Teofimo Lopez’s best part of Saturday night came long after the WBO world lightweight title fight was over at the Madison Square Garden Theater. He had just won a one-sided one-sided decision to take the belts from Josh Taylor following a dark and brooding promotion.
We felt sorry for him watching an interview he did with ESPN. When her father/coach walked into the room, her whole character changed. When a reporter told him he understood what he had been through, Lopez cut him off quickly and responded curtly and decisively.
“You have no idea,” Lopez told ESPN. You have no idea what I’ve seen, what I’ve been through, and what I’m still going through. None of you all.
After seeing this, everyone who knew him must have had legitimate concern for his well-being. This prompted a serious and not at all unreasonable question as to whether he should have been allowed to fight.
He was talking about killing Taylor. He was talking about wanting to die in the ring. He showed great angst as he gave a behind-the-scenes glimpse of his life. One had to wonder if the New York State Athletic Commission was failing in its duty by not intervening and ending the fight.
Then, the bell rang on Saturday, and it felt like 2020 again. Lopez was brilliant. He boxed incredibly well. He hit Taylor with punches that rocked the former undisputed champion. He controlled the ring from start to finish and he won a decision much closer than it ever should have been.
If Taylor had won the 12th round on Steve Gray and Joseph Pasquale’s cards, they would have had a draw. The result would have been a majority draw and Taylor would have retained the belts. It would have been madness. Even Taylor got it.
“He was the better man tonight,” Taylor said after the fight.
Lopez held her post-fight interview in the ring, then gathered her team to pose for the cameras. He took the photos, turned to his right, looking at someone in the distance, and beamed.
It was his best moment of his evening because, at least for a moment, the pain was gone.
He’s a guy who goes through so much. He is in the middle of a bitter divorce. He is about to fight for custody of his son, Liam. Asked by a reporter later, “What happens next?” and Lopez said his retirement and he wasn’t being paid enough.
This is important because before the fight he was complaining that his wife was potentially getting 50% of his money in a divorce proceeding.
He’s a guy with a lot of pressure on his shoulders and his dad, who is his biggest fan but also a major source of his problems, almost seems to want to live the fighter’s life for him.
Boxing kept them close and kept them somewhat in the realm of reality.
There is no excuse for Lopez saying, repeatedly, that he wanted to kill Taylor, although to his credit he did apologize directly to Taylor for that Saturday.
He seemed to revert, at least most of the time, to being the happy, gregarious kid who took boxing by storm in 2017 and 2018 when he was twice named Yahoo Sports Prospect of the Year.
He was nearly perfect in the ring and brought back memories of his glory days, despite still being only 25 years old. That’s the kind of performance he gave in Las Vegas in 2020 when he routed Vasiliy Lomachenko to become the undisputed lightweight champion and climb high on the pound-for-pound list.
The result was never in doubt after a few tight first laps. Lopez was landing hard punches, hitting in combination and walking Taylor into shots.
As his dad predicted aloud after the weigh-in, he badly outed Taylor, who had been the undisputed light welterweight champion before giving up three of four belts following a controversial win over Jack Catterall the last year.
But Taylor was still clearly the man in the division going into the fight and was pretty much a 2-1 favorite as all the late betting money poured in on him.
Before the fight, as he spoke illogically, clearly showing his personal pain over the issues in his private life laid bare to the world, Lopez showed no signs of performing on that level, but it was just an indicator of the huge amount of talent he possesses. If he had a normal personal life and his father didn’t constantly harangue him, who knows what he might be able to do? After his last fight, a mediocre win over Sandor Martin, he wondered if he still had it. Saturday, he showed it.
“I’m so grateful right now,” Lopez said. “It’s been a long, long time coming. We just beat the No. 1 ranked guy, [the] #1 Champion, Lineal World Champion, Josh Taylor. [He is] the former undisputed world champion, [so I’m the] the undisputed double world champion, Teofimo Lopez.
“I just have to ask you one thing, and one thing only: do I still understand?”
And it was good to see him smile after realizing the answer, too.