Josh Taylor certainly had a plan to beat Teofimo Lopez. Using jabs to the head and straight lefts to the body, it was clear that his goal was to break Lopez down and defang him for the later rounds. But Lopez quickly adapted to Taylor's tactics. By the fourth round, Lopez was ducking under the jab on a consistent basis and countering with hard straight rights and left hooks. Lopez also timed Taylor's straight left. Taylor would often cock his left hand back before letting it go and the punch was too deliberate and long. Lopez would sting him with something short before Taylor could connect with it.
For whatever problems Lopez had in facing George Kambosos and Sandor Martin, fighters who had disciplined game plans and could box on the outside, Taylor's approach played into Lopez's strengths. In the first half of the fight, Taylor always initiated his sequences with the intention of getting closer on the inside. Thus, Lopez didn't have to play a cerebral game of chess. He didn't have to go find Taylor; he just had to react with hard counters.
As Taylor lost confidence with his initial approach, he tried to let Lopez lead. Now Lopez isn't always naturally a lead fighter, but he had gained so much confidence in the earlier rounds that he enjoyed walking Taylor down. Flashing lead jabs and straight rights, Lopez not only beat Taylor to the punch, but it became clear that he was the one possessing more power.
|Lopez (right) landing a right hand|
Photo courtesy of Mikey Williams/Top Rank
Lopez took over the fight for good in the eighth round and put on a masterclass of aggressive boxing in the back end of the bout. Leading and countering, Lopez displayed his considerable skills and hit Taylor with lots of thunder. By the end of the fight, Taylor's spirit had dissipated. In tough fights against Regis Prograis and Jack Catterall, Taylor had been the better fighter in the championship rounds. But on Saturday there was no heroic stand or additional gear. Taylor's fiery intensity was now a distant memory.
And that's the most disappointing part of Taylor's performance, not that he lost, but after he ran out of ideas, he didn't try to outwill Lopez, like he did against Catterall. On Saturday, there was an acceptance of defeat.
After the fight, Taylor, who lost by scores of 117-111 and 115-113 x 2 (I had it 116-112), admitted that he was second best on the night. The once proud undisputed champion seemed oddly compliant by the end of the fight; the final defense of his junior welterweight title ended with a whimper. No, he didn't quit and he kept throwing punches, but he was eager to make it to the end of the fight upright and with his faculties intact.
While Taylor may only be 32, it could be an old 32. He beat three tough fighters on his way to becoming undisputed – Ivan Baranchyk, Regis Prograis and Jose Ramirez. He also had a much tougher developmental slate than many champions of this era, facing Ohara Davies in his 10th, Miguel Vazquez in his 11th and Viktor Postol in his 13th pro bout.
He looked like a worn down and exhausted fighter in the second half against Lopez. His legs, which once were his prized assets, were plodding and mostly stationary. His fire wasn't there. And once that extinguishes, it's so tough to rekindle.
Taylor's career seems adrift. He's admitted to blowing up in weight in recent years. He changed trainers twice, going from Shane McGuigan to Ben Davison to Joe McNally. He's talked about moving up to welterweight for years, yet there he was on Saturday at 140. Does he have trusted confidants to help him make key decisions? I don't know what his next step is, but I hope that he finds reliable counsel. Boxing isn't the place for those who have made money and are no longer fully dedicated.
The remarkable, strange career of Teofimo Lopez continues. In defeating Vasiliy Lomachenko in 2020 to become the lineal lightweight champion and now beating the top guy at junior welterweight, Lopez, still just 25, has notched two of the more impressive victories among his peer group, which includes Tank Davis, Shakur Stevenson, Devin Haney and Ryan Garcia. In between the Lomachenko and Taylor performances, Lopez laid an egg against George Kambosos, where he appeared overconfident and underprepared in the ring. He authored a flat performance in beating Pedro Campa in his first outing at 140 lbs. and he was lucky to escape with a victory against the tricky Sandor Martin.
Lopez has limitations against certain fight styles; he's also had a litany of out-of-the-ring issues that have played havoc with his personal life, which we can only assume have contributed to his erratic performance levels in the ring. He's had numerous family problems, including with his dad who trains him. He has admitted to having anxiety, as well as anger management problems. And this is just what we know about.
Lopez is one of the fascinating figures in the sport. He has already beaten two lineal champions, and in matchups where he was the clear underdog. He had Lomachenko hardly throwing punches for seven rounds and forced Taylor to accept defeat far before the final bell. When Lopez is on, he is a truly elite fighter. But we've also seen how he can get frustrated in the ring, how he can force things when the fight isn't going his way, that he doesn't always show up at his best. He's not a perfect fighter by any means. But if a fight is in his wheelhouse, if an opponent wants to bring the fight to him, then there are few better.
Teofimo possesses rare gifts. He isn't intimidated by anyone and doesn't care what an opponent can do. He can hit hard with either hand. He's a terrific short- and mid-range counterpuncher. He has a stubbornness that's a blessing and a curse. And he can make top fighters do the darndest things. He has shown us something unique in this era: a man who looks at what is supposed to be greatness across the ring, laughs at it, and conquers it.