Tuesday, October 03, 2023  |


Teofimo Lopez Jr. puts on a masterpiece in upsetting Josh Taylor for the Ring & WBO junior welter titles

Teofimo Lopez lands a body shot against Josh Tyalor during their Ring Magazine/WBO junior welterweight championship at The Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden on June 10, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images)
Fighters Network

NEW YORK — It was a strange juxtaposition Saturday night before a sold-out crowd of 5,151 at The Theater in Madison Square Garden. On one side was challenger Teofimo Lopez Jr. threatening death on an opponent in the same ring he almost died in 18 months earlier. Across from him was 32-year-old Scottish southpaw, Ring Magazine and WBO junior welterweight titleholder Josh Taylor, promising to be the death of Lopez’s career.

So, the questions loomed, who would be willing to stride into that dark and desolate place where only a fighter’s heart pounds? Who was willing to truly make their talk tangible? Who would be willing to loosen their naked fury for the world to see? Who would be willing to look at their ugly, gnashed side and embrace it?

The 25-year-old who was labeled “mentally fragile” by many. That’s who. The one no one thought could do the things he did.

Lopez Jr. put an exclamation point on his career by becoming a two-division champion in beating Taylor by unanimous decision and winning the WBO and Ring Magazine junior welterweight titles.

England’s Steve Gray had it 115-113, as did New Jersey’s Joe Pasquale (115-113), but Quebec’s Benoit Roussel had it far wider, 117-111—as did many at ringside.

Teofimo Lopez controlled almost every round in taking the WBO and Ring Magazine 140-pound titles from Josh Taylor. (Photo by Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images)

Lopez (19-1, 13 knockouts) was masterful, commanding, and simply brilliant in handing Taylor (19-1, 13 KOs) his first professional loss.

What’s more, Lopez made it look easy.

Probably even easier than he thought.

“It’s been a long time, a long time coming,” Lopez said after the fight. “We just beat the number one-ranked guy, number one champion, lineal world champion, Josh Taylor, former undisputed world champion. Two-time undisputed world champion, Teofimo Lopez.

“I make things hard on myself, all of these guys are easy. He’s a big guy, he’s strong. He knows what he’s doing. For me, it’s going back to the drawing board and see what I can do better. Life man, life, it’s hard. I was with someone for five years that gave me a hard time and that really screwed me up mentally.

“That’s my next battle right now is fighting for my kid. Tonight was me. And I like against all odds. I like when I question myself. I do it on purpose. I need the pressure on me because that’s what makes diamonds. And tonight, I shined very bright. Boxing is my wife. I married it 17 years young. Challenges bring the greatness out of you.”

Lopez beat two lineal world champions, Vasiliy Lomachenko and now Taylor—and in the process staked a claim to the Hall of Fame.

Lopez engaged Taylor first, though with nothing dangerous. With 1:43 left, Taylor connected with a left to the body that backed Lopez against the ropes. With :59 left, referee Michael Griffin warned Taylor of holding Lopez down and hitting him.

In the second, Lopez backed Taylor up with the jab, and it was easy to see Lopez had the quicker hands. With just over a minute left in the second, Lopez nailed Taylor with a left hook.

Taylor landed 11 punches in each of the first two rounds. He never landed double-figure punches in a round again.

With 2:41 left in the third, Taylor hit Lopez and sent him into the ropes, and was warned again by Griffin about holding Lopez’s head down. Lopez did well countering Taylor, but Taylor was attacking the body.

Taylor landed on the canvas with 2:04 left in the fourth, which called a slip. And with :07 left in the round, Taylor experienced a slight scare when he was caught off balance and Lopez hit with him with a body shot.

With just over two minutes remaining in the fifth, Lopez caught Taylor coming forward with a left uppercut, and a few seconds later, Taylor came back with a left of his own. Lopez closed the fifth strong, landing a right just before the bell.

After five, Lopez held a 59-45 connect advantage.

By the sixth, Lopez’s confidence was building. He was landing the right, and the shots Taylor did land flush on Lopez, “The Takeover” walked through. With :16 left in the sixth, a sweeping Taylor left missed over Lopez’s head, and he could not pass up mixing in some showmanship, looking behind him at what Taylor missed.

Taylor, coming off a 16-month layoff, was making dramatic misses. His work rate began slowing after the midway point in the fight. In the seventh, Lopez backed Taylor up with a right. Lopez closed the round with a couple of right-hand leads.

By then, Taylor had been out landed 82-58.

In the eighth, Lopez had some fun, wiggling and dancing with a minute left. Taylor, appearing to leak oil, was leaning against the ropes, and with 14 seconds left, Lopez crushed Taylor with a lunging right to the head, where both feet left the canvas. It showed just how much faith Lopez had in himself.

Lopez appeared ahead entering the ninth. Since the first few rounds, Taylor had lost rhythm and his confidence.

Lopez was timing Taylor as he neared. With 15 seconds in the round, Lopez backed Taylor up with a combination to the head. It was becoming more apparent that Lopez was in control and Taylor would need a knockout to win.

As the rounds mounted, Taylor needed something dynamic in the championship rounds to change the course of the fight.

It never happened.

Then again, how could it?

Taylor simply could not catch Lopez. Complicating Taylor’s predicament was that he was wearing down like a rusted axle, accelerated by the accumulated misses.

Lopez closed the 11th impressively, trapping Taylor in the corner and plowing the Scot with a right uppercut, followed by a left to the body.

In the last round, Lopez’s straight right was very effective. He tried mixing that with a left uppercut. Taylor, at times bent over, remained standing on championship guts.

Lopez left little doubt. Despite two scores of 115-113, Lopez’s numbers screamed victory, almost doubling Taylor’s connects, 158/517 to 82/341. Lopez made him look slow, and, which has to be questioned, old.

“No excuses, this wasn’t my best,” Taylor admitted. “He was the better man tonight. I thought it was a close fight. I like to do it again. He’s the champ. The ball is in his court. The layoff had nothing to do with it. I have no excuses. The credit goes to Teofimo.”

As the final bell sounded, it was apparent Lopez was about to become a two-division titlist. He arrived here not just by beating Taylor, but by conquering sporadic anxiety attacks, bouts of depression, and a mounting fear he would never see his son again.

Teofimo Lopez Jr. plays the fool well. He always has. He does it with a stealthy grin and misdirection, knowing that he’s steering the herd one way, when he’s heading in the other.

Boxing media and fans alike thought they might see another Oliver McCall meltdown on Saturday night.

They eventually saw what Lopez envisioned all along.

“Two Hall of Fame careers in one,” Lopez said. “You cannot tell me that I’m not the double-greatest since Muhammad Ali. I questioned myself for a good reason. You guys don’t understand. I’ve always been my worst critic. And you guys got a little glimpse of it. But I’ve just got to ask you one thing, and one thing only.

“Do I still got it?”

Then he laughed and left.

So much for “Do I still got it?”

Apparently, he does.

Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter who has been working for Ring Magazine/RingTV.com since October 1997 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.
Follow @JSantoliquito


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