The WBO and Ring super lightweight champion Josh Taylor comes off the biggest layoff of his career when he takes on Teofimo Lopez at The Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York this Saturday.
After 15 months out, it’s clear when you speak with Taylor for any length of time that he’s missed the prize ring a great deal. You can actually see the Scotsman visibly holding back his emotions as he settles into fight mode for what promises to be an electrifying showdown in The Big Apple.
The 25-year-old Lopez is a former unified champion at 135 pounds. The Brooklyn-born boxer-puncher handed Vasiliy Lomachenko a unanimous decision loss in October 2020, when the Ukrainian wizard was pound-for-pound king. Lopez had the world at his feet but then slipped up against George Kambosos Jr., who dethroned him on a split decision the following year.
The challenger has performed well in spots since that time although he has yet to rekindle the fire that was present pre-Kambosos.
“I’m preparing for the version that showed up against Lomachenko,” Taylor (19-0, 13 KOs) told The Sporting News. “If that guy shows up, then he’s a very dangerous fighter. He’s very fast, very explosive, very powerful, and he has great boxing IQ.
“Having said that, I see a lot of flaws in his game. There are things that he does wrong, which I can expose on fight night. I’m looking forward to it. It’s got the makings of a high-level chess match, or a firecracker where whoever lands the biggest punches is going to win by knockout. It’s got the makings of a great fight and it’s certainly going to be exciting while it lasts.”
As well as being an extremely good fighter, Lopez – with more than a little help from his father, Teofimo Sr. – is one of the sport’s most notorious trash talkers. Since this interview was conducted, the enigmatic Lopez has told PUNSH DRUNK BOXING that he aims to take Taylor’s life, which is crossing the line for anyone with two brain cells to rub together.
“I don’t really bother about it, but I know I’ve got a good dance partner here,” said Taylor in relation to Lopez’s prior histrionics. “He’s going to talk a bit of smack, I’m going to talk a bit of sh__ as well. It’s going to be good and it makes it exciting. There’s nothing worse than going up against someone who doesn’t say two words – it’s boring.
“(Lopez) is a character. Him and his dad have a lot of things to say, plus he’s a very good fighter. Second, it’s at Madison Square Garden, topping the bill, something that most fighters dream of doing. I’m one of a fortunate few and if you can’t get up for this, then you may as well retire.”
In Taylor’s last fight, in February 2022, he retained the undisputed championship with a controversial 12-round split decision win over Jack Catterall in Glasgow, Scotland. The aftermath was long and full of vitriol, with some fans even lashing out at the champion’s family. Taylor, never one to take infringements lightly, is motivated by those who hurled insults and who doubt his quality as a fighter.
“Everyone’s quick to forget what I’ve achieved; the good things I’ve done in the sport in only 18 fights,” Taylor said sternly. “I had one bad night and all of a sudden I’m a has-been.
“I’ve got a point to prove and a big, massive middle finger to a lot of people, when I say, ‘F___ you, I’m the best. I’m still the best!’ I’ve got a bit of a chip on my shoulder. There’s that sort of fire in my stomach to put on a big performance but I don’t have to. I know what I can do. I’ll let the boxing and the performance make the statement.”
It’s fight week! ⚔️🏴🌪️🥊 pic.twitter.com/co9bWDAtvl— Josh Taylor (@JoshTaylorBoxer) June 5, 2023
A lot has happened since Taylor-Catterall. Immediately after that fight, the welterweight division was to be the Scotsman’s next port of call, but now he’s hedging his bets on leaving 140.
“I’m still planning on becoming a two-weight world champion,” Taylor responded instantly. “Achievement-wise, there’s nothing left for me to do at 140. I’ve been there, done it, and wore the t-shirt. But the division is heating back up again. You’ve got Devin Haney talking about moving up; Ryan Garcia, Tank Davis, and a rematch with [Regis] Prograis.
“I’m not all-in on going up to 147 already. I’m still open to staying at 140 because there is big fights to be made there as well. We’ll see what happens. After the fight, we’ll see what offers come my way.”
And what a fight Taylor vs Lopez is. Will “The Tartan Tornado” show the brilliant form we’ve seen from him in the past, or will “The Takeover” do just that at MSG?