Let’s get it out of the way out front here: the scoring for this fight was bad. A win for Lopez, on its own, wouldn’t necessarily have been a complete robbery. He more or less controlled how the fight went tactically, but he didn’t throw much himself, so a narrow win for Lopez wouldn’t have been too controversial. Scores that awarded him seven and eight rounds respectively, though, were very generous. It’s particularly hard to swallow for Martin because Lopez went down in the seventh round for what the referee called a slip, but was almost certainly a KD. Both the judges who gave the fight to Lopez scored that round to him- boxing’s scoring conventions mean that if the knockdown had been called, both would almost certainly have scored it 10-8 to Martin, a three-point swing that would have turned one of those, and the fight overall, into a draw.
All that aside, though, and regardless how anyone ultimately scored the fight, what this was meant to be was the show where Lopez recovered from his loss to George Kambosos and stepped out, freshly at 140lbs, showing the world he’s ready for titles again. Instead, it left us, his trainer/father in the corner, and ultimately (in a conversation cruelly exposed on camera by ESPN’s broadcast team) questioning where he even goes from here.
Let’s take a look.
Boxing fans may find themselves wondering what happened to the young star who fought Lomachenko so brilliantly a couple of years ago. Taking a clear win in a precise, nerveless performance against one of the greats of his generation, it looked like he had the world at his feet. Just two years later, and his reputation is becoming one of a crude, sloppy fighter prone to letting emotion dictate his actions in the ring. It’s been a sharp, brutal fall.
MMA fans, of course, may find that story familiar. Cody Garbrandt looked like the man when he led Dominick Cruz on a merry five-round dance to win the UFC bantamweight title, but he’s lost five of his six fights since then and been shown to be a pretty limited fighter, prone to getting into ludicrous exchanges for no good reason and losing them, that one moment of brilliance yet to be repeated or even close.
Their problems aren’t identical, of course – they never can be across two different sports, and even with that acknowledged, Lopez doesn’t get into the chin-troubling wild exchanges that have plagued Garbrandt. So we won’t be taking a deep-dive comparison. There is a key similarity though, that we can draw some lessons from.
It’s a simple one really: Garbrandt’s win over Cruz- and his spectacular KO win over Assuncao- both came when the opponent was following him, stepping into the pocket, and allowing Garbrandt to time his counters and escapes. When, in all his other fights, he’s asked to step in himself, he has very little idea how to manage the range and loses his cool with those wild exchanges.
Lopez’ problem is, in that respect, very similar. Against Lomachenko, all he really needed to do was stay patient, wait for Loma to come to him, and pick him off as he closed. Against Kambosos, and again this weekend, he was in against an opponent who was happy to sit back himself, tag him at range, and ask Lopez to come at him. On both occasions, he really didn’t have any idea of what to do.
The biggest problem, one evident throughout the night against Martin, is that he has no sense of how to set up or disguise his final approach. It’s actually quite bizarre, because for much of the fight, especially the early-middle rounds, he showed quite good awareness of how to cut down space on his opponent and force him to the ropes and corners. But then, once there with his opponent corralled in front of him, he’d pause- and then simply leap or lunge in with one or two punches, either long reaching straights or wild hooks. The straights weren’t too bad- not great in that he’d only get one or two off before Martin escaped, and was too off-balanced to follow, but he did score with them consistently, especially to the body.
The hooks and overhands, though, were another story. Martin would consistently counter those with a check hook, pivoting and sliding to let Lopez fall past him and cuff him with the right hand as he went. The punch combined with the loss of balance from a whiffed big hook would have Lopez stumbling. Twice it led to a knockdown, though only one scored, but even when it didn’t, it was a consistent scoring and occasionally hurtful blow. It was obvious enough it was coming that on a couple of occasions Lopez was able to counter it and knock Martin back, but he never got comfortable enough with the risk of taking the shot to make that a consistent tactic. The fact that Lopez clearly understands basic safety techniques- and uses them very well when opponents come at him – but hasn’t got a clue how to stick to them when moving forward is frustrating to see, and something he urgently has to fix.
What is strange is that Lopez does have a good jab, but he repeatedly abandoned it before he got close enough to build off it. That was exacerbated in this fight by being southpaw-vs-orthodox- it’s not uncommon for the orthodox fighter in these matchups to be uncomfortable jabbing. He really needed to get over it though, because without it he was all at sea – and that he did use it until he was close enough for it to be useful than stopped just spoke to a confidence problem that really became part of the story.
It should be noted that that kind of discussion needs to be treated with care. Tactical and technical details can be picked out, but without being in a fighter’s head, motivation and reasoning is pure speculation. That speculation is increasingly unavoidable with Lopez, though. He is very, very obvious about getting frustrated, and unlike some, he doesn’t use that frustration in good ways.
One particularly notable moment occurred before and during round six. Until the fifth, although the performance still wasn’t good, Lopez had slowly been getting better and more consistent about patiently cutting Martin off before he threw. It was still awkward, low-scoring and janky, but he’d manage to push his opponent to the ropes long enough to get off combinations with increasing regularity, and that was the time of the fight when he had most success drawing the check hook, slipping it, and countering it. His father wasn’t satisfied though, and questioned in between rounds what Lopez was doing, and why he wasn’t unloading. That seemed to rathe unsettle the young man, and he came out in round six abandoning all that patience, instead just chasing Martin in the shortest, straighest line, leaving acres of space to escape into and opening that check hook for safe use again. He got back to the gameplan occasionally after that, but never with patience and consistency.
And that, really, was the story of the fight. Lopez would leap in, chase, and get countered. Occasionally he’d briefly adjust and introduce something new- a double jab here, a step across to close off range better there- then abandon it. It was odd, and concerning for the future. We haven’t talked much about Martin because, well, he really didn’t do that much – everything occurred on his terms, but his actual output was limited almost
entirely to the jab, a straight left down the middle that would occasionally snap Lopez’s head back, and those hooks. It was tidy and quite classy, but low enough volume that Lopez was never totally out of the fight, and while he could argue he didn’t need variation because Lopez kept abandoning anything good he did to just let him do the same old thing again, it was the same thing throughout 12 rounds.
Clearly, given much of the above, this section is a bit more fraught on Lopez’ side than the usual ‘oh, which opponent would be interesting’ speculation. The plans he makes cannot be just about who he fights next, but what exactly he needs to do to improve. It’s probably fair to say that his father has taken him as far as he can as a coach, but whether he can bring himself to break that partnership is something we can’t know. Whether it’s a new coach or just new support in the camp, though, he urgently needs to figure out that front-foot pressure game, because all opponents are going to know that he can be baited like that now. Even fighters who aren’t as dedicated to outboxing- Prograis, Zepeda, Catteral- have skills that can draw a reaction and punish it. He has to improve. Whether he can is another question, and given his post-fight reaction he seems to know it.
For Martin, this will of course be immensely frustrating, and doubly so because for all that he deserved the victory and looked skilled, it wasn’t the kind of exciting performance that will have fans and networks clamouring to see him given a second chance. Without the leverage and momentum of a win, he may be back on the European scene for a while- though since this wasn’t a title fight, he may have found that happening anyway, if we’re honest. He probably doesn’t have a deep enough skillset to hang with the best of the best in this division- Prograis, Ramirez and the like – but it would be nice to see him given the chance to try. He might still – Josh Taylor, previously undisputed champion, gave up three of the belts during his umming-and-ahing over whether to rematch Jack Catterall, and that scattering of titles has left the division open. As the four belt bodies organize their separate rankings, he may be able to force himself a title shot for one of them soon enough. If not, look for him on the European scene and, in time, probably brought over to the UK to test one of their rising prospects at the weight.
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