There has been a significant shift in the schedule and plans for once-undisputed junior welterweight champion Josh Taylor. After progress in negotiations and multiple announcements for a fight against Jack Catterall, Taylor will now fight the once-unified lightweight champion and top star in the sport, Teofimo Lopez. The bout, which will take place at New York’s Madison Square Garden on June 10 (ESPN/ESPN+), will be for Taylor’s junior welterweight title.
But was this the right choice for the duo? An opportunity to box at Madison Square Garden might have been influential in Taylor’s decision, as this will be a high-profile bout between two former undisputed world champions.
ESPN looks at some of the key issues around the matchup between two fighters looking to regain and retain their positions among the world’s top 10 pound-for-pound fighters.
Does this fight against Lopez provide more opportunity for Taylor?
Yes, beyond dispute. A fight against Lopez, the former unified lightweight world champion, is a bigger fight internationally than a rematch against Catterall, who before last year’s fight with Taylor was relatively unknown.
Lopez (18-1, 13 KOs), 25, based in Las Vegas but born in Brooklyn, New York, is also a bigger challenge for Taylor (19-0, 13 KOs), 32, with more to be gained from it if he wins.
Catterall surprised a lot of people with his brilliant display against Taylor a year ago in his first world title fight, a controversial split decision loss. But Lopez is more widely known than Catterall and brings interest to the fight from beyond the UK. Taylor-Catterall II is an all-British matchup and does not have the same broad appeal.
Also, from Taylor’s point of view, his rivalry with Catterall is not going away, it’s something that he can pick up (if he wants to) later this year, win or lose against Lopez.
A rematch with Catterall is great (and let’s hope we see it), but Taylor stands more to earn and more to gain from fighting Lopez next. The credibility he would earn if he wins, and the larger purse, proved too convincing an argument for Taylor to turn down. The gate revenue in New York will exceed that generated by a rematch against Catterall in Glasgow.
Also, the WBO conveniently made Lopez the mandatory challenger after Taylor-Catterall II was postponed because of Taylor’s injury (a torn plantar fascia tendon) in February.
“If I went and fought Jack, I’d be fighting him with no titles and I want to keep the title,” Taylor said. “It’s out of my control and it’s not my fault the WBO got in touch.”
Lopez looked vulnerable at times in fights against George Kambosos Jr. and Sandor Martin — another reason Taylor took the fight.
What is the significance of boxing at MSG and in New York for Taylor?
Huge, and it will be a driving inspiration for the Scottish boxer.
Scottish boxing legend Ken Buchanan, from Edinburgh like Taylor, was top of the bill at MSG five times in the 1970s, winning four and losing one. In December 1970, Muhammad Ali was on the same bill as Buchanan at MSG.
After making a successful lightweight title defense against Ismael Laguna in that venue in 1971, Buchanan lost his belt a year later to Roberto Duran, who threw a low blow in the 13th round, but the Scottish fighter had two more wins at MSG.
The chance to emulate his hero Buchanan will not have been lost on Taylor.
Can Teofimo Lopez succeed in the 140 division?
Yes — but he has to do a lot better than his most recent fight against Martin in December. This division is not as loaded with talent as welterweight, and the belts are now fractured after Taylor held all four a year ago.
Regis Prograis, who has looked sharp since losing on points to Taylor in the World Boxing Super Series final in October 2019, is the biggest threat, with former champion Jose Ramirez, who’s facing Richard Commey on March 25, also a possibility. If the fights can get made — and that’s a big if — Lopez versus Prograis and/or Ramirez would be popular events, which will help make Lopez one of boxing’s biggest stars.
The fights are there for Lopez, but like Taylor, he needs to return to form in June.
How can Taylor win?
By boxing far better than he did against Catterall a year ago. Taylor was outboxed for large parts of that fight. He was floored in the eighth round, and many thought he was lucky to escape with a split decision win. Taylor, who was caught too easily and had trouble landing clean shots, says he believes his size and experience give him the edge against Lopez — and he could be right.
Let’s not forget Taylor is an intelligent boxer, with a piston-like jab when it is in full flow. He’ll have to establish that early on to dictate the direction and pace of the fight. Taylor is working with a new trainer for this fight, Joe McNally, and together they will have to ensure Taylor recaptures the form that saw him masterfully deal with Ramirez two years ago to become undisputed world champion.
Making the weight — Taylor is big for junior welterweight — sensibly will be important for the Scottish boxer. He needs to be mobile to win this fight. If he can box as well as he did against Ramirez, Lopez could have a tough time. Taylor floored Ramirez twice on his way to a career-best win via a unanimous decision in May, 2021, and that version of Taylor can triumph against Lopez.
How can Teofimo win?
A fast start, helped by the roars from thousands of his fans, will help Lopez just as it did in his fights leading up to the unanimous decision win over Vasiliy Lomachenko in October 2020.
Taylor started badly against Catterall, and almost paid for it. Lopez’s movement and tactical intelligence have troubled better boxers than Taylor before (Lomachenko for instance), and the American needs to rediscover that form, that intensity, and that motivation.
Lopez needs to ensure his stamina does not let him down. He faded late against Lomachenko and looked flat in his most recent fight versus Martin. In contrast, Taylor rallied late against Catterall, and that saved his belts.
Self-belief could also be an issue with Lopez. He even asked his team, “Do I still have it?” after the split points win over Martin.
For Lopez to beat Taylor, he must first emphatically answer that question himself and erase any self-doubts he has about his boxing form. Taylor will exploit a fragile psyche.
Tactically and technically, Lopez has already provided proof he can beat an opponent as good as Taylor. The Martin fight aside, Lopez also has a good track record against southpaws like Taylor, stopping Diego Magdaleno and outpointing Lomachenko.
Lopez’s defense — especially against Taylor’s dangerous left uppercut, which floored Ramirez — and concentration need to be better to avoid the knockdowns he suffered against Kambosos and Martin, which just might have been the wake-up call he needed.