For only the third time in his 14 fight professional career, 21-year-old Teofimo Lopez heard the final bell when he fought tough Japanese contender Matsuyoshi Nakatani in an IBF Lightweight final eliminator at the MGM National Harbor, in Oxon Hill, Maryland.
Lopez who has been making short work of his opponents since he last went the distance in a 6 rounder against Juan Pablo Sanchez back in February 2018, found the 30-year-old Nakatani a much tougher proposition than his recent foes. At just under 6 foot tall, Nakatani, from Osaka, Japan was able to keep Lopez subdued in the early rounds using his long jab and right hand. After the 3rd, Lopez started to adjust and get inside Nakatani's reach and work the body, a good right hand dropped the Japanese fighter, but he got up looking unhurt.
Nakatani stayed with Lopez for the remainder of the fight, making it competitive, although Lopez was pulling away on the scorecards. Nakatani landed some good right hands in the later rounds, making Lopez work hard for the win. It was probably just what the young and talented Lopez needs before he goes on to challenge champion Richard Commey for the title later this year.
Promoter Bob Arum, commented after the 118-110, 118-110, and 119-111 decision was announced that the plan was to go ahead with the Commey fight, but that he didn't think Lopez was ready for P4P king Vasiliy Lomachenko who Lopez has been calling out for some time now.
Even if Lopez had blitzed Nakatani in the early rounds, there would still be very few believers to the theory that Lopez could compete at the level Lomachenko is currently performing at.
12 hard rounds in a competitive fight were exactly what Lopez needed right now, and he will be a better fighter for the experience. Hopefully, Nakatani will be given further opportunities, as he would start as favourite to beat some of the other top contenders.
Lopez who was confidently boasting beforehand "Expect another badass knockout" needs to realise that his upcoming challenge to Richard Commey may not be the easy route to world championship status he is expecting.