There’s a lot to fight for in this weekend’s big boxing matchup, between Josh Taylor and Teofimo Lopez at Maddison Square Gardens in New York. A title, sure- Taylor’s WBO world title belt is on the line. But also pride, career momentum, respect, and it seems an increasing dose of personal dislike. Both have had difficult moments in their careers in recent times, and both will be seeking to recapture their best form on a huge stage. It could get spicy.
The fight will be available on ESPN and ESPN+, with the main card starting at 10PM ET.
The Preview: How did we get here?
Josh Taylor (19-0-0, 13 KOs) has had a great career. He became undisputed champion at 140lbs two years ago, beating Oscar Valdez to scoop up the final two belts. He’d previously beaten Regis Prograis in a thrilling, high-level war back in 2019. So he’d been sitting pretty at the top of the division, and looking on top of the world.
The difficult moments, then, really stem from his last fight. He fought fellow Brit, Jack Catteral, last year, in what was really expected by most to be quite a routine victory. Catteral is a good fighter, but he hadn’t really proved himself at world level, and hadn’t seemed as good a fighter as either Ramirez or Prograis. Instead, Taylor put on an odd, atypically static performance, and was extremely fortunate to be handed victory by the judges.
He hasn’t covered himself in glory either, playing peekaboo with the prospect of a rematch, claiming he had to move up to 147 as the weight cut had got him, then changing his mind. At one point the fight was even signed and announced- only for Taylor to pull out with injury. Okay, that happens- but the moment Catteral announced an alternative opponent, Taylor was suddenly well enough to sign to face Lopez. It wasn’t convincing.
All that messing around also means there’s only one belt in play. The other sanctioning bodies lost patience with waiting for him to decide what he was doing, and he was either stripped of or vacated all but the WBO in play here. He’s also changed trainers, leaving Ben Davison’s team for Joe McNally. That could be a positive, but with this being their first fight together, it’s hard to say for sure.
For all his troubles, though, he’s in a good spot compared to Teofimo Lopez (18-1-0, 13 KOs). He, too, seemed on top of the world back in beating the great Vasyl Lomachenko back in 2020. It didn’t last long, though, as he lost his follow-up against George Kambosos in a shock upset, and has seemed to go into something of a tailspin since. He’s moved on up to 140lbs, but although he’s not lost his two fights there, he doesn’t look to have greatly improved.
He doesn’t just have that hard loss, followed by another dreadful performance against Sandor Martin, after which he was caught questioning himself. He has many of boxing’s observers questioning his mentality to be able to succeed again at all, with losses of composure frequent throughout both the loss to George Kambosos and the stilted win against Martin. And on top of that, in his own telling he’s going through a tough personal time. Claiming to know exactly what effect all that will have on him is too much to speculate on here, but he has a lot to prove.
And, with Lopez having promised to kill Taylor in the buildup and with Taylor simply walking out of press conferences to avoid listening to Lopez, there does appear to be some bad blood too. In other words, there’s a lot going on here, at all levels. It’s a potentially defining fight in the careers of both.
The Breakdown: How do Josh Taylor and Teofimo Lopez match up?
This fight is a tricky one to preview, just because it’s impossible to know what kind of form each fighter will bring to the table. The very best Taylor against the very best Lopez? That would be a sight to see. But with bad form, trainer changes, and apparent morale issues, this could really go any which way.
There are some solid reasons to lean toward Taylor though. The first one isn’t strictly technical, but let’s get it out of the way: although Taylor’s robbery win and inactivity since are a concern as the most recent we’ve seen from him, it’s really the only outright bad performance we’ve seen from him. Lopez has several, so there’s more reason to believe he’ll show up way below his best.
On a more directly tangible note, though, size matters. It matters especially when a boxer’s size advantage has been a key part of his best wins, which is true of Lopez. Taylor isn’t the tallest fighter Lopez has faced- that’s Misayoshi Nakatani, who Teo had real problems with- but he’s almost as big, much bulkier, and a better boxer.
It’ll be a different problem – Nakatani made Lopez try to close range, and made him look awkward when he did, whereas Taylor will be seeking to move around him on the outside, then close range and fight in the pocket and clinch. But the fact that Taylor is longer and heavier will minimise several of the advantages Lopez is used to using, in particular making it much harder to control range with his punching alone. Probably Lopez’ best skill, the one he used to great effect against Lomachenko, is making opponents walk through well-timed, powerful fire to get to him. That gets much harder when they can start landing before he does.
Add to all that the fact that, despite being a powerful, strong fighter, Lopez has never really shown much affinity for fighting in the clinch, or in-close in the pocket. It hasn’t really bitten him yet- his losses and bad performances were never really on that basis- but none of his opponents, except the smaller Lomachenko, have really wanted to take him there. Taylor will, and has usually been excellent there.
Admittedly, not against Catteral, where he sat static once he got in close, and didn’t throw much. If he does that again, he’ll find things hard, but normally, he’s excellent at jockying for position, taking little angles to find space to throw, then unloading and getting to safety. If he shows up in top form, we’ve simply never seen Lopez display the defensive skills inside to cope. Or indeed the offensive skills to keep up.
With all of that said, ultimately Lopez does need Taylor to be coming forward if he’s to have a serious chance. The Scot isn’t usually content to stay on the outside, but he’s perfectly competent simply popping and moving at range. If he does that, history says that Lopez will get frustrated, come forward himself, and look very bad when doing so.
It is a bizarre disconnect in his game that a fighter so skilled and tidy when opponents are coming towards him loses all idea of what he should do when they’re not. He can cut the ring well enough till two or so steps out, but after that, he simply leaps and throws big looping shots. It’s a crude and unconstructed game, leaving him frequently off-balance. If he does that here, Taylor could lead a merry dance and punish him for it.
Lopez’ biggest chance, then, is that Taylor does like to get forward, and while he’ll have the advantage if he gets inside, at his best Lopez can give him hell for trying to do so. The champ’s defence is good, but it’s not so good that he can approach Lopez without a care in the world. So he’ll have to be at his sharpest, consistently.
All in all, it becomes pretty clear that Taylor has far more avenues to win the fight than Lopez, who has to keep the fight within very precise parameters to have the advantage. When you consider that he’s also historically prone to getting emotional and losing his cool, making it far more likely he’ll play into his opponent’s hands, the prediction has to be a win for Josh Taylor, by wide decision.
What’s on the undercard?
The rest of the card is almost entirely about prospect-building. We will see Robson Conceicao, a two-time title challenger, make his return after a loss last year to Shakur Stevenson, as well as Jamaine Ortiz on his first run-out since his good, but losing, performance against Lomachenko. Both are realistically in against tune-up opponents, though. Beyond that, we’ll see the highly rated Bruce Carrington and Xander Zayas take their next steps, as well as Puerto Rican prospects Henry Lebron and Omar Rosario looking to make a case for themselves as the next fighter to follow from the proud fighting island. It’s one to keep an eye on, even if it’s not packed with even matchups.
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