How Teofimo Lopez proved the doubters wrong

And by doubters I mean me. Teofimo Lopez' suprise victory came from a performance full of detail. Let's take a look.

By: Lukasz Fenrych | 4 months ago
How Teofimo Lopez proved the doubters wrong
Zuma Wire/Joel Plummer

Let’s not beat around the bush, Teofimo Lopez had many naysayers going into his bout with Josh Taylor at the weekend, and I was one of them. It would be disingenuous to write a post-fight breakdown pretending I hadn’t had a very different view going into this fight, so let’s just get it out there up front. I looked at a combination of his form in his last few fights and his somewhat erratic public behavior and thought that Taylor was going to have most of the advantages here. Much of the boxing media—and bettors, judging by the fight night odds—apparently agreed. 

See our round-by-round coverage of Taylor vs Lopez here.

As we know now, Lopez proved us all wrong in a major way. He put in a slick, clever and commanding performance, leaving Taylor as the fighter looking severely limited in the ring. Despite being the shorter man, it was Lopez who consistently found his range and made the champion dance to his tune. The scorelines were ultimately closer than the performance warranted. With two 7-5 round splits, if Taylor had nicked the final round we’d have had a draw—a result that would have been plainly ridiculous. Make no mistake, Teofimo Lopez was in full control here. Let’s take a look at how he did it.

The Breakdown: How did Teofimo Lopez beat Josh Taylor?

The first thing on Lopez’s to-do list was to persuade Taylor that he needed to be coming forward. Lopez has historically been much better on the back foot than the front, whereas Taylor has often been able to fight in either direction. To get the win, Lopez needed to make the Scot uncomfortable enough outside that he wouldn’t bother trying to make Lopez be the aggressor. This was an open-stance matchup, with Josh Taylor the southpaw. Lopez probably took heart from having performed magnificently against a great southpaw in Lomachenko, but the assignment here was very different.

Defeating the jab

Step one in that process was to take away Taylor’s confidence in his jab. The champion was very visibly the longer, taller fighter of the pair, and that should have made it easier for him to control the range. On the night, however, every time he tried to come in with a jab Lopez would sway back. He never moved far, just enough to make sure the punch missed its target. That left him much closer than Taylor anticipated when the time came to throw back. When Lopez wasn’t in position to slip the jab, he aimed instead to parry it, slapping it down as Taylor moved to throw.

Limiting movement

Alongside defeating the jab, Lopez also needed to curtail Taylor’s circular movement. Once again, he’d done this against Lomachenko, so it wasn’t a particularly new task. But Lomachenko typically makes his attacking lateral movements at much closer range, and was dissuaded from them by Lopez’s ability to consistently force him to move backwards. That wasn’t in the plan here; Lopez needed a different approach. In this case, Lopez made sure he was always on point pivoting and turning as Taylor moved. As a result, Taylor never had an advantageous angle—and was punished every time he tried to find one.

In an open-stance matchup, the move is classically to get around the outside of the opponent’s lead hand. In Taylor’s case, circling to the right, or Lopez’s left. A lot has been said about the importance of getting the lead foot outside the opponent here, but it should be noted that Lopez wasn’t overly fussed about that.

Sure, he used that when he needed to, but there were several occasions, even in the first round, where Lopez let Taylor take the outside position and simply threw up a lead left hook before he even made his move. That went a long way to persuading the bigger man that the angles weren’t open to him and he needed to come in fast and straight. 

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Taylor takes the ‘superior’ outside foot position, but a left hook is already on the way as he does, and he can’t spin out. At this point, the position becomes a problem because trying to circle the other way is impossible without leaving himself off-balance. The only solution is to hop back.

It’s all about timing

Once Lopez had persuaded Taylor to fight in straight lines, the next problem to solve was all about timing him as he came in and making sure to gain favorable positions once he got close. This didn’t come immediately, and the first four rounds of the fight were close and competitive. Taylor is both an excellent inside fighter and very good at adjusting his stance and angles as he comes in to get the superior position. It should also be noted that, against Jack Catterall, Taylor had been atypically static in the pocket, that wasn’t the case here. Lopez had to convince him into mistakes. 

The first adjustment Lopez made was a slightly cheeky one, essentially recruiting the referee to his side and using his smaller size to his advantage. By ducking under as Taylor approached, would rise up at angles, such that Taylor would have almost no option but to grab his head. With neither man in a punching position the referee had to break them. That also meant the ref warned Taylor several times, but didn’t account for Lopez rather clearly taking that disadvantaged position on purpose. The end result was that Taylor’s size quickly became a disadvantage inside. 

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Taylor looks to the ref, expecting an intervention after Lopez ducks low, but it’s Taylor who gets the warning.

With Taylor frustrated, Lopez went to his bread-and-butter game of intercepting Taylor as he stepped forward, turning exchanges into a simple matter of punch selection and timing. This was where, from about midway through round five, Teofimo Lopez took over, with his punches chosen not just to score or do damage but to cause the largest amount of difficulty for Taylor in creating his own offense. 

In particularly, stabbing rights to the body disrupted Taylor’s posture, and uppercuts or short, slightly-upwards right hooks snapped his head up, straightening him and preventing him taking a good stance to throw his preferred quick short-range combinations. The commentary referred to Taylor repeatedly freezing in front of Lopez. While that was broadly true, it was happening because the position he wanted was being taken away from him, and he couldn’t come up with alternatives.

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Lopez baits Taylor in, then holds position and intercepts the attack with a right hand that keeps Taylor’s head high and prevents him from taking a solid posture on the inside. Notice also how, once again, Lopez sacrifices the outside foot position, instead placing his lead foot down the center line of Taylor’s stance, breaking his posture even further.

Lopez combined this with that slick head movement. He was not only consistently able to make Taylor miss, but the defensive moves left Lopez closer than Taylor imagined he would be after evading shots. By the later rounds, he was mixing in some very unusual punches—ones that wouldn’t normally be advisable on a pure technical level. Things like shifting stance and leaning with a very reaching right hand, or leaping from distance with the kind of looping shots he had tried against Kambosos. In this case, however, the moves further discomfited Taylor as part of a more nuanced strategy. 

Winning the mental battle

Keeping Taylor uneasy in the ring was the point of a lot of what Lopez was after. And with Lopez visibly frustrated, that’s when the showboating came out. But Lopez wasn’t just looking to mess around, he was there to infuriate. Unfortunately for Taylor, all of it worked. For all the talk beforehand—yes, by me as well —about Teo’s mentality, it was Taylor who visibly wilted when shots went awry, or who spent several seconds going walkabout if a bodyshot knocked him out of his rhythm. Teo had to win the mental battle, and he did, making the technical battle much easier to control. 

It was a fantastic performance. Ultimately, the premise in my preview that Lopez needed the fight to be in specific parameters to win wasn’t disproven—but Teo kept the fight within that range masterfully, almost contemptuously. Taylor celebrated at the end, but it didn’t look like he really believed he’d won, and neither did anyone else. It was an excellent performance by the younger man, and will serve him in good stead in this new division.

The future: what do Teofimo Lopez and Josh Taylor do next?

Of course, that last comes with a caveat: Teofimo Lopez has announced his retirement. If he sticks to that? It’d be a shame to see a bright star go just as he seemed to recover his mojo, but he needs to do what’s best for him. If he doesn’t stick to it? He wouldn’t be the first fighter to break off a brief retirement. A year ago there was one champion in the division: Taylor. Now there are four, and unification opportunities abound. 

The most enticing is probably a showdown with Regis Prograis, holder of the WBC belt and former opponent of Taylor. He fights this coming weekend, against Danielito Zorrilla. If Prograis wins that, as expected, Lopez may hear a call-out. He’s both skilled and exciting, and a bout between them would be an excellent contest. Subriel Mattias is perhaps less skilled but hits like a truck. Rolly Romero is lucky to be champion at all, but his next fight is spoken for anyway, with a mandatory defense on the horizon. 

The big issue in all of these is where Lopez’s promotional contract stands. He’s been vocally unhappy with his current partners at Top Rank and ESPN. There appears to be some disagreement over when and how that contract runs out, which may also be part of the motivation for his retirement announcement. How that all shakes out will have a lot of influence on if, when and how we see Lopez again.

Josh Taylor, on the other hand, is going up to welterweight at 147lbs. To his credit he didn’t use that as an excuse here (and he didn’t look unhealthy), but the plan had been for him to move a year ago, and he’s now made clear that’s what he’s doing. It’ll be tough for him up there, but he won’t be an easy out for anyone, and should have plenty of options as he makes his way at the new weight. 

All in all, Teofimo Lopez really brought it, and it’ll be a pleasure to see him again, if that’s what he decides is best for him.

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About the author
Lukasz Fenrych
Lukasz Fenrych

Lukasz Fenrych is an analyst and writer. He has been covering combat sports since 2019, and joined Bloody Elbow's boxing team in 2022.

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