The best part of Teofimo Lopez’s Saturday night came long after the fight for the WBO super lightweight world title at The Theater at Madison Square Garden was over. He had just won a one-sided unanimous decision to take Josh Taylor’s belts after a murky, brooding promotion.
People felt sorry for him when he watched an interview he did with ESPN. When his father/trainer entered the room, his entire personality changed. When a reporter told him he understood what he had been through, Lopez quickly interrupted and responded curtly and firmly.
“You have no idea,” Lopez told ESPN. You have no idea what I’ve seen, what I’ve been through, and what I’m still walking through. None of you.”
After seeing that, everyone who knew him must have legitimate concerns about his well-being. It led to a serious and not at all unreasonable question of whether he should have been allowed to fight at all.
He was talking about killing Taylor. He talked about wanting to die in the ring. He showed great fear as he gave a glimpse into his life behind the scenes. One had to wonder if the New York State Athletic Commission was failing in its duties by not intervening and stopping the fight.
Then on Saturday the bell rang and it was like 2020 again. López was brilliant. He boxed amazingly well. He hit Taylor with booming punches that shook the one-time undisputed champion to his very foundations. He controlled the ring from start to finish and he won a decision that was much closer than it ever should have been.
If Taylor had won the 12th round on the cards of Steve Gray and Joseph Pasquale, they would have drawn. The result would have been a majority draw and Taylor would have kept the belts. That would have been madness. Even Taylor understood.
“He was the better man tonight,” Taylor said after the fight.
Lopez went through his post-fight interview in the ring and then gathered his squad to pose for the cameras. He took the pictures, turned to the right, looked at someone in the distance and beamed.
That was his best moment of his night, because the pain was gone at least for a while.
This is a man going through so much. He is in the middle of a bitter divorce. He is about to fight for custody of his son, Liam. Asked by a reporter later, “Now what?” and Lopez said retired and that he wasn’t getting paid enough.
That’s important because before the fight, he complained that his wife might get 50 percent of his money in divorce proceedings.
This is a man with a lot of pressure on his shoulders and his father, who is his biggest fan but also a major source of his problems, almost seems like he wants to live the hunter’s life for him.
Boxing has kept them close and somewhat within the realm of reality.
There’s no excuse for Lopez repeatedly saying he wanted to kill Taylor, though to his credit he apologized directly to Taylor for that Saturday.
He seemed, most of the time anyway, to hit back at the happy, gregarious kid who took boxing by storm in both 2017 and 2018 when he was named Yahoo Sports Prospect of the Year twice.
He was almost perfect in the ring and brought back memories of his glory days, even though he is only 25 years old. It was the kind of performance he put on in Las Vegas in 2020 as he routed Vasiliy Lomachenko to become the undisputed lightweight champion and move up the pound-for-pound list.
The outcome was never in doubt after a few short early rounds. Lopez landed hard shots, hit in combination and ran Taylor into shots.
As his father loudly predicted after the weigh-in, he badly out-scored Taylor, who had been the undisputed super-lightweight champion, before giving up three of four belts after a controversial win over Jack Catterall last year.
But Taylor was still clearly the man in the division going into the fight and was about a 2-1 favorite as all the late bet money poured in on him.
Before the fight, speaking illogically and clearly showing personal pain about the issues in his private life being laid bare for the world, Lopez showed no signs of performing anywhere near this level, but it was just an indication of the huge amount of talent he had. possess. If he had a normal personal life and his father did not constantly bother him, who knows what he would be capable of? After his last fight, a mediocre win over Sandor Martin, he wondered if he still had it. On Saturday he showed that he can do it.
“I’m so grateful now,” Lopez said. “It’s been a long, long time. We just beat the No. 1 man, [the] No. 1 champion, lineal world champion, Josh Taylor. [He is] the former undisputed world champion, [so I’m the] two-time undisputed world champion, Teofimo Lopez.”
“I have to ask you one thing, and one thing only: Do I still have it?”
And it was also good to see him smile when he realized the answer.