Teofimo Lopez was supposed to be the star at Madison Square Garden Saturday evening but his second fight at junior welterweight in quest of another takeover to unify titles did not resemble his reign as the once undisputed lightweight champion. Instead the rising stars in the Top Rank Boxing stable continued to shine.
The stars were lightweight Keyshawn Davis, heavyweight Jared Anderson, and 20-year old junior middleweight Xander Zayes. All remained undefeated and left the Garden with a few of those alphabet soup boxing titles.
Titles, though, are a part of boxing and lead more towards their goals of ascending to securing championship fights in the next year.
Top Rank has their ESPN televised platform and adds to their credibility as being a worldwide leader in the sport. The 25-year old Lopez, with popularity, is a former champion and in quest for another takeover.
But this new takeover at 140 lbs. could be more difficult than the one he achieved three years ago. Then, he dethroned Vasyl Lomachencko via unanimous decision for the lightweight titles in a closed door arena at the MGM Grand “Bubble” due to the COVID Pandemic.
In his second fight since returning to the Top Rank promotional banner, Lopez got the 10-round split decision win over Spanish southpaw Sandr Martin and he remains one of those premiere fighters.
But Lopez may need a few more fights before he can call out champions. The division is proving to be a tough hurdle, perhaps more difficult from the first Lopez takeover because elite fighters are eyeing superiority that include Regis Prograis who recently won a second title at 140.
And Jose Ramirez, a former champion is on the road to reclaiming a part of the titles, as is Josh Taylor who once held the title that belonged to Prograis.
Regardless, Lopez at times showed some flashes of that stardom that had him as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters before losing the lightweight titles to Geporge Kambosis Jr. Overall, though, Lopez had difficulty trying to counter Martin. He focused more on avoiding punches and failed to counter with good exchanges.
Basically, not Teofimo Lopez who headlined a boxing card in the main arena of the Garden for the first time. He has always been a draw, but 8,029 fans was far from a sellout.
So where does Lopez go from here? There are questions after this one, despite his claims that Martin was running away the entire fight and one judge gave the fight to Martin, 95-94. Ringside media and myself had left with an impression that Lopez may have got a gift win and is miles away from another takeover.
But Top Rank will continue to promote Lopez with his efforts whether it be in New York or Las Vegas for the Hondorian born and former resident of Brooklyn.
“It’s so hard to fight somebody when they’re running the whole time,” Lopez said. “Every time that this man wanted to commit, I was countering him and tagging him. That’s why he was running the whole time. I felt great overall. I knew he was tired. He didn’t want to commit. He was staying on his back foot and just running around the whole time. But it is what it is.”
And then Lopez made his statement about this new takeover.
“We would love to fight Josh Taylor. We would love to fight Regis Prograis. Or even a rematch with George Kambosos. My whole thing now is just staying focused and staying devoted.”
Though, the stars were a trio of Top Rank fighters who preceded Lopez. Davis, Anderson, and Zayas gave the Garden crowd a thrill and continued to progress. They were asked as were Top Rank executives how long and when will title opportunities come?
Boxing, different from the other sports, does have that slogan of patience being a virtue and this applies here. Anderson retained his 100 percent knockout ratio with a second round TKO and captured the WBO International and WBC Silver USNBC titles.
He landed a total of 54 of 114 punches thrown within the first three minutes of the fight, and you want to see that from a rising heavyweight.
Davis, a Olympic silver medalist (7-0, 5 KOs) had the toughest test of his career by defeating three-time world title challenger Juan Carlos Burgos (35-7-3, 21 KO’s) via eight-round unanimous decision. Davis controlled the fight from beginning to end with his speed, power and superior skills.
And Zayes, (15-0, 10 KO’s) continued his ascension. Top Rank envisions him to be their next prominent fighter from Puerto Rico, very much like their accomplishments with four-division champion Miguel Cotto who headlined numerous cards at the Garden before record sellouts.
But Zayes is still learning and progressing his craft and could headline an annual Top Rank promoted June event which takes place the night before the annual Puerto Rican National Parade in New York
He retained his NABO 154-pound title and captured the NABF belt, alphabet soup, perhaps, but the beginning of positioning for major fights in the new year with that possible Garden date in June.
It was a Garden crowd cheering from the first round as Zayes found his spots and took the 8-round unanimous decision over Alexis Salazar (26-5, 10 KO’s) in the toughest test of his young career.
“Little by little, we keep improving, keep getting better,” he said. “But I feel like we can still work a little bit on everything. My distance. My punch output. My defense. My angles. Everything. I feel like we can improve on everything.”
An evening at the Garden for the future stars of Top Rank. Though, for Lopez, finding a way to adjust and attempt another takeover.
Rich Mancuso: [email protected] Facebook.com/Rich Mancuso. Watch “Sports With Rich” with Rich and Robert Rizzo Tuesday evening live 8pmET on the SLG Network and YouTube