Taylor-Lopez: The Week That Was

Wednesday June 7

If the adage “a happy fighter is a dangerous fighter” is true then Teofimo Lopez is at risk of confronting the most dangerous Josh Taylor seen for a considerable amount of time.

It was in May 2021, against Jose Carlos Ramirez at the Virgin Hotels in Las Vegas, when Taylor last excelled. Since then, he has fought only Jack Catterall on an occasion when he was fortunate to emerge with a split-decision victory, sacrificed three of the four world titles he worked so hard for, suffered a foot injury that forced him to withdraw from the rematch with Catterall that was scheduled, been conflicted over remaining at 140lbs or moving up to 147lbs, replaced then-trainer Ben Davison with Joe McNally, and experienced the death of his idol Ken Buchanan.

On Wednesday at his hotel minutes from Madison Square Garden, however – and likely largely because it is the theatre at The Garden he is fighting at – the often temperamental fighter could barely have seemed more content. He revisited his relationship with Buchanan, who died in April, and the tales Buchanan told him of fighting at The Garden with, among others, the great Roberto Duran and of sharing a dressing room with Muhammad Ali. He spoke of the bet his late uncle placed on him to headline at the same venue, when Taylor was a promising young fighter years from his peak. Perhaps even more crucially, he also discussed the future he sees for himself at 140lbs – where he is so proven – having long considered the prospect of moving up to welterweight.

Four days before what is expected to prove one of his defining fights – Brooklyn’s Lopez is a dangerous, if apparently never happy, opponent – that he looks healthy and on course to make weight is likely the most important thing of all. If he was struggling to return to the 140lbs limit then his short temper would unquestionably be being tested. It would also in no way help that the smoke from the forest fires in Quebec reaching New York are polluting the air to the extent they are.

ProBox TV cannot recall seeing as many people wearing face masks at the height of the Covid pandemic as there were on Wednesday on the streets of Manhattan. The scenes brought to mind those that concerned observers of Beijing in the build-up to the 2008 Olympic Games, and of Manhattan in the aftermath of 9/11; one local even told ProBox TV that it was after 9/11, when the debris was falling from the sky, that the city last looked this bad. In short, if Taylor was having to run to make weight – one of his team members insists that he needn’t do so – he would only not regret having to do so at the time, but potentially continue to do so come fight night.

The two fighters will again be in the same room at Thursday’s press conference, when it seems so likely that the provocative Lopez will attempt to provoke Taylor that Top Rank are said to have spent an additional $5,000 on security in an attempt to prevent a heated confrontation that could jeopardise so appealing a fight. They are also said to be considering not staging a face-off between them; according to one rumour Lopez’s father, Teofimo Sr, even threatened staff at broadcasters ESPN when a previous interview was taking place.

Thursday June 8

Josh Taylor and Teofimo Lopez were reunited on Thursday at the final press conference for Saturday’s fight at the theatre at New York’s Madison Square Garden and, perhaps surprisingly – given both are so volatile – they both remained largely calm.

It was also in Madison Square Garden that their press conference was staged and where Lopez – wearing a cream blazer and trousers but no shirt – equally unsurprisingly compared himself to an artist and referenced God. Taylor, wearing a Scotland football shirt and shorts that continued to demonstrate how very different they are, was untroubled by all of his opponent’s bluster until he referenced fellow New York fighter Mike Tyson with the increasingly tedious words: “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.”

For the first time Taylor reacted to what he was saying, and the demeanour that had been calm all week was threatened, but when Lopez quickly returned to saying things Taylor – like ProBox TV, for that matter – could make considerably less sense of, he again appeared noticeably less likely to react.

“Aim for death, for that’s where life begins,” Lopez said while proudly declaring that those were his and no one else’s words. The largely no-nonsense Taylor, likely even more bemused at that than Lopez’s sartorial elegance – he also wore the near-obligatory oversized chain around his neck – simply looked in bemusement at his team and smirked.

“I don’t want to get personal,” started Top Rank’s press conference host before asking a question that risked the two fighters becoming personal and perhaps attracting the attention of at least the attention-challenged social media generation that otherwise might go elsewhere. Again, however – not that the same host would have been concerned, given he definitely didn’t want their exchanges to become personal – neither fighter had too much, on the record at least, to say.

There was, as previously suggested, no face-off between the two fighters. Instead they were separated by a member of security and one considerably bigger – at least in the context of two fighters due to weigh-in tomorrow at no more than 140lbs – member of New York’s finest. It was at that point that Taylor – who would likely be a street fighter if not a boxer, and can be a bully in the boxing ring – started to speak across the man in blue at his naturally smaller opponent in the knowledge that whatever it was he was saying wasn’t being picked up by the microphones they had just stopped using. As soon as both fighters returned to their respective media duties – Taylor, the WBO super lightweight champion, has been significantly more available than his opponent – they were also both again calm. 

Among those present throughout was Russ Anber, who will be working Taylor’s corner for the first time alongside Taylor’s new trainer Joe McNally, with whom Anber has an existing relationship via Liam Smith.

Somewhat fittingly – particularly given Saturday’s fight is on course to break the record gate at the theatre – before the end of the day in New York, ProBox TV learned of the death of the respected British boxing journalist Alan Hubbard, who over 50 years ago had been present at The Garden for the Fight of the Century between Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali. Hubbard had also covered Olympic Games and been present at other significant occasions like The Rumble in the Jungle and The Thrilla in Manila, and cared about fighters and his profession; among many fond memories ProBox TV has of Hubbard involved him speaking of how profoundly sad he felt later being ringside watching Ali getting beaten up by Larry Holmes.

He was respected by both those in the media – ProBox TV included largely because of his generosity at a narrowly less cynical time – and the boxing community, as is demonstrated by the fact that his son Richard continues to work for Frank Warren's Queensberry Promotions and that news of his death was announced via social media by Steve Lillis, another respected and long-serving British boxing journalist. On the same evening the BWAA are giving an award to David Diamante, it is difficult not to wonder what the often no-nonsense, knowledgeable and grounded Hubbard would have thought.

Friday June 9

Teofimo Lopez missed weight at the check weigh-in for tomorrow’s fight with Josh Taylor at the theatre at Madison Square Garden, but though Taylor made weight comfortably, the champion had weight-related concerns of his own.

He tipped the scales at 139.8lbs and was said to have already had a drink and breakfast, but was also said to have wanted to weigh-in earlier on Friday, and missed out on doing so largely because of his lawyer’s lack of attention to detail.

That he made weight so convincingly – and for the occasion of his first fight under Joe McNally – ultimately comes as little surprise. He has been bullish all week – like a fighter convinced about his condition and therefore chances of victory. ProBox TV understands that his chief sparring partner, Adrian Sosa, even suffered to the extent that he was unintentionally stopped in the second round of their first spa, which despite Taylor’s financial investment in him meant that they were unable to resume sparring until a week had passed.

Lopez left Madison Square Garden to make sure he made 140lbs at the official weigh-in, and after he returned he did so. To his credit, he didn’t look like someone who had struggled to make the 10st limit. The kilt-wearing Taylor, regardless, couldn’t resist taunting him and calling him a “fat bastard” when they were stood either side of the scales.

Among those present in New York to support Taylor is Leigh Wood, who trained alongside him under Ben Davison and who on Thursday evening won the BWAA’s fight of the year for his dramatic late stoppage of Michael Conlan. Wood described Taylor as an “instinctive” fighter, and contrasted him from himself, who under Davison thrives as someone who studies his opponents for weeks on end.

Also at Friday’s weigh-in was Bill Haney, the father, trainer and manager of Devin, the undisputed lightweight champion. He was wearing a WBO-branded jacket – it is Taylor’s WBO super lightweight title Taylor and Lopez are fighting for on Saturday – and revealed that he was not only there to observe both fighters given his son is a potential next opponent, but that he also had little desire to dismiss the suggestion that it is promoters Top Rank his son will re-sign with.

Saturday June 10

Josh Taylor chose to walk the streets of Manhattan back to his hotel in the rain after refusing to take the car that had been ordered to take he and those with him back from Madison Square Garden.

The 32-year-old, no doubt reflecting on what had unfolded at the theatre on the occasion of not only Teofimo Lopez’s finest performance but his first defeat, therefore found himself passing some of his fans.

His evening had started considerably more promisingly, and not just during the opening rounds. The then-WBO super lightweight champion had arrived before Brooklyn’s Lopez, decided he preferred Lopez’s dressing room to his, and therefore that he was going to take it. Lopez, in turn, had little choice but to take the dressing room Taylor had decided against. Whether or not Taylor actually preferred the other dressing room or simply wanted to secure a perceived psychological advantage remains unclear.

Gerry Cooney sat directly behind ProBox TV for much of the Top Rank bill that set a new gate record for the theatre at The Garden after selling all 5,151 tickets. The previous record gate for boxing at the same venue came when Vasyl Lomachenko defeated Jose Pedraza in 2018.

Cooney had predicted victory for Taylor. “Stoppage late on,” he said. “He’s a tough kid. He can hold a shot.[Lopez is] fucked up. He’s got crazy people around him; in his camp. I like Josh Taylor. He was lacklustre in his last fight, so he’s gonna perform to another level tonight.”

The charismatic 66 year old, in encouragingly good condition for a retired heavyweight, drew the attention of those around him shortly before the main event with a loud “Woah” in reaction to a punch taken by Jaime Munguia during his fight with Sergiy Derevyanchenko, which he was watching on a laptop screen. He also spoke of his appreciation of the promising Jared Anderson.

When in the final round of an increasingly one-sided fight Taylor remained on his feet amid significant punishment from Lopez, Cooney could also be heard praising his “bravery”.

For all of his talk of “retirement”, there seemed little reason to take the 25-year-old Lopez’s claims seriously, post-fight. He had started by saying he was going to return to the “drawing board”, which, if he didn’t expect to fight again, he would never have said. Perhaps typically, he talked himself into retirement as he spoke, such was the stream of consciousness that also included a reference to Walter Elias Disney (he, unexpectedly, had Walt Disney branding on the back of his robe, pre-fight). 

It was as difficult not to sympathise with him as he spoke post-fight about his divorce and battle for custody over his child as it was not to admire his outstanding performance. At only 25, he has had to endure so much under such intense scrutiny. It’s little wonder that, though he so often doesn’t help himself, he cut a struggling figure in the build-up to this fight. The greater mystery perhaps surrounds how he can perform so impressively in those circumstances.