Teofimo Lopez revived his career by producing a masterclass to convincingly outbox Josh Taylor and end the Briton’s four-year reign as a super lightweight world champion via unanimous decision.
Taylor has long been recognised as not only one of Britain’s but the world’s finest fighters, and yet by the final bell at the theatre at New York’s Madison Square Garden was somewhat flattered by scores of 115-113, 115-113 and 117-111.
After a promising start he found himself first being timed and then increasingly hurt, and to the extent that by the final round he had to show admirable resilience to remain on his feet when he was at risk of being stopped.
He last fought in February 2022, when he remained the undisputed super lightweight champion after, despite having been convincingly outboxed by Jack Catterall, he was awarded the most controversial of decisions. Sixteen months on he retained only the WBO title of the four he worked so hard for, but Catterall will be one of many likely feeling a sense of justice that Taylor will wake up without it – and having officially recorded his first defeat.
The rematch with Catterall that had been scheduled, and remains essential, was cancelled by Taylor suffering a torn plantar fascia, by when he had already replaced Ben Davison, his trainer for his previous two fights, with Joe McNally – responsible for reviving the career of Liam Smith. Fears had persisted that the lack of professionalism that contributed to his disappointing performance against Catterall might have brought a premature end to his peak. They regardless also risk overlooking the 25-year-old Lopez’s brilliance on the night he produced his finest performance.
Lopez, of Brooklyn, had been similarly fortunate to be awarded victory in his past fight, against Sandor Martin, and was returning for the first time to the scene of his only defeat – against George Kambosos Jr in the fight that followed his triumph in 2020 over the great Vasyl Lomachenko. Against Taylor – a significantly physically bigger fighter than Lomachenko – he succeeded in performing even more impressively.
Taylor had started promisingly, building a lead in the opening four rounds that, given his size advantage, appeared likely to lead to him performing with even more authority. Instead Lopez first started timing him to close to perfection and then hurting him, and in a way that meant that Taylor would also have struggled against him at his peak.
The spite and energy with which Taylor was landing deteriorated from the fifth, when Lopez started consistently landing the first of his cleanest punches. A demonstration of the American’s growing confidence came in the way he at times started to stalk the defending champion, even if Taylor initially appeared content on the back foot.
It was in the seventh when he was hurt by a right hand, when swelling began to appear by his right eye and when it became clear the momentum of the fight was starting to favour Lopez. Another right then followed, as did them trading at the end of the round when Lopez again had the edge.
A sign of Taylor’s growing concern came when after landing one left hand he swung with another and missed. He landed one right and was then countered by another, and Lopez, by then enjoying himself, showboated by rocking his shoulders and hips. When in the ninth Taylor was hurt by successive right hands and his face was starting to swell, it became increasingly clear he was heading for defeat.
Before he emerged for the 12th, with both eyes reddened he looked up at McNally, who was likely telling him he needed a knockout for victory. He was instead swiftly wobbled by a left hand, and then repeatedly hurt to both head and body – and to the extent he impressed in remaining on his feet.
The retired heavyweight Gerry Cooney, sitting ringside and having predicted victory for the Scotsman, could be heard praising his “bravery”. There may come a time when the 32-year-old Taylor takes some pride in parts of his performance, but the fight in New York in the footsteps of his late friend and idol Ken Buchanan that had inspired him will instead leave him with a significant sense of despair.