NEW YORK — There were doubts about Teófimo López, and after his last fight in December at Madison Square Garden he asked “Do I still have it?” Then it was a 10-round split decision loss to the unheralded Sandor Martin.
“The Takeover” and unifying the junior welterweight titles was on pause. López was distraught, and the former unified lightweight champion heard the talk. He wasn’t the same fighter. López was never to be considered again in that top pound-for-pound discussion.
But the distractions continued that had them talking. A custody battle for his son, rumors about a rift with his father, López Sr. the trainer and always in his corner. López was talking about dying in the ring and wanted to end the life of his next opponent, WBO junior welterweight champion Josh Taylor.
— Top Rank Boxing (@trboxing) June 11, 2023
So Saturday evening at the Theatre at Madison Square Garden, on the Top Rank/ESPN platform, before a record 5,151 fans, López reverted to form and easily handed Taylor his first defeat. The unanimous decision, though two judges had it close (115-113) and how to comprehend that tabulation is beyond explanation.
The 117-111 scorecard, I can live with that as my scorecard said. Though, Taylor was close to going down in round twelve, the same score here. Two judges have to be questioned about an even fight (95-95) after ten rounds, beyond explanation.
In the opening two rounds, Taylor connected with straight left hands and counterpunches to the body. But by rounds three and four, the 32-year-Taylor began feeling the sting of Lopez’s power.
Regardless, López is now a two-time champion, WBO, and part of that unification mix. And the takeover is now in motion, except López would not commit as to who is next. What matters, though, López is where he wants to be. No longer is the question of, do I still have it?
From the fourth round on, this was vintage Teófimo López. He was aggressive and Taylor missed his punches. López could not be stopped. He said he was in that groove, and the hometown New York crowd, many who booed him in December, were back in his corner. Taylor was a formidable champion who vacated the other titles and this fight was put on the calendar. So there is every reason for Teófimo López to celebrate this win and forget about the trash talk.
He is in position now, numerous opportunities to continue this takeover, Though the division is crowded with some of the elite fighters that include WBC champion Regis Prograis.
The 25-year old López, (Honduras) though raised in Brooklyn, NY and residing in Las Vegas, said it was time to take a break. He wants the other elite fighters in this division making their decision as to who is next.
“I need to take a break,” López said. “I’m tired of everybody bullying me. I’m young, I’m a kid, too, at heart. I think y’all need to go after the Devin Haney’s, the Shakurs, the Tyson Furys and all that.”
He was referring to lightweight champions Devin Haney and Shakur Stevenson, two of the young superstars that are contemplating moving to junior welterweight and possible opponents. Fury, the heavyweight champion, is always a subject of discussion in boxing talk.
And there will always be discussion about López, his ability to dispose opponents, the takeover, and his mentality to stay stable. At any time, López recalls reflections of Mike Tyson, the former heavyweight champion and questions about his mental attitude.
But López says he is past all of that. Now a champion again and fighting for more lucrative opportunities when he returns to the ring.
“Tonight was for me,” Lopez said. “And I like against all odds. I like when I question myself. I do it on purpose. I need the pressure on me because that’s what makes diamonds.I shined very bright tonight.”
Indeed, López shined bright. And it can only get better with his takeover back on track.
THE UNDERCARD: Another successful and traditional boxing card for Top Rank that took place an evening before the National Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York City.
And Junior middleweight phenom Xander Zayas (16-0, 10 KOs), the 20-year-old from San Juan, scored a dominant eight-round unanimous decision against California-born veteran Ronald “Diablo” Cruz (18-3-1, 12 KOs) to defend his NABF and NABO belts
In the opening stanza, Zayas landed a counter right hand that floored Cruz. Zayas maintained his composure and began boxing off his jab, stopping only to land two and three-punch combinations.
Cruz, who has never been stopped, resorted to a high guard to avoid punishment, and he managed to connect with an occasional right hand. However, Zayas’ versatility made it virtually impossible for Cruz to land as he was outgunned both on the inside and the outside.
With three scores of 80-71, Zayas takes home the second annual Miguel Cotto Award.
“This is a dream come true,” said Zayas. “I’m very happy to have fought during Puerto Rican Day Parade weekend. He was a tough guy. I was hitting him with everything. He didn’t want to go down. He was here to fight. He was motivated. He was tough. But we passed with flying colors. Unanimous decision. And we made the adjustments we needed to do.”
After the fight, Zayas was presented with the second annual Miguel Cotto Award, named after the four-division champion from Puerto Rico who continued a tradition of fighting on the night before the parade and sold out the Garden main arena numerous times…
Junior Lightweight Brazilian Olympic gold medalist Robson Conceicao (Bahia, Brazil)(17-2, 8 KOs) was just beginning to warm up in his scheduled 10-rounder against Nicolas Polanco (Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic) (20-4-1, 11 KOs), but an accidental headbutt in the second round forced the referee to stop the fight. The bout was ruled a no contest.
Junior Welterweights Omar Rosario (11-0, 3 KOs), the fighting pride of Caguas, Puerto Rico, tallied a workmanlike eight-round unanimous decision victory against countryman Jan Carlos Rivera (8-2, 6 KOs, Vieques). Rosario’s aggression and short counterpunches were just enough to overcome Rivera’s free-swinging style. Scores: 77-75 3x.
Junior Lightweights In a battle of southpaws, Puerto Rican standout Henry Lebron (18-0, 10 KOs. Aguadilla) scored a 10-round unanimous decision win over Spanish veteran Carlos Ramos (17-3, 10 KOs, Madrid, Spain). After a few feel-out rounds, Lebron’s talent began to overcome Ramos, as he dropped him in the eighth and tenth with right hooks. Scores: 97-91 and 98-90 2x.
Rich Mancuso: senior writer @Latinosports.com Twitter@Ring786 Facebook.com/Rich Mancuso.
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