It was a bad night for Josh Taylor in the Garden ring in New York City on Saturday. Taylor was beaten by Teofimo Lopez over 12 rounds in a shock defeat. It was certainly not the fight that Taylor expected.
Taylor suffered defeat for the first time in 20 fights, he lost his one remaining world championship belt and at the end he offered no excuses. “The better man won,” he managed, his voice crackling with emotions. Taylor was putting on a brave face to mask the despair.
It had been a fiery and ugly build-up and Lopez had talked of killing Taylor in the ring. Lopez, who has his own personal battles away from the ring, apologised for the comment and received a peck on the cheek for his honesty. “It’s all song and dance,” Taylor told him. It was an oddly respectful end to a week of promises, insults and stupid claims.
It was also glorious redemption for Lopez, once the No 1 at lightweight. Lopez had lost his way on both sides of the ropes, and finished his last fight asking his team live on air if he still “had it”? It was a difficult interview to watch; on Saturday in the ring in the Garden’s basement theatre, Lopez rediscovered the form most people thought had vanished. He is still only 25, by the way.
It was a close fight that Lopez won clearly and that often happens when two very good boxers meet. One judge, Benoit Roussel, scored it wide in Lopez’s favour. His 9-3 verdict was too wide, to be honest. The other two judges, Steve Gray and Joseph Pasquale, returned identical scores of 115-113, which means 7-5 in rounds in Lopez’s favour. Taylor never complained, but had he won the last round, he would have retained his title with a majority drawn verdict. Instead, Taylor had to surrender his beloved world championship belt. Last year, Taylor held all four belts at super-lightweight before slowly losing the struggle to keep the quartet of baubles in a protracted series of skirmishes with the sanctioning bodies.
Taylor has not fought since February of last year and had been placed under relentless pressure to carry out his mandatory requirements. He surrendered, under threat of being stripped, three belts and was left with just the WBO; he was still considered the best at his weight. Taylor, incidentally, had won all four belts in a series of fights against six men with a combined record of 133 wins and not one loss. Taylor was, make no mistake, the best in the world at his weight. That changed in the Garden ring.
Lopez was too mobile, too slick and Taylor was just off the pace. It is not a tricky fight to understand; Lopez just worked that bit harder. Taylor had talked before about moving away from the 140-pound limit of super-lightweight and going to welterweight. In New York late on Saturday, there was also talk of a rematch. Taylor will let the loss settle and then make a decision, but hopefully he will not take another 16-month break.
On the same night, it was the Sunny Edwards show at Wembley Arena and he retained his IBF flyweight title for the fourth time. On his undercard, Nina Hughes retained her WBA bantamweight title over 10 rounds against Katie Healy and in the bloody fight of the night, Ellie Scotney won the IBF super-bantamweight title.
Scotney, having just her seventh fight, was too smart, tough and determined for New Zealand’s Cherneka Sugar Johnson. There was a dark and deep cut by Johnson’s right eye for most of the blood-splattered fight. Scotney was quite brilliant, Johnson’s five Māori-haka men stole the show with their routine before she walked to the ring. It was her highlight, they were exceptional.
Edwards was a clear winner of nine of the 12 rounds, but the Chilean Andres Campos kept it competitive. “I need tests,” Edwards admitted. And he does and the tests might start later this year. And I hope so, Edwards has the style, craft and personality to be a big attraction.
Edwards has a deal with his new promoter, Eddie Hearn, for the big fights; there are three other world champions at flyweight, but Edwards wants Jesse “Bam” Rodriguez – the WBO flyweight champion and a genuine threat. Rodriguez is unbeaten in 18, just 23, the former world champion at super-flyweight and, according to heavy rumour, he wants our Sunny. As a twist – and it is a good one – Sunny has signed and agreed to the fight, which includes the money terms, with Rodriguez as part of his deal with Hearn. Rodriguez can be enticed over for a December showdown. That, by the way, is a super fight.
Edwards won clearly, Hughes did the same, Scotney’s win was hard but clear and in New York, in the basement theatre at the Garden once evocatively known as the Felt Forum, Taylor was left wondering what went wrong. There were no excuses, but there will be some questions.
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