This Saturday night from the Theater at Madison Square Garden, Josh Taylor defends his junior welterweight title versus Teofimo Lopez. Given that 'the Tartan Tornado' is still the recognized champion at 140, and Lopez, the former sorta undisputed lightweight king, this is a meaningful and compelling match-up.
But truth be told this bout doesn't truly have the big fight feel. Which is why it's being held in the small room in the Garden.
There was a time not-too-long that this would've been considered a much more significant event. Back in 2021, Taylor was considered one of the very elite boxers in the world, as was Lopez, who was undefeated and coming off a huge victory over Vasiliy Lomachenko. But since then it's been a mixed bag for both men.
What we have here is a battle of the unknown. Which is what makes this bout so intriguing.
We all know what these guys once were, but who are these guys at the moment? And it's more than just a title they are fighting for. Taylor and Lopez are battling to keep their status at Top Rank and the reputations within the sport. Big opportunities await the winner, while the loser will be left with a bit of an uncertain future.
When it comes to Taylor (19-0, 13 KOs), it was May of 2021 when he sent Jose Ramirez down twice to hammer home a 12-round decision in Las Vegas to fully unify the belts. At this moment in time, Taylor was on top of the world. But since that contest, he has boxed just one. And it was one that he'd rather forget, as he was very fortunate to retain his titles against the crafty Jack Catterall last February.
In an era when boxers are so inactive -- and in Taylor's case, having performed just once in 2022 -- perhaps you really are only as good as your last bout. For all his accomplishments and a very solid resume', Taylor comes into this fight with questions about his status a premiere prizefigher.
When it comes to Lopez (18-1, 13 KOs), well....where do we start?
Inside the Top Rank bubble in October of 2020 he defeated Lomachenko. Lopez clearly had the lead in terms of becoming boxing's next young star. While others had bigger social media followings, it was he that was living up to the hype. But 'the Takeover' has never materialized, as it was overtaken by greed and hubris.
First there was the disastrous gambit with Triller, then the eventual upset loss to George Kambosos, and his last couple of fights have been less-than-impressive. His last outing was a less-than-convincing win opposite Sandor Martin. Lopez has never truly regained his mojo, and his bravado now seems forced. The last couple of years has been incredibly turbulent for Lopez, who is still just 25 years old.
But with a victory on Saturday night, all we be forgiven -- if not forgotten -- and Lopez can regain his lost status.
“What is ‘The Takeover’ if he doesn’t take over the guys that are the kingpins of the division?,'' stated Lopez. "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.”
Both Taylor and Lopez are accomplished fighters, but ones whose stock is down. Taylor is the Ring Magazine junior welterweight champion, and seventh in their pound-for-pound ratings. While Lopez is rated number nine in the division in their rankings. It's still very much a quality pairing.
What also makes this bout appealing is the personal animus between the two. There is a real disdain, here.
The tension was obvious at the final press conference on Thursday, and they weren't allowed to face off afterwords.
Mikey Williams/Top Rank
“He means what he says, and I mean what I say," said Taylor, of the obvious disdain the two have for one another. "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.”
So which versions of Taylor and Lopez show up this weekend?
Nobody truly knows.
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There's a bevy of boxing in the upcoming days. Friday night is the return of Adrien Broner on a Don King show from Miami...And Callum Walsh takes on Carson Jones on UFC Fight Pass from the Commerce Casino on that same night.... DAZN has Saturday afternoon coverage of the IBF flyweight title bout between Sunny Edwards and Andres Campos from London....ESPN+ has coverage of the Taylor-Lopez undercard beginning at 5:15 pm, ET/2:15 PT.... While the DAZN card from Ontario, California headlined by Jaime Munguia-Sergey Derevyanchenko begins at 8 pm, ET/5 pm, PT.....While Xander Zayas-Ronald Cruz will kick off the ESPN coverage at 10 pm, ET from the Theater at MSG....I can be reached at email@example.com......