This weekend’s fight between Josh Taylor and Teofimo Lopez at the Madison Square Garden Theater is a very, very good fight – and equally difficult to call.
If boxing was a more mainstream sport both could easily become crossover stars because they’re among the best fighters in the world. I fought Miguel Cotto in the arena at Madison Square Garden, and against Amir Khan and in the Golden Gloves in the theater. If the theater gets filled up – and there’s been some really good fights there, like Arturo Gatti-Wilson Rodriguez in 1996 – the atmosphere will be just right.
But both of these fighters are enigmas. We’ve seen them at their best and the kind of fighters they’ve beaten when they’ve been at their best, and then how they’ve performed on other occasions. You can’t always have great nights when you always fight the best opposition – and in their last fights they both fought very good fighters who weren’t particularly well-known. Jack Catterall, who deserves the rematch with Taylor, is a very good fighter; Sandor Martin retired Mikey Garcia.
Taylor is also fighting for the first time with Joe McNally as his trainer. Marriages between fighters and trainers can be hot and cold – in some cases it helps to go straight into a big fight, and in others it takes time for a fighter and trainer to gel.
There was a time I believed that a good trainer would always be a good trainer, regardless of the styles involved, because I believed he’d adjust his training methods to suit the strengths of the fighter and teach a good fighter other things. Time and experience has taught me the importance of personality and styles between fighters and trainers, and that some trainers are stronger with some styles than others. There are times fighters need to stay away from even good trainers if the style match-up isn’t right.
Martin’s a very capable fighter – one I’d heard good things about even before he’d signed to fight Garcia – so a greater concern from Lopez’s perspective than his performance against Martin was the way he lost to George Kambosos Jr in 2021. I’d also seen Kambosos Jr before that fight and, though durable, he looked ordinary enough to expect him not to be competitive.
It takes being a psychologist and a boxing analyst to be able to confidently predict the outcome of Taylor-Lopez, because of how temperamental they both are. The best version of Taylor – the WBO super lightweight champion – against the best version of Lopez is one of the best fights money can buy you, but it’s impossible to tell if those versions will show up, even if we can be confident that those versions still exist.
Watching Taylor beat Jose Carlos Ramirez in 2021 and Lopez become the only fighter to beat Vasyl Lomachenko without controversy in 2020 there looked no limit to how good they could both be. But Taylor’s coming off of a foot injury and Lopez has been troubled by his private life and going off the rails with some of the things he’s said – which is something I can relate to, having done it myself.Taylor’s combination punching, and Lopez saying he’s not going to remain an ESPN fighter – which potentially hurts him, politically – regardless just about gives Taylor the edge.
With Regis Prograis, Catterall, Martin and Ryan Garcia also at super lightweight, the last time the 10st scene was this exciting was when Ricky Hatton and Miguel Cotto were its biggest names. Floyd Mayweather was also passing through back then; Gatti and Junior Witter were competitive; me and Tim Bradley were coming up.
Catterall made his name against Taylor. If he continues to look good and continues to win against that level of opponent – even if he doesn’t win every time – and live up to the expectations he created against Taylor he can ensure that the rematch with Taylor is demanded.
Martin’s in a similar position to Catterall, and Prograis is another terrific fighter who deserves more attention and who, with Matchroom and their numerous television dates, can finally get that.
I question whether or not Garcia wants to be a boxer, however. He has many good things going on in his life outside of boxing – and he can still go really far if he just embraces that positivity.
Another exciting, competitive fight, also on Saturday, is taking place in Ontario at super middleweight between Jaime Munguia and Sergiy Derevyanchenko.
Munguia is exciting and very capable offensively, which makes him fun to watch, but he has a lot of flaws defensively, so it helps that he’s got a good chin that means he’s not scared to get into the pocket and battle it out.
Derevyanchenko has similar qualities but, technically, is a little better, which makes this a risky fight for Munguia. Derevyanchenko’s flown under the radar as a professional – he was a top-level amateur who competed at the Olympics and the World Series of Boxing – and could have got the decision that went against him when he fought Carlos Adames in 2021. This will be a violent, all-action fight in which both fighters tear into each other.