Just two years ago, the idea of a clash between Josh Taylor, then the undisputed junior welterweight champion, and Teofimo Lopez, then the unified lightweight champion, would have had the boxing world buzzing. The two now clash on Saturday night with only one world title on the line and both men seeing their stock dip after recent outings.
Taylor (19-0, 13 KO) will be defending his WBO junior welterweight title when the pair meet in the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York City. He has forfeited or been stripped of the three other world titles he held after refusing mandatory title defenses, all in the wake of a disastrous fight against Jack Catterall in February 2022.
The fight with Catterall was Taylor's first defense of his undisputed title after unifying the WBO, WBA, WBC and IBF titles with a win over Jose Ramirez. After struggling with the weight cut, Taylor looked flat while also struggling with his cardio. Most observers felt Catterall had done enough to win the fight, but Taylor escaped with a split decision victory while defiantly claiming there was no need for a rematch because he felt he clearly won the bout.
During the same period Taylor was facing his struggles, Lopez (18-1, 13 KO) saw his own empire crumbling. After defeating Vasiliy Lomachenko in October 2020 to unify the IBF, WBA and WBO lightweight world titles, Lopez was on top of the boxing world.
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The first defense of Lopez's status as unified champion came against lightly-regarded George Kambosos Jr. The Aussie got in Lopez's head before the two men ever stepped in the ring, dropped Lopez in the first round and took a clear decision victory in a shocking upset.
Lopez did not handle the loss well, claiming there was a conspiracy to take away a deserved win despite the logic of conspiring against the young champion with years of promotional weight behind him in favor of a fighter only known by hardcore boxing fans being outside any version of reality. Lopez also claimed he entered the ring with a tear in his esophagus that could have killed him during the bout.
"He means what he says, and I mean what I say. There is genuine dislike here. He's been disrespectful," Taylor said at the final press conference. "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."
Lopez followed up the loss to Kambosos by moving up to junior welterweight and scoring wins over Pedro Campa and Sandor Martin. Lopez was dropped by Martin in their fight and barely edged out a split decision win before being caught on camera asking his team "Do I still got it?"
Unsurprisingly, Lopez later tried to flip the candid moment into an intentional attempt to either trick the media or bait big-name fighters into coming after him. It was yet another in an increasing number of situations that call Lopez's mental state into question.
Since the Kambosos fight, Lopez's behavior has become increasingly strange while dealing with flat performances in the ring and.
Taylor has been trying to worm his way into Lopez's mind ahead of the fight, walking out on interviews and making little digs while Lopez has unapologetically repeated his desire to kill Taylor in the ring, a taboo subject in the world of boxing where death is an ever-present risk.
"What is 'The Takeover' if he doesn't take over the guys that are the kingpins of the division? So, when it comes to Josh Taylor and the junior welterweights, he is the guy," Lopez said. "That's the guy that you have to beat to be the greatest. That's what we aim for all the time.
"I worked my ass off. Eleven weeks of camp. This is going to be the best version of me. Practice makes improvement. We've improved since my last fight. We're ready to put on a show. I'm going to be a two-time lineal world champion."
With the mix of personalities and the need for in-ring redemption for both supremely talented fighters, Saturday night promises to be a fascinating fight that will say much about where both men stand in the sport.
The undercard sees the return of heralded prospect Xander Zayas when he takes on Ronald Cruz at junior middleweight. Zayas is still building himself up as a pro at just 20 years old. He scored three wins in 2022 with one TKO. Saturday marks his first fight of 2023 against an opponent coming off a loss and a draw in his most recent appearances.
"He is motivated. He's been waiting for this opportunity his whole life. So, I expect him to come out and try to put on a show," Zayas said. "When the fight got postponed, we contacted Top Rank and said that this is the opponent we wanted to fight. They allowed me to do that, and now here we are. I'm excited to showcase what we have been working on."
Let's take a closer look at the rest of the undercard before getting to a prediction and expert pick on the main event.
Taylor vs. Lopez fight card, odds
Odds via Caesars Sportsbook
|Josh Taylor (c) -200||Teofimo Lopez +170||WBO junior welterweight title|
|Xander Zayas||Ronald Cruz||Junior middleweight|
|Omar Rosario -230||Jan Carlos Rivera +190||Junior middleweight|
There's nothing but negatives following Taylor into this bout. He's dropped three of his titles -- along with undisputed status -- of his own volition and his most recent outing left a ton to be desired while he also struggled to make weight. Still, the bulk of this preview has been about Lopez because the issues he has been dealing with are that bad.
The above preview barely touches on many of the darker issues in Lopez's life, from currently going through what appears to be an ugly divorce complete with custody issues, to his claims that Top Rank and ESPN favor "Black fighters" over him, to transitioning from defending his stated desire to kill Taylor to telling ESPN he "low-key" wants to die during a particularly unhinged interview. Lopez, already prone to extreme emotions, has seemed positively off the rails since the Kambosos fight and it is clearly affecting him in the ring.
Taylor is big, strong and mean. He has also proven his skills against some truly elite fighters, including Regis Prograis, Jose Ramirez and Catterall. Yes, he stumbled before and during that Catterall fight, but he should have learned and grown from it, one of the most important skills of a great boxer is that ability to adapt and grow from tough moments.
Lopez, despite having otherworldly athleticism and true boxing skills, has done the opposite, sliding further and further into conspiracies and dark thoughts while surrounding himself with the same seemingly toxic environment. He absolutely can defeat Taylor, but it feels unlikely he will. Taylor is too good for the version of Lopez that showed up against Kambosos and Martin and there's no reason to think any other version of Lopez will be in the ring come Saturday night. Pick: Taylor via TKO8
So, who wins Josh Taylor vs. Teofimo Lopez, and which prop is a must-back? Visit SportsLine now to see Peter Kahn's best bets for Saturday, all from the boxing specialist who has netted his followers a profit of $4,000, and find out.