When it comes to the 2023 boxing schedule, few fights offer the potential of Saturday's 140-pound title bout when WBO champion Josh Taylor puts his unbeaten record on the line against former lightweight king Teofimo Lopez Jr.
Taylor (19-0, 13 KOs) is no longer the undisputed champion after either vacating or being stripped of three of his belts for refusing to make mandatory defenses. And the fight will also take place inside the Theater at New York's Madison Square Garden (ESPN, 10 p.m. ET), instead of the main arena, which the brash Lopez (18-1, 13 KOs) publicly questioned, creating a rare moment where the two fighters agreed upon something in the build to the fight.
The matchup speaks for itself as a pairing between two exciting and skilled fighters with wildly contrasting styles. So why has a large portion of the pre-fight narrative focused so much on the mental state of Lopez?
Well, that's an entirely different can of worms, altogether.
If we're being honest, chaos has been the norm for Lopez in both his personal and professional lives ever since his 2021 upset loss to George Kambosos Jr. And if we're being really honest, chaos has actually been there all along, typically in the form of family drama, it's just that Lopez had previously done a much better job of keeping his composure despite all of the noise.
The craziest thing about it all is that Lopez is still just 25 yet has already accomplished an incredible amount as a professional, including unseating pound-for-pound king Vasiliy Lomachenko in 2020. But what's even crazier is that many boxing experts are openly questioning whether he will ever be that same fighter again.
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The fuel for this speculation has been the constant bizarre comments from Lopez, which began in the fallout of his Kambosos loss when he blamed the streaming network DAZN for paying off the judges for him to lose. But they have continued in earnest ahead of the Taylor fight, coinciding with the fallout of Lopez's ongoing divorce and his reveal that his wife is seeking half of his earnings while keeping their young son away from him.
Lopez has done very little traditional media beyond what was mandated by Top Rank for promotional purposes. But multiple guest spots on the YouTube-based Punsh Drunk Boxing podcast in recent months produced a bevy of inflammatory headlines, including Lopez -- who was born in Brooklyn, New York, to Honduran immigrants -- accusing Top Rank of favoring "black fighters" over him while taking multiple shots at ESPN commentators Andre Ward and Timothy Bradley Jr. for biased coverage.
When asked recently the million-dollar question surrounding his mental state, Lopez told Punsh Drunk Boxing that he couldn't be happier.
"I'm at peace, man," Lopez said. "I don't have a parasite sucking me dry going home. I think that's what it was, man. People were on the run for their money. For five years, I was dealing with that. I had to learn along that way. God made me go through life, made me go through the cycle of it. [I] still have my soul, still have my mind, still have my body here with me.
"I noticed that I wasn't having fun no more, was taking it too serious. I was putting a lot of weight on my shoulders because I say the truth, I speak what I speak and I don't really keep my mouth quiet. That puts me in situations sometimes."
The rift between Lopez and Top Rank began when the fighter helped force a purse bid for the Kambosos fight, ending with the bout being moved to DAZN after a winning bid from Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Sport. Lopez not only lost to Kambosos, he was hospitalized after with a torn esophagus suffered in training camp and told by doctors he was lucky the fight didn't kill him.
Lopez, who previously said this was the final bout of his Top Rank deal only to change his tune this week, also went on to accuse both his promoter and the boxing media of not believing the severity of his health scare nor giving him credit for completing 12 all-action rounds in such a state. Unfortunately for Lopez, however, things have only gotten more rocky from there.
After the Kambosos loss, Lopez moved up to 140 pounds and scored a pair of victories, but they weren't without criticism from those who question whether his power has carried up with him. In his last fight, Lopez edged out late replacement Sandor Martin while showing far fewer glimpses of the brilliance he once flashed as a lightweight.
After the split-decision win, ESPN cameras even caught Lopez openly questioning to his team whether he still has it, which Lopez has subsequently tried to pass off as him attempting to bait the big names at 140 pounds into believing he's damaged goods. What Lopez doesn't understand is that his constant stream of bizarre comments of late have done a good enough job on their own.
In fact, Lopez found himself yet again in hot water when he told Punsh Drunk Boxing that the thing he loves most about boxing is that "I could kill a guy and get away with it." If that wasn't enough, Lopez then doubled down by sharing his plans to literally kill Taylor, and responded to the controversy Wednesday by telling FightHubTV he doesn't regret a thing.
"This is what I mean, boxing is soft," Lopez said. "I was going to pass away against Kambosos because of the injuries I had in the fight, literally. I thank God I am still here. But if I had gone, they would do the 10-bell count and people would miss me for a little bit and then be forgotten. I'm not apologizing for my comments, no. If he dies, he dies. People have died in the sport, this is what comes with it. It's part of the sport.
"I'm not someone that apologizes. I know people want to [punish] me for those words but what the f--- are you going to punish me for? Because I'm speaking a truth that people die when they go in the ring and fight? Sorry if [my words] are too strong. Sorry that you are too sensitive to understand the truth of what we do this for. If you don't like it, don't sign up for boxing. If you don't like it, don't watch boxing. Go watch MMA, those guys die less."
What makes Lopez's recent turn so concerning is how much of a departure his new demeanor is to the poised-beyond-his-years side Lopez showed while basically still a teenager in the multi-year build to the Lomachenko fight. Always an honest interview, Lopez was previously able to act as the voice of reason while those around him -- i.e. his outspoken father/trainer Teofimo Lopez Sr. -- were being anything but reasonable.
In fact, Lopez nearly saw his unbeaten record snapped in 2019 against undefeated Masayoshi Nakatani when he turned in an uneven performance marred by him later revealing he had to break up an altercation between his then-fiancee and his disapproving family just moments before making the walk to the ring.
Despite the scare that night, Lopez never turned the blame publicly onto his family (even when everyone but his father chose not to attend his wedding) and kept an even-keeled demeanor when faced with accusations that he was exposed that night. Five months later, Lopez knocked out Richard Commey in Round 2 to win his first title and set up the Lomachenko fight, forcing everyone to forget the rocky nature of how he got there.
Yet four years later, an all-new set of questions continue to surround Lopez ahead of such a difficult fight. Taylor, who has defeated six straight undefeated fighters including Jose Ramirez in their 2021 undisputed title fight, enters with a few of his own fresh off a flat performance against Jack Catterall that left many feeling the split-decision shouldn't have gone the native of Scotland's way. But those pale in comparison to that of what is facing Lopez.
The concern for Lopez from the boxing public should be about the exact nature of his current mental state and not simply a debate about whether he has enough to defeat Taylor, especially considering it was only two years ago he admitted to seriously considering taking his own life ahead of the Kambosos loss.
"People will call you crazy, [and say you] can't be too outspoken about certain things," Lopez said. "The most intelligent ones are [crazy], sorry to say. The ones very awoke in that area are really crazy, yes.
"When I see death, I chase it."