Teofimo Lopez dominates, upsets Josh Taylor to become two-division world champion

NEW YORK — As the seconds ticked down to begin their fight Saturday night at The Theater in Madison Square Garden, Josh Taylor and Teofimo Lopez Jr. stood in the middle of the ring, ready to act on years of bad blood. After a cold final staredown, they came out firing.

It was a tale of two juxtapositions. In one corner was challenger Lopez threatening to kill an opponent in the same ring where he nearly met the same fate 18 months prior. On the other end was an undefeated world champion in Taylor, promising to be the coup de grace of Lopez’s career.

With both men coming off controversial victories that culminated in questioning their mental fortitude, the questions loomed, who would be willing to rise to the top amidst the chaos and adversity? Who would be willing to stride into dark, treacherous waters where only a fighter could penetrate the hydrostatic pressure? Who would be willing to slit their past performance from their recollection to focus on the task before them? Who would be willing to prove who is the true king of the junior welterweight division?

Lopez, who was deemed “mentally fragile” by many, including his opponent, reminded the boxing world he’s still an elite fighter with a vintage performance, a dominant unanimous decision victory over Taylor to become a two-division champion by capturing the WBO and lineal junior welterweight championship.

England’s Steve Gray had it 115-113, as did New Jersey’s Joe Pasquale , but Quebec’s Benoit Roussel had it 117-111—as did a majority of ringside observers. FightNights.com had it 116-112 in favor of Lopez.

A past criticism of Lopez was that he had a number of close victories. His performances against Masayoshi Nakatani and Sandor Martin come to mind. But this was different. Lopez (19-1, 13 KOs) didn’t just win; he made it look easy against a proven champion in Taylor (19-1, 13 KOs), who was handed his first professional loss.

“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.”

At just 25-years-of-age, Lopez has defeated two lineal world champions, Vasiliy Lomachenko and now Taylor, in a career that is well on the path to enshrinement in the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

Taylor and Lopez tried to establish their jabs from the opening bell, though a majority were picked off. With 1:43 left, Taylor backed Lopez against to the ropes with a sustained body attack. With :59 remaining, referee Michael Griffin admonished Taylor for holding and hitting.

In the second, Lopez clearly had the faster hands and kept Taylor off balance. He set the tone at the start of the round by feinting to the body and connecting over the top with a right hand that split Taylor’s guard.

According to Compubox, Taylor landed 11 punches in each of the first two rounds. He was limited to single-digit connects per round for the rest of the fight.

With 2:41 left in the third, Taylor grazed Lopez with a left and smothered him against the ropes, pushing his head down. As Griffin attempted to break them apart, Taylor landed a short, sweeping left hand. Griffin immediately called time and threatened to take a point away from Taylor if he held Lopez down again.

When time resumed, Taylor raised his right glove to apparently apologize to Lopez. However, it was a trap. Once Lopez lifted his left hand, Taylor fired a right hand but Lopez blocked it. With 2:08 remaining, Lopez slipped and fell to the canvas after connecting with a short right uppercut.

Taylor had early success in the fourth. With 2:24 left, he nailed Lopez with an overhand left after setting him up downstairs with the feint. However, Taylor ended up on the canvas 19 seconds later when Lopez pushed him down, which was correctly ruled a slip. And with :07 left in the frame, Lopez finished the round strong when he caught Taylor off balance with a well-timed right uppercut to the solar plexus that sent him to the ropes.

With 2:09 remaining in the fifth, Lopez connected with a hard right cross that knocked Taylor back and followed up with a sharp left up-jab that shook him up.

After five rounds, “The Takeover” had assumed full control of the fight, outlanding his opponent 59-45.

By the sixth, “The Tartan Tornado” had been relegated to a microburst. Lopez’s confidence continued to build as he walked through Taylor’s shots and made him miss with slick head movement.

Taylor, fighting for the first time in 16 months, appeared demoralized at the start of the seventh round. He continued to fight Lopez’s fight, much to his team’s chagrin, and left himself open for massive counter opportunities. With 1:31 left in the round, Lopez timed him beautifully with a straight right hand that knocked Taylor back on his feet and drew a reaction from the crowd.

In the eighth, Lopez toyed with Taylor, shaking and dancing with a minute remaining. The 32-year-old southpaw continued to lose confidence as he made dramatic misses, the culminating point being reached with 22 seconds left when Taylor dropped his hands to his waist in frustration. Lopez subsequently drilled him with a lunging left that snapped his head back and forced him to clinch.

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.

It was becoming more apparent that only complacency could deter Lopez from an almost certain victory. With 15 seconds left in the ninth, Lopez froze Taylor in his tracks with a combination to the head.

Styles make fights. Lopez turned the clock back several years and reminded the world why boxing fans fell in love with him in the first place; he’s a loose, free-flowing, creative counter-puncher. Taylor, on the other hand, is a formidable, come-forward offensive-minded technician. That played directly into Lopez’s hands. Taylor simply could not catch Lopez.

Lopez closed the 11th with an impressive display, trapping Taylor in the corner and chopping the Scot with a right uppercut, followed by a left downstairs.

In the final round, Lopez consistently landed with his straight right and attempted to mix in the left uppercut. Taylor, wholly spent, survived the fight on pure guts.

Despite two scores of 115-113, Lopez left no doubt who was the better man.

Per Compubox, Lopez landed 158 of 517 punches (31 percent), and Taylor landed just 82 of 341 punches (24 percent). Lopez outlanded Taylor in 10 of the 12 rounds, including the final round that produced polar opposite results for the two combatants. Lopez landed a fight-high 21 punches, while Taylor had his worst round of the night with just two connected blows.

In summary, Lopez made Taylor look like he didn’t belong in the ring with him.

“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.”

Lopez didn’t just get back to the pinnacle by beating Taylor, but by beating the brakes off the monsters that have been gnawing at his mental health over the last several years, including anxiety, depression, and marital struggles.

Teofimo Lopez Jr. is a master at his craft not only inside of the ring, but also outside of it. His command of psychological warfare summoned up memories of Bernard Hopkins’ clever ways of messing with his opponent’s emotions leading up to the big moment.

A majority of fans and media believed they were about to witness a horrific downfall.

Instead, Lopez made us all look like fools as he delivered the keystone moment of his young career and staked his claim to Canastota.

“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?”

Yes, he certainly does.

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