Teofimo Lopez and Josh Taylor are adversaries and it’s obvious the two are not eating dinner together before or after their junior welterweight title fight Saturday night at the Madison Square Garden Hulu Theater. It’s not theatrics before their main event on the Top Rank Boxing-ESPN televised card.
This is more than a fight at the Garden and they truly don’t like each other. Lopez, in his third fight in quest of another takeover to dominate at junior welterweight (140), has resented the derogatory comments Taylor has leveled at him.
Comments that I would rather not publish. Lopez, the former unified lightweight champion, a division he once dominated, took it to another level Thursday afternoon at the final press conference. But it was Taylor last week who ignited Lopez.
There were words ending Lopez’ life, of devastating and punishing him. You don’t say that to Teofimo Lopez. Then again, you don’t say that to anyone or do you?
Lopez is in fight mode. He is in that adversarial mood and vows to punish Taylor. Top Rank hired extra security for the final presser and the two did not have a traditional faceoff Thursday and won’t again at the weigh-in Friday.
Though this is boxing and theatrics are expected, as it always is when two of the premiere fighters in the sport get an opportunity to decide who is supreme. And these are two fighters with a mission to overtake a division that is dominated with elite names, all vying for the same and unifying the junior welterweight titles.
Bypass the theatrics and threats because this should be a good fight, that is if they don’t brawl before the bell rings.
Taylor was once the unified champion and decided to vacate three of the four title belts. Lopez (who fought at the Garden main arena in December that was far from a sellout) lost a controversial 10-round split decision to the unheralded Sandar Martin, who became a name.
Lopez, though, continues to be a name. He can be electric but has more to prove Saturday night. HIs fan base booed that loss in New York where he once resided before relocating to Las Vegas. But if Lopez throws enough combinations and distances himself from Taylor, then he can quickly regain that popularity and continue his quest to overtake another division.
Forget about the war of words and threats. Focus on this fight as Lopez and Taylor will address it in the ring. It can be a classic, then again emotions could cause a different fight and more controversy that has surrounded the career of Teofimo Lopez.
Three years ago, Lopez defeated Vasily Lomachenko for the lightweight titles at the MGM Grand Bubble in Las Vegas during the pandemic year of November 2020. A year later, he lost the titles to George Kambosos Jr. at the Hulu Theater, then to Lopez in a controversial 12-round split decision
To Lopez, though, it was a decision and blemish of his career. The takeover was over at lightweight and a loss that still stings. Fighters, unlike other athletes, they never forget a bitter loss. Lopez took some time off, and has been fighting for custody of his son.
But now in his third fight at 140, on a traditional Top Rank boxing card an evening before the National Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York, Teofimo Lopez may have a defining fight.
Again, though, this is more than a championship fight in the ring. It has become personal.
“What is ‘The Takeover’ if he doesn’t take over the guys that are the kingpins of the division?” Lopez said Thursday. “ So, when it comes to Josh Taylor and the junior welterweights, he is the guy. That’s the guy that you have to beat to be the greatest. That’s what we aim for all the time. I’m excited about this. This is like a dream come true. What more can you really shoot for?”
He questioned that nobody has really called out Josh Taylor. He asked why? “Who knows why?” Lopez said. “ Maybe because he beat everyone already. But I’m here. I’m here to come in there and take everything that you’ve got.”
Taylor has been facing opponents, though mostly in his native Scotland. This is his first fight since a controversial split decision in Glasgow, Scotland over Jack Catterall in February of 2022.
“He means what he says, and I mean what I say,” Taylor said.. “There is genuine dislike here. He’s been disrespectful. I’m going to make him pay for his words on Saturday. I can’t wait to get in there. You will see a Josh Taylor win, possibly by KO, and nice and early as well I know he’s a good fighter. The version that beat Lomachenko is a very good fighter. That’s the version I’m preparing for. It’s all about your preparation. I’ve prepared diligently and to the best of my ability. You’ll see the best of me on Saturday night.”
Fighting words for sure. More importantly one of the anticipated fights on the calendar, minus through the adversity of the two and looking at the implications for Lopez and Taylor. Regardless, Lopez needs a rebound win and has that capability.
But don’t underestimate Taylor. He can also fight and is better at throwing punches than leveling threats.
Miguel Cotto, the four- division Hall of Fame champion from Puerto Rico will be at ringside. He will watch Xander Zayas (San Juan, Puerto Rico) (15-0, 10 KO’s) oppose Ronald “Diablo” Cruz (18-2-1, 12 KO’s) in an eight-round co-feature junior middleweight bout and present the Miguel Cotto Award to the winner.
Zayas, the 20-year old Top Rank prospect and Cruz is the co-main event.
The ESPN+-streamed undercard (5:15 p.m ET/2:15 p.m. PT) includes lightweight contender Jamaine Ortiz (16-1-1, 8 KOs) and rising junior lightweight Henry Lebron (Aguadilla, Puerto Rico) (17-0, 10 KOs) in 10-rounders. Unbeaten junior welterweight prospect Omar Rosario (Caguas) (10-0, 3 KOs) steps up against Jan Carlos Rivera (Vieques) (8-1, 6 KOs) in an eight-round Puerto Rico vs. Puerto Rico showdown.
Rich Mancuso: Twitter@Ring786 Facebook.com/Rich Mancuso