The brilliant Vasyl Lomachenko is back in the ring this weekend - boxing expert Chris Oliver is predicting a thorough workout for the veteran fighter.
The novelty of boxing behind closed doors may have worn off but a busy schedule is now in place for the rest of 2020 and it kicks off with a big night of action on both sides of the Atlantic this weekend.
The vociferous support Lewis Ritson receives in the North East is well known but he will have to do without that noisy backing when he takes on Miguel Vazquez at the East of England Arena in Peterborough on Saturday night.
The Mexican has made eight successful defences of the IBF lightweight title he won in 2010 and is undoubtedly the best man Ritson has faced to date, but he has been on the slide since losing that belt in 2014, and that is reflected in the betting as he enters as a 6/1 underdog. The decline has been a slow one, though, and the 33-year-old is still very capable, so Ritson will need to be on his game if he's to justify odds of 1/8.
The Newcastle man gained his large following by tearing through the domestic lightweight scene in thrilling and rapid fashion, winning the Lonsdale belt outright in just eight months, but the step up to European level proved too much when outpointed by Francesco Patera two years ago.
Weight troubles were blamed and a move to light welterweight followed, with two routine wins before facing his first big test at 140lb against Robbie Davis Jr last October. There was very little between the pair at the caldron of the Newcastle Arena but most observers felt the right man got the nod when Ritson was awarded a unanimous decision and he showed signs that he had learned lessons from his sole defeat.
While still looking happiest when the pair traded leather, the 27-year-old showed he can box when backed up and displayed a good engine over the championship distance, confirming he is much more comfortable with the extra 5lbs. However, the jury is still very much out as to whether he has carried his power up to the new division and he will need it if he's going to get rid of the durable visitor.
Vazquez may have lost five of his 13 outings since losing his world title, but only two of those were by stoppage and there was no shame in either loss, as Josh Taylor (ninth round KO) has gone on to big things since their 2017 clash, and he was boxing up at welterweight when retiring after nine rounds against Thulani Mbenge. He showed he still has plenty to offer when losing a very close fight on the cards against Ohara Davies when he was last on these shores in June 2019 and he is not an easy nights' work for anybody. His longevity can be put down to his good defensive skills and it's hard to see Ritson having an early night.
Ritson had plenty of success with his powerful left hook against Davies Jr but landing that money shot make will be trickier this time as it's unlikely Vazquez will want to engage as much as the Liverpudlian did that night. 'The Sandman' boasts a ramrod jab, and that could be the key to this fight, with the cagey underdog possibly forcing a more patient approach from the favourite.
Everything points to plenty of rounds here and that hasn't escaped the layers, with a best price of 4/7 available about it going the distance. Ritson is 15/8 to win by stoppage and if he does so it will probably be in the second half of the fight, which could be tempting at 4/1, but wearing down this tough and wily veteran will not be easy and a decision win for the younger man looks far more likely at 8/11.
The biggest fight since boxing returned takes place in the early hours of Sunday morning when Vasyl Lomachenko faces Teofimo Lopez in a hotly-anticipated unification contest in Las Vegas.
In a bout being shown in the UK on Fite TV, three lightweight world titles are on the line as Lomachenko's peerless boxing brain and skill go up against the power and strength of Lopez.
Both men have had 15 professional fights but their journeys to this point have been very different.
Arguably the greatest amateur ever with a record of 396-1 in a vest, Lomachenko has bounced back from a controversial loss when challenging for a world title in just his second paid outing by become a three-weight world champion in double-quick time and the manner in which he has done so has been more impressive that the achievement itself. The Ukrainian maestro forced four consecutive world class opponents to quit on their stool during his reign at super featherweight in 2016/17 and his ability to bamboozle his foes has earned him the nickname of 'The Matrix'.
Lopez has long been touted as one of the hottest prospects in the game and delivered on that promise when capturing the IBF title with a stunning second-round stoppage of the notoriously tough Richard Commey in December, a real statement which suggested all the hype was justified. The fact that the universally revered Lomachenko is 'only' 1/4 tells you just how highly rated Lopez is and there are plenty of people who believe the 10/3 shot can upset the odds.
While Lomachenko could easily still be fighting at lower weights, the American is huge for the 135lb division and will be much the bigger man on the night. He also boasts a big reach advantage and is very much the puncher in this fight, with his devastating power displayed on numerous occasions. His excellent left hook and big straight right hand are both shots that are traditionally effective for orthodox fighters against southpaws, but the problem for him is his opponent is no ordinary southpaw.
Sublime footwork, reflexes and judge of distance make Lomachenko very hard to hit cleanly, but also allow him to attack from all sorts of angles. Add this to his constant feints and excellent combinations and you have a very tricky puzzle to solve.
However, there have been slight signs that age and a long time in the sport may be catching up with him a little. The double Olympic champion has looked a lot more human in his two wins either side of a four-round demolition of Anthony Crolla and although both Jose Pedraza and Luke Campbell were widely outpointed, the champion was made to work and think hard on both occasions. He was also dropped before stopping Jorge Linares in his first fight at lightweight and he can't afford to be caught with a similar right hand by Lopez.
Lopez wouldn't be the first hot prospect to stop an ageing champion and you have to fancy his best chance is early, with Lomachenko not noted as a fast starter and those favouring the underdog will be happy with the 12/1 about him winning in rounds 1-6.
However, it is hard to side with the potential of Lopez against the proven greatness of Lomachenko, who has a habit of working his opponent out with his unrivalled ring IQ. The latter often likes to take a look at his opponent early doors and this could be very close in the opening half of the fight, but once he has calculated the information in front of him then he can take over and dominate down the stretch, very much as he did against Campbell in London last August.
Similar to that night at the O2 Arena, he looks likely to have to do it via the scorecards (10/11) as, unless Lopez has really struggled to make the weight, Lomachenko will do very well to stop the bigger man, especially with his punches seemingly having less effect up at lightweight.
Posted at 2230 BST on 15/10/20
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