cruiserweight of all time, Usyk – a quicksilver 6’3” southpaw who’s equally comfortable on the back foot as well as going forward – brings a whole new dimension to the heavyweight division.
He’s certainly got the frame to fill out even more, although when you consider Deontay Wilder has weighed in sub-215lbs for his last two contents, mass alone - or a lack of - isn’t going to be the deciding factor. Usyk’s win over Joyce - a man whose size and brute physicality is already standing him in good stead since switching codes – in WSB has been used frequently as a reference point of late, and the feeling is that it’s a reliable one.
The recent confirmation that Usyk will be making his professional heavyweight bow against Carlos Takam in May demonstrates that those managing him are of the firm belief that he is – to echo Evander Holyfield’s moniker – the real deal. There’ll be no Tom Schwarz-style ‘exposure fight’ here.
Usyk is a very strong 1/8 betting favourite to dispatch of Takam – a man who’s fought around 240lbs for much of the past decade – and yet few will be tempted to pick the upset. To give those odds some context, Usyk was the 1/5 favourite in a potential meeting with Alexander Povetkin, and the Russian, by any reputable rankings, is still clearly a top 10 heavyweight.
Should he face off against Joshua, the layers say the Brit would be a firm 2/9 favourite. By contrast, Joshua is 1/7 to beat Jarrell Miller – another top 10 heavy – in June. Going by the numbers alone (how Usyk would get on against a 300lb+ Miller, away from the hypotheticals, is perhaps another debate), the bookies say Usyk is already operating in the upper echelons – and that’s before he’s even thrown a punch.