The talking is done.
For the defending champion, so is the wait.
It’s been well more than a year since Jr. welterweight king Josh Taylor was last seen in the ring. It was the worst night of his professional career. He suffered a knockdown, lost a point, and escaped by the skin of his teeth with his crown against Jack Catterall.
At least he escaped.
Teofimo Lopez laid claim to the lineal lightweight throne when he defeated Vasyl Lomachenko and proceeded to become a poster child for how to burn a lottery ticket. A disastrous move toward Triller led to a near-year layoff and a loss in his very next fight to George Kambosos. In two wins since, Lopez hasn’t recaptured his previous form, relying on predictable offense and a little luck with the judges in a narrow win over Sandor Martin late last year.
The world remembers Lopez-Lomachenko still. They remember that he was supposed to be one of the cornerstone talents of a new era in boxing. They’ll tune in Saturday (ESPN, 10 PM EST) to see if he can make what was supposed to be reality again.
Let’s get into it.
Stats and Stakes
Titles: Ring Magazine Jr Welterweight (2019-Present, 3 Defenses); Lineal World/TBRB/WBO Jr. Welterweight (2021-Present, 1 Defense)
Previous Titles: IBF Jr. Welterweight (2019-22, 4 Defenses); WBA Super Lightweight (2019-Present, 3 Defenses); WBC Super Lightweight (2021-22, 1 Defense)
Weight: 139 ¾ lbs.
Hails from: Haddington, Scotland
Record: 19-0, 13 KO
Record in Major Title Fights: 5-0, 1 KO
Last Five Opponents: 111-0 (1.00)
Notable Outcomes, TBRB and/or Ring Rated Foes: Viktor Postol UD12; Ivan Baranchyk UD12; Regis Prograis MD12; Jose Ramirez UD12; Jack Catterall SD12
Additional Current/Former Titlists Faced: Miguel Vazquez KO9
Previous Titles: IBF lightweight (2019-21, 2 Defenses); Lineal World/TBRB/Ring/WBA/WBO/WBC “Franchise” Lightweight (2020-21)
Weight: 140 lbs.
Hails from: Brooklyn, New York
Record: 18-1, 13 K
Press Rankings: #2 (BoxRec), #9 (Ring), #10 (TBRB, ESPN)
Record in Major Title Fights: 2-1, 1 KO
Last Five Opponents: 136-6-1 (.955)
Notable Outcomes, Ring/TBRB Rated Foes: Richard Commey TKO2; Vasyl Lomachenko UD12; George Kambosos L12; Sandor Martin SD10
Additional Current/Former Titlists Faced: None
The Pick: Almost no one is picking Lopez in this fight, a surreal development considering how high he was riding after his consecutive wins over Richard Commey and Lomachenko. If he’s going to get back to those highs, Lopez will need what got him there. Lopez has a good, firm jab, quick hands, and serious power when he sits back and lets the counters come to him. In recent fights, Lopez has seemed anxious and confused at times, pushing for knockouts and not finding them easily. He’s also been down in fights against Kambosos and Sandor Martin, perhaps a product of that over-commitment to offense without much defined strategy to it.
In Taylor, Lopez will face an opponent who is mature, patient, and flat out mean. Taylor is one of those champions whose chippiness comes off the screen. Taylor is both taller and longer than Lopez and has canny timing from his southpaw stance. He’s handled brute force in the form of Jose Ramirez; Taylor handled superior speed and athleticism against Regis Prograis. Taylor has shown the sort of ring intelligence that suggests he won’t give Lopez sloppy opportunities.
For Lopez to win, he may need to let Taylor lead and attempt to make Taylor pay for doing so. That will require a long game from Lopez of the sort he employed against Lomachenko, pinning the veteran under his jab and daring him to get brave. If Lopez can damage Taylor early and make him cautious, the route is there to win rounds and the title.
The thinking here is that Taylor’s physical talent is still underrated and he’s just the better, smarter fighter overall. Taylor has quick hands, knows how to place punches well, and is one of the sport's most effective second half battlers. He’ll do enough to keep it close in the first half and once he solves Lopez the second half of the bout could become more one-sided as Taylor starts to break Lopez down. The pick is Taylor by decision in a fight that makes the Catterall fight a more distant memory.
Rold Picks 2023: 20-5
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, a member of the International Boxing Research Organization, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org