Andre Ward can appreciate any boxer’s decision to not fight against their will.
What the former two-division world champion and current expert analyst for ESPN wouldn’t like to see happen, however, is for any athlete to have to sit out any longer than expected.
Such is the dilemma currently facing Teofimo Lopez (15-0, 12KOs), the unbeaten lightweight titlist whose planned unification bout with Vasilily Lomachenko (14-1, 10KOs) is presently on hold. The bout was due to take place May 30 at Madison Square Garden in New York, but instead became among a handful of fights to be postponed due to the ongoing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
Lopez and Lomachenko are both promoted by Top Rank, the Las Vegas-based outfit who is looking to stage shows beginning in June and with such events to be closed to the public. It’s a scenario which doesn’t move Lopez, who would rather sit and wait in lieu of an empty arena. The Brooklyn native—who represented Honduras in the 2016 Rio Olympics—has relocated to Jonesboro, Arkansas for health reasons and doesn’t want to do anything that will put himself at risk.
“I’m not in the position to tell top fighters what they should do,” Ward noted to ESPN’s Joe Tessitore during a recent installment of the network’s State of Boxing series. “We have to respect the opinion of each fighter. If Teofimo doesn’t want to fight for his list of reasons—for safety—in front of an empty arena, and just in front of individuals [at home] streaming the event, I respect it. That’s good enough for him.”
On the other side of the equation is the suggestion that Lomachenko will prefer a stay-busy fight once the sport as a whole is able to resume, rather than go into such a fight on the heels of a lengthy layoff. The two-time Olympic Gold medalist from Ukraine and three-division titlist hasn’t fought since scoring a 12-round win over Luke Campbell last August in England.
Lopez is coming off of a career-best victory, blasting out Richard Commey in two rounds to win a lightweight belt. The ESPN-televised win helped set up what will serve as his greatest in-ring opportunity to date, although such a fight is indefinitely on hold until mass gatherings are once again permitted in the United States.
While taking the necessary safety precautions can be appreciated, there should perhaps come the balance of ensuring that such a fight remains relevant as the sport’s elite are kept out of the ring for the foreseeable future.
“I understand Teofimo’s stance on the Loma fight situation,” notes Ward, who—from his own experience and also that of an observer and current boxing manager—offers his own free advice. “For me personally, I would not… that’s a step-up level of fight, the biggest step-up he’s ever faced. The biggest risk, the biggest money he’s been handed. I’m not personally going into a fight of that magnitude under these circumstances.
“What I would push for after I’ve done my due diligence, is a tune-up a fight. In fact, I will take this a step further. I would ask for a tune-up fight alongside Lomachenko so that we could stay at the forefront of the public eye. So that when all is well, we are able to resume back to business as usual. Whatever that looks like, now people are clamoring for an event between these two and it’s a fight that fans haven’t forgotten about.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox