Richard Commey was a title challenger in waiting, whose view was limited to that of spectator for ESPN’s boxing telecast immediately following network coverage of the annual Heisman Award trophy presentation at this point one year ago.

Ironically, that telecast included unbeaten Teofimo Lopez, who capped a 2018 Prospect of the Year campaign with a highlight reel 1st round knockout of Mason Menard. Fast forward 51 weeks later, and now it’s Commey’s chance to end his breakout year in style as he defends his lightweight title versus Lopez, now his mandatory challenger.

 “I have waiting a long time to be able to showcase my talents to the American public,” Commey (29-2, 26KOs) told ahead of Saturday’s lightweight title fight, which airs live on ESPN from Madison Square Garden in New York City. 

The bout will immediately trail ESPN’s offering of the 2019 Heisman Trophy Ceremony, honoring the nation’s top college football player. The event serves as the lead-in to a Top Rank boxing card from MSG property, with both taking place barely a city mile apart. Saturday’s show will mark Lopez’s second such showcase while in his first career title fight.

The opposite holds true for Commey, who makes the second defense of the lightweight title he acquired this past February—also football themed, coming on the eve of the NFL’s Super Bowl—while appearing in this slot for the first time.

“I couldn’t have asked for a bigger stage than this, MSG live on ESPN on Heisman trophy night, wow,” notes Commey, who fights for the third straight time on ESPN, all in title fights.

The hard-luck veteran from Ghana came up just short in back-to-back fights in 2016, dropping a heartbreaking 12-round loss to then-unbeaten Robert Easter Jr. in their vacant title fight and then a controversial decision to Denis Shafikov in their title eliminator three months later in Moscow, Russia. Five straight wins have followed, including his last four coming inside the distance.

An emphatic 6th round stoppage of Alejandro Luna put Commey in position to challenge for the lightweight title, sitting back and allowing Easter to face Mikey Garcia in a unification bout with the assurance of getting first dibs at the winner. It turned out to be Garcia, who dragged out the process for months before finally relinquishing the title in favor of a more lucrative challenge of unbeaten welterweight titlist Errol Spence.

Commey was named first in line for the vacant title, with his bout versus Chaniev ordered last November. Three months later, came his long-awaited second attempt at becoming a champion. His knockout win over Chaniev was followed by an 8th round stoppage of former titlist Rey Beltran, with both bouts airing live on ESPN as will Saturday’s showdown versus Lopez (14-0, 11KOs). 

Through patience—and frustration—have come the rewards he’s long sought. Winning the title, however, wasn’t the end game, nor is merely appearing on Saturday’s Heisman-themed Garden party. A win will pave the way for a coveted World championship showdown versus unified titlist and pound-for-pound entrant Vasiliy Lomachenko at some point in 2020.

“When my hand is raised in victory it would be the end of an amazing year for me,” admits Commey. “To win the world title and to defend it twice with a victory at the mecca of boxing is what dreams are made off. It will cap a tremendous year and also cement myself amongst the top fighters and earn me the respect and recognition I think I deserve.”

Jake Donovan is a senior writer for Twitter: @JakeNDaBox