December 8th is going to be a truly spectacular night if you’re a combat sports fan. Not only is there UFC 231, but the top boxing offering of the evening is a Top Rank on ESPN tripleheader headlined by Ukrainian phenom Vasyl Lomachenko (11-1, 9 KOs) taking on Jose Pedraza (25-1, 13 KOs) in a lightweight championship unification bout.
Lomachenko is considered by many to be the #1 pound-for-pound boxer in the world, and when you watch him in the ring and consider the opponents he’s beaten, it’s more than valid to rank him at the very top. The two-time Olympic gold medalist has won major world titles in three weight classes, most recently getting off the canvas and battling through a torn labrum to stop Jorge Linares in the 10th round to become the new WBA champion at 135 lbs. He’s also beaten the likes of Gary Russell Jr, Guillermo Rigondeaux, Rocky Martinez, and Nicholas Walters in his short but spectacular pro career, and he’s now in his first ever unification bout.
Pedraza was the former IBF super-featherweight champion before getting wiped out by Gervonta Davis in January 2017. A period of inactivity ensued, and then he signed with Top Rank earlier this year, getting two quick fights in and then a title shot against then-WBO champion Ray Beltran in August. The Puerto Rican dropped Beltran and won a unanimous decision to not only get the belt, but also a seven-figure payday against Lomachenko. He is only an inch taller than Lomachenko, but will have a 5 1⁄2 inch reach advantage on his opponent.
The odds have Lomachenko as a huge favorite, and understandably so. Pedraza is a talented fighter, but Lomachenko is supremely skilled, and he is an absolute marvel to watch. It’d be great to see him fight Mikey Garcia, but Garcia is busy moving up two weight classes to take on Errol Spence Jr.
If you don’t care for undercards for boxing PPVs, the undercard for this show is worth your time. WBO super-bantamweight champion Isaac Dogboe (20-0, 14 KOs) will defend his title against Mexico’s Emanuel Navarette (25-1, 22 KOs). In a world without Oleksandr Usyk, Dogboe would be the frontrunner for Boxer of the Year, as the Ghanaian burst onto the scene with a knockout of Cesar Juarez, an upset win over Jessie Magdeleno to take the WBO title, and most recently a first-round thrashing of the tough Hidenori Otake. Dogboe is a potential star in the making, which you don’t often say for someone coming out of the 122 lbs division. He has potential to be the best fighter to come out of Ghana since the legendary Azumah Nelson.
Opening the tripleheader is lightweight prospect Teofimo Lopez (10-0, 8 KOs) against veteran gatekeeper Mason Menard (34-3, 24 KOs), in another step-up in competition for Lopez. The 2016 US Olympian has shown plenty of flair and flashy skills, and he might just have another Fortnite dance up his sleeve if he prevails here. He’s only two years into his pro career and could easily find himself against more reputable opponents very soon if he continues to develop at this current rate.
Top Rank on ESPN: Lomachenko vs. Pedraza starts at 9 PM ET/6 PM PT and has a 2 1⁄2 hour time slot, so theoretically the main event shouldn’t bleed into the two title fights at UFC 231. Bloody Elbow will have coverage throughout the week, including play-by-play, analysis, and highlights.