NEW YORK– I won’t offer excuses here as to why Teófimo López got away with what appeared to be a gift 10-round split decision Saturday night in his second fight at junior welterweight. Though, I will state my case, as many ringside observers said at Madison Square Garden. López could have issues in this weight class.
Sandor Martin, the Spanish southpaw was a better fighter. When the ESPN televised Top Rank Boxing main event concluded, López posed a question to his father and trainer “I don’t know if I still have it… Do I still have it?”
López may still have the skills to become a champion in two-weight classes, though we never received a direct answer to his question about continuing his quest of another takeover towards becoming a two-time division and unified champion.
He was not made available for a post fight presser. Neither was Martin as he continued to receive attention for a broken nose that occurred in the first round from an accidental clash of heads. And this was not a highlight fight for López, at one time on top of the boxing world after dethroning Vasyl Lomachencko two years ago of the undisputed lightweight titles.
Martin, though, got the decision (95-94) from one ringside judge. He came to fight on three weeks’ notice after Jose Pedraza, a contender from Puerto Rico, had to pull out of the fight because of a non related COVID illness.
Regardless, a last minute opponent can cause frustration and place a different plan of attack for a fighter, though this time López can’t be excused. Martin (40-3. 13 KO’s) connected with a counter right hook and dropped López to the mat in the second round but two other judges saw this differently with their scores. The Latino Sports scorecard also had Martin with the 95-94 decision.
Every reason, though, for Martin to be frustrated as López got into a heated discussion with his opponent after the final bell about running away from his punches and not allowing him to connect.
“It was a surprise with the judges,” Martin said. “ I won this fight clearly. For one judge, I only won two rounds? Really? There were two knockdowns. The referee didn’t count one of the knockdowns. He missed all of his punches. That’s a masterclass of boxing. That’s a robbery. But that’s the sport of boxing.”
“In the ring, I controlled all the action. The timing. The moments. In the ring, controlled everything with my will. Teófimo was overanxious. In the eighth round, his corner told him, ‘Hey, let’s do it. You could lose this fight. It wasn’t just the broken nose. I only had three weeks of preparation. The broken nose was from an accidental headbutt. But I didn’t worry about this. But I knew that it would hurt every time he punched me there.”
As Martin said, López didn’t punch him. He pointed out that each time López connected, he would say ‘Ow.”
“But he touched me three times? Four times maximum? Really? You win with this? But he touched me three times? Four times, maximum? Really? You win with this?”
Regardless, López at times showed some flashes of stardom that had him as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters before losing the lightweight titles to George Kambosos Jr. Overall, though, López had difficulty trying to counter Martin. He focused more on avoiding punches and failed to counter with good exchanges.
“It’s so hard to fight somebody when they’re running the whole time,” López said. “Every time that this man wanted to commit, I was countering him and tagging him. That’s why he was running the whole time. I felt great overall. I knew he was tired. He didn’t want to commit. He was staying on his back foot and just running around the whole time. But it is what it is.”
Basically, as boxing has seen many times, Martin said he was robbed and deserves a rematch that won’t occur. He said it was highway robbery and every reason to justify his claim.
But López may need a few more fights before he can call out champions with his new takeover. The division is proving to be a tough hurdle, perhaps more difficult from the first Lopez takeover because elite fighters are eyeing superiority that include Regis Prograis who recently won a second title at 140.
And Jose Ramirez, a former champion is on the road to reclaiming a part of the titles, as is Josh Taylor who once held the title that belonged to Prograis.
But the verdict is still out with Teófimo López in this division. He will never admit to possibly being the smaller version of himself against the bigger fighters that hold portions of the junior welterweight titles.
“We would love to fight Josh Taylor,” López said. “ We would love to fight Regis Prograis. Or even a rematch with George Kambosos. My whole thing now is just staying focused and staying devoted.”
The Hondorian and one-time Brooklyn, NY resident, residing in Las Vegas, could hear some boos when the decision was announced and not typical for a Lopez fight that played out before 8,029 fans, far from breaking gate records in an arena known as The Mecca of Boxing.
Then again, the 25 year-old López (18-1, 13 KO’s) was highlighting a Garden card for the first time in the big room after previous fights in the adjacent Hulu Theatre, including his lightweight title loss last year to Kambosos Jr.
So there is still time for López to make adjustments, though a possible fight with Devin Haney at 140, holder of the lightweight belts he once had is a long way coming.
Yes, this was not a good night for Teófimo López, Martin, though, according to one judge only won two rounds, obviously a blow to him considering he scored a knockdown. The judges could have got this wrong in a sport that is subjective when it comes to the scorecards.
And López failed to throw the knockout punch that was his repertoire so often in that first takeover….
Zayas Continues His Rise To Stardom: Xander Zayas, (15-0, 10 KO’s) continued his ascension. Top Rank envisions him to be their next prominent fighter from Puerto Rico, very much like their accomplishments with four-division champion Miguel Cotto who headlined numerous cards at the Garden before record sellouts.
But the 20-year old Zayas is still learning and progressing his craft. He could headline an annual Top Rank promoted June event which takes place the night before the annual Puerto Rican National Parade in New York
Zayas retained his NABO 154-pound title and captured the NABF belt, alphabet soup, perhaps, but the beginning of positioning for major fights in the new year with that possible Garden date in June.
It was a Garden crowd cheering from the first round as Zayas found his spots and took the 8-round unanimous decision over Alexis Salazar (26-5, 10 KO’s) in the toughest test of his young career.
And his now formed friendship with NY Mets closer Edwin Díaz, also a resident of San Juan, that developed this past baseball season in Miami, was also a spectacle. Díaz escorted Zayas in the ring holding a title belt. “Narco” his entrance song from the Citi Field bullpen to the mound played to the Garden crowd.
“Little by little, we keep improving, keep getting better,” he said. “But I feel like we can still work a little bit on everything. My distance. My punch output. My defense. My angles. Everything. I feel like we can improve on everything.”
He made the rounds with the media as always and headed home to San Juan, Puerto Rico for the holidays, and then it’s returning to work in the gym in this continued quest for stardom. Not being partial, but admiring this young fighter can’t be overlooked.
The more time spent with Zayas, as I had the opportunity to do, and you can understand his mentality and working towards that continued development, also proud to represent Puerto Rico in and out of the ring.
Here is a brief conversation I had with Zayas as we both departed the Garden:
— Rich Mancuso (@Ring786) December 11, 2022
Rich Mancuso is the senior writer @Latinosports.com Twitter@Ring786 Facebook.com/Rich Mancuso. Watch “Sports With Rich” with Rich and co-host Robert Rizzo Tuesday evening live 8pmET on the SLG Network and YouTube
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