NEW YORK (AP) — There was no denying Teofimo Lopez’s talent as he rose to the top of the lightweight division.
That fighter, whose right hand could produce a highlight knockdown, hasn’t been around since he moved up in weight. Even Lopez was questioning himself after barely and unimpressively winning his last fight.
He still believes he can rule the 140-pound division, and will try to prove it Saturday. Lopez (18-1, 13 KOs) will challenge undefeated Josh Taylor, the former undisputed junior welterweight champion, at Madison Square Garden.
“This guy, no one has really called out Josh Taylor. Who knows why, maybe because he beat everybody already,” Lopez said, before talking directly to the champion. “So for me, I’m here. I’m here to come in there and take everything that you’ve got.”
Taylor (19-0, 13 KOs) now holds only the WBO belt. He gave up the other three while attempting to stage a rematch of his last victory, which like Lopez’s came by split decision.
But Taylor blames poor preparation more than any slippage for that clunker against Jack Catterall in February 2022, just as he figures it’s why Lopez has never duplicated the performance he had in beating Vasiliy Lomachenko to unify lightweight titles in October 2020.
“He’s up against the king of the division. I know he’s a good fighter. The version that beat Lomachenko is a very good fighter and that’s the version I’m preparing for,” Taylor said. “So it’s all about your preparation and this time I’ve prepared diligently and to the best of my ability, and you’ll see the best in me on Saturday night.”
The best of Taylor was good enough to hand Regis Prograis and Jose Ramirez their only losses and make him just the second man to hold all four 140-pound belts when he knocked Ramirez down twice in his victory two years ago.
Taylor said he couldn’t duplicate that focus in preparing for Catterall in his next bout, but insists he’s locked in now. He arrived from Scotland nearly two weeks ago expecting an adjustment to the temperature in New York.
He expects his fans to travel to what’s essentially a road game, with the Brooklyn-born Lopez having fought multiple times at Madison Square Garden.
The last few have gone poorly, though. He was upset by George Kambosos Jr. in his first fight after beating Lomachenko, then left the lightweight division. After a victory in his debut at 140 pounds, Lopez returned to MSG in December, getting up from a knockdown in the second round to eke out a victory over Spain’s Sandor Martin, followed by cameras capturing him asking aloud if he still had it.
Lopez said Saturday will show that he does.
“For me, I think it’s just really the best version of me that I have yet to see in myself,” Lopez said. “I questioned myself because I know I’m greater and every true artist always does that.”
The tone of Lopez’s talk has aggravated Taylor to the point that a police officer was positioned between them when they posed for pictures at their press conference Thursday. All the champion could do was lean in and yell in Lopez’s direction.
He vowed to make Lopez pay for saying disrespectful things. Lopez welcomes that, wanting to make a statement by beating the recognized best in his division.
“So when it comes to Josh Taylor, junior welterweight, he is the guy and that’s the guy you’ve got to beat to be the greatest, right?” Lopez said. “So this is what we aim for all the time.”
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