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Live On ESPN: Josh Taylor vs Teofimo Lopez – World Title And Redemption On The Line Tonight

Image: Live On ESPN: Josh Taylor vs Teofimo Lopez - World Title And Redemption On The Line Tonight

By Eóin Kennedy: The narrative around the Josh Taylor vs. Teofimo Lopez light-welterweight world title fight in New York tonight is certainly strange, to say the least.

Scotsman Taylor has never been beaten, and the challenger, Brooklyn’s own Lopez, has only lost once in a career that has seen them both become undisputed champions at different weight classes (Lopez was undisputed in everything but name as the WBC ridiculously created the franchise belt for the Vasiliy Lomachenko fight). But, while the record books say both Taylor and Lopez are coming off wins, the fans beg to differ.

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It’s over a year since Taylor defended his undisputed world title in Glasgow, Scotland, against Jack Catterall, and the general consensus was that Taylor was resoundingly beaten that night, but after twelve rounds, the judges saw something different and awarded the fight to the hometown champion.

Back in October 2020, when the world was still gripped by the Covid pandemic, Lopez did the impossible and defeated Lomachenko, a fighter that was at that time regarded as one of the best pound-for-pound boxers in the world, but since then, we have seen him lose those belts in a war with George Kambosos, and much like Taylor, many fans feel that Lopez lost his last fight against Sandor Martin, despite getting the nod from the judges.

The manner in which both fighters emerged from their controversial last fights has certainly had an impact on the hype and marketability of this fight.

Before the Catterall fight, Taylor was hugely respected within the sport for the manner in which he became the undisputed light-welterweight champion in only eighteen fights and how he was willing to fight tough, undefeated fighters without fuss. But the fallout from the Catterall fight has certainly damaged the Scottish fighter’s brand, as he was adamant that he won the fight and went on the offensive verbally against Catterall in the following weeks and months.

To his credit, Taylor did agree to an immediate rematch with Catterall, and a date was set, but between Taylor picking up an injury, Catterall changing promoters, and the WBO ordering the champion to defend his world title against Lopez, that fight has been shelved for now.

While Lopez’s marketability has been tarnished in a similar manner to Taylor’s, the way he has gone about his self-destruction has been entirely different. Taylor did act a little irrationally in response to the fall-out of his last fight, but, in his defense, it was the judges that screwed Jack Catterall out of the undisputed world title in Glasgow that night, not Josh Taylor, and his reaction, though fiery and over the top, is probably part of the makeup that has made him such an incredible world champion already.

Lopez, on the other hand, may have been a victim of believing his own hype after conquering Lomachencko, but at just twenty-three years of age at the time, that can be forgiven. What fans are finding more unforgivable is that Lopez is still rambling on with strange and misguided diatribes about how he is the greatest of all time alongside Muhammed Ali, how he wants to kill Josh Taylor on Saturday (which is beyond deplorable since death can and does occur in the boxing ring) and that his promotional company, Top Rank, and their broadcasting partner, ESPN, favor black fighters.

Lopez has had some personal issues that have spilled into the public domain, and while it’s nobody’s business other than his own, the strange behavior and comments from Lopez seem quite different from the persona he had before the Lomachenko fight, which has commentators commenting on whether his current mental state is one that is currently suited to becoming a world champion again.

Lopez’s trainer and father, Teofimo Sr., also hasn’t done his son any favors with his erratic behavior and claims that are more delusional than his son’s, and most boxing experts have stated that Lopez needs to ditch his dad from his corner, or at least get an established trainer in to assist and steady the ship.

Both champion and challenger were seen as the golden geese of Top Rank’s stable not too long ago, but what would have been seen as a blockbuster fight just a year or two ago is now flying under the radar a little bit and is even free to air on ESPN rather than their pay-per-view platform where fights of this magnitude usually sit.

The most damning indictment of a fight that once would have been categorized as a super-fight is that it is taking place at the Hulu Theatre at Madison Square Garden rather than the bigger, more hallowed room at the world’s most famous arena. This fact proves that both fighters’ stock has fallen quite a bit, but it is more worrying for Lopez, who hails from the nearby borough of Brooklyn.

There is no prize bigger in boxing than a world title, but on Saturday night, it feels like Josh Taylor and Teofimo Lopez are both fighting for something bigger; redemption and respect once again from the fans that are the lifeblood of the sport. Regardless of the result, one man will leave New York City as world champion on Saturday night, and that man will have options going forward. For the defeated fighter, deep soul-searching will ensue.

The Taylor vs Lopez fight will be shown live on ESPN, ESPN Deportes, and ESPN+ at 3 a.m. BST (British Summer Time), which is 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT in the US.

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