By Robert Aaron Contreras
Returning on July 19 to New York’s Madison Square Garden, it is clear Teofimo Lopez (13-0, 11 KO) was made for boxing’s grand stage—as much for his brass and post-fight celebrations as for his knockouts.
Top Rank Promotions have moved to give the Brooklyn wunderkind his own card on ESPN+ against the undefeated Masayoshi Nakatani (18-0, 12 KO) in title eliminator. On the line is a matchup with IBF beltholder Richard Commey, who Lopez—never one for reticence—began to point out the flaws the lightweight champion demonstrated over Ray Beltran in his last title defense. Beyond that, Bob Arum and Co. already have plans for a unification against one Vasyl Lomachenko.
In April, Lopez was again at MSG. There he picked up a ruinous knockout, this one over European standout Edis Tatli. Tatli had never before been convincingly defeated—his two losses were by conflicting decisions. But the 21-year-old Lopez, with the perspicacity of a star twice his age, eventually plugged a right hand to Tatli’s midsection that spelled the end of the bout in the fifth round.
One win away from a world title fight, Lopez has been fast-tracked to stardom since his professional debut in 2016. Top Rank had no qualms about signing him directly out of the Summer Olympics in Brazil, where he represented Honduras. The burgeoning puncher so far is dominating his competition, registering 11 knockouts in his first 13 pro contests.
His shining moment in the paid ranks came in 2018, pitted against a hardened contender in Mason Menard. Lopez blew him up with an overhand right in under a minute and the knockout went mainstream for Menard’s collapsing in rigor mortis. It complimented Lopez’s celebratory dancing and prancing earlier that year over Diego Magdaleno.
Magdaleno, a former title challenger himself, was made to look like a complete tomato can. Two leaping left hooks in the seventh period from Lopez left the veteran disheveled, stiffened right up on the canvas.
Nakatani, rated No. 3 in the division by the IBF, does not come close to carrying the same kind of punch and is not nearly the household name Lopez is. But in his own right, Nakatani did enter the sport a touted prospect in Japan and since plied his trade among the country’s quality domestic scene.
While there are no lights as bright as the acme of boxing venues that is MSG, the Japanese underdog has at least served as the headliner back home in nine of his previous 12 fights, dating back to 2014 when he won the OPBF lightweight trinket. He enters the weekend an 11-time defending titleholder—the third tier belt it may be, but still a sought-after strap in Asia that prepares its claimant for the full, 12-round distance.
Most recently, Nakatani extended his unbeaten ledger against the well-experienced puncher Hurricane Futa. He excellently negated the barreling Futa with his immense size, jabbing, and managing the momentum of the contest from a safe distance. Hooks from Nakatani would open up his countryman’s eyebrow and the cut forced the referee to call the bout in the fourth frame. It was just Futa’s second stoppage in 34 bouts.
The Japanese after all has three inches in height and reach on Lopez. That length, with his being just under 6-feet tall, gives Nakatani his best (and only) chance of upending one of the sport’s most promising fighters.
Co-Main Event: Maxim Dadashev (13-0, 11 KO) vs. Subriel Matias (13-0, 13 KO), junior welterweight eliminator
Dadashev, a 28-year-old Russian, is a spectacular talent training out of Oxnard, California under Buddy McGirt as well as a part of Egis Klimas’ ballyhooed stable of Eastern Bloc destroyers. His knockouts have made the rounds but his game revolves around adept, even flashy, footwork.
Marching up the sanctioning body rankings—top 5 by both the WBC and IBF—Dadashev is undefeated, turning away a handful of notable opponents. He is already 1-0 on the year. Typically a slow starter, he got off the canvas in March to defeat Ricky Sismundo by fourth-round knockout.
A grafting left hand in the second round from Sismundo put Dadashev on the ground. But the hotshot puncher, soon after detonated a left hand onto his opponent’s chin, all the while moving backwards, for an impressive finish.
Like most prospects stateside do, the California transplant picked up the NABF belt. And he defended the secondary title over former world champion Antonio DeMarco. Demarco was able to rattle Dadashev some time in Rounds 7 and 10. But Dadashev secured a decision victory, outboxing an aged Demarco the rest of the way.
Matias, 27, may be a lesser-known up-and-comer, but he is no less a dangerous one. The Puerto Rican slugger, who is a world-rated super lightweight by three sanctioning bodies, has yet to be read the scorecards in his professional carer. He is a sound composite puncher, bashing all 13 of his opponents inside of six rounds. This includes two-time Olympian Patrick Lopez and the hard-hitting pair of brothers Breidis and Daulis Prescott.
After making the elder Prescott quit from four rounds of steady punishment, Matias two months later dropped Fernando Saucedo in the opening round. And that was enough to convince the opposing corner to pull their man out. Matias’ victim—whose gaudy record of over 60 wins is par for the course for Argentina’s manufactured, promotional machine—was still technically a former world title challenger. As low as featherweight, sure, but not even a sizable two-divisional champion like Rances Barthelemy could take out Saucedo. It took Matias three minutes.
In March, Matias was at the top of the bill in his native Puerto Rico. He had a welterweight veteran in front of him, giving up inches in height to Wilberth Lopez. The same Lopez to extend the distance a bevy of heavy-handed bangers like Alex Saucedo, Isaac Dogboe and Ivan Baranchyk. Matias banged him out in six rounds.
All told, Matias presents Dadashev a real challenge. In fact, the Russian’s team must be confident in him given the high risk-low reward that a lethal, unheralded puncher like Matias concretizes.