IT’S odd to think two world-class fighters need a big win this year in order to forget victories from last year – especially when neither of them lost that year – but that’s the shared aim this Saturday night (June 10) when Josh Taylor and Teofimo Lopez clash in New York.

A vital fight for both, Taylor needs Lopez in order to quieten the noise that followed a controversial win over Jack Catterall last February, whereas Lopez needs Taylor in order to quieten the noise in his own head. Both are on winning runs and seemingly, on paper at least, in a good place, career-wise, yet it’s in the finer details you find the truth. It’s in the finer details you understand the significance of this fight on Saturday and why, for both, it represents more than just the opportunity to leave Madison Square Garden as the WBO super-lightweight belt-holder. For both, this is more about restoring reputation and being viewed as the best 140-pound fighter in the world. It is about redemption of the most unexpected and unorthodox kind.

Taylor, of course, will argue all of that. He will claim there is no need to restore his reputation, nor any need to consider this fight against Lopez as anything other than the latest defence of his WBO belt. As far as he is concerned, his February win over Catterall was just that: a win. That it was close, and that he found himself knocked down in the process, is neither here nor there. Also, the fact the rematch never materialised is just one of those things in the mind of Taylor. He says it will be there again in the future, though cynics might say, based on the nature of the first fight and the reluctance Taylor has shown when discussing either that or the rematch, it’s unlikely to rank high on the Scotsman’s list of priorities should he conquer Lopez this weekend.

It should be, mind. After all, until Taylor deals with Catterall in a more conclusive manner, that fight between the pair over a year ago will always be the stick with which Taylor’s critics used to beat him. It’s not unfair, either, for them to behave in this way, particularly in light of how well Catterall boxed that night and how lost Taylor looked, both in comparison to Catterall and in comparison to how Taylor has looked in numerous other fights. Suddenly, for some reason Taylor was that night unable to manhandle his fellow Brit the way he had manhandled previous opponents. Suddenly, he had no answer for Catterall’s sharp southpaw counter-punching and intelligent footwork.

Again, this is something Taylor, 19-0 (13), will dispute. He will say, in response, that he rallied down the stretch and that Catterall, as the challenger, did not do enough to rip the title away from him on the night. Admittedly, that’s an argument tough to swallow, but it’s an argument all the same; one Taylor has every right to throw at anyone who criticises him.

In fairness to Taylor, too, it’s about time everyone moved on and forgot about that fight, if just for the time being. Fourteen months is a long time and the rematch is not, for whatever reason, going to happen anytime soon. As such, it is important now that both Taylor and Catterall, who returned to the ring last weekend to outpoint Darragh Foley, re-establish themselves as separate entities and move away from merely being considered pawns in a rivalry that may or may not continue in the future.

To this end, Taylor, having withdrawn from a scheduled Catterall rematch due to injury, turns his attention to Teofimo Lopez, a former world lightweight champion. This, he says, is a better fight than the Catterall rematch on account of both Lopez’s global reputation and the fact he has previously – albeit briefly – topped a weight class. There is truth to that, too, although it would be foolish of anyone to suggest this fight, given the context, is somehow more important or pressing than the aforementioned return with Catterall.

Jack Catterall and Josh Taylor exchange punches (Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images)

Still, we take what we are given and what we are to be given this weekend is a tremendous matchup between two boxers whose styles should blend quite magnificently. Different only in stance and nationality, Taylor and Lopez are cut from the very same blood-stained cloth and are aggressive, confrontational and controversial in all the best ways when it comes to a sport as embracing of those things as boxing. Neither like to take a backwards step, be it in the ring or in an argument, and both are fuelled by the kind of machismo that simply wouldn’t wash in most other walks of life.

Of the two, it is probably Taylor who is flying higher at this moment in time. He, despite that Catterall issue, is still unbeaten as a pro, winning 19 fights in a row, and is still someone most of the world’s super-lightweights have good reason to fear in 2023. Relentless in his approach, and usually able to win rounds and force stoppages whenever the pressure is on, Taylor has, since turning pro in 2015, evolved into a well-rounded, well-balanced fighting machine whose pace and tempo few are able to match, even at the top level. For a time, in fact, he was considered arguably Britain’s best pound-for-pound fighter, with his stock never higher than when he travelled to Las Vegas in 2021 to add José Ramírez’s WBC and WBO titles to his own WBA and IBF belts. Following that win, there appeared no stopping Taylor on his path to global domination. Certainly, if he was to come unstuck, it would not be against domestic opposition in the form of Jack Catterall.

As for Lopez, 18-1 (13), his time at the top was short-lived in the extreme. One moment he was dethroning Vasiliy Lomachenko in the mother of all breakout performances and the next he was undoing all that good work in an equally shocking loss against Australia’s George Kambosos. That those two fights occurred back-to-back speaks to not only the unpredictable nature of world championship boxing but also the unpredictable nature of Teofimo Lopez. He is just built that way, unfortunately. On his day he can be quite the talent, as shown against Lomachenko, but there is forever the feeling that he is one bad round or one bad performance away from unravelling completely.

This suspicion has only increased in the aftermath of that Kambosos defeat in 2021. Since then, Lopez has fought just twice, last year beating Pedro Campa by seventh-round stoppage and outpointing Sandor Martin over 10, and has, rather frustratingly, shown signs of regression. Against Martin, in particular, Lopez can probably count himself lucky to have received the split-decision verdict at the bout’s conclusion and he knew it, too, even asking members of his team after the fight if they felt he still had what it takes. That was a candid moment in a sport refreshingly full of them, yet it also managed to offer a disturbing insight into the mindset of Lopez at this current time. Unsure, both of himself and the trajectory of his career, he certainly doesn’t seem like a fighter confident that his loss to Kambosos was merely a blip from which he is certain to rebound. Instead, there is almost a sense with Lopez that his prime, or time at the top, was always going to be short and explosive and that the moment it ended would be the moment he too started to slide.

Some fighters are just like that. They ignite quickly, then fizzle out at the same rate. This is hardly helped, either, when the fighter in question is a fighter whose life is as turbulent away from the ring as it is inside it. That’s not to say Lopez is a bad egg, or someone who needs monitoring when he is not boxing, but there are myriad signs all has not been well either at home or in his head since that defeat against Kambosos. Moreover, one wonders what kind of impact, both positive and negative, his outspoken father has had on Teofimo over the years. In terms of pressure, or expectancy, when so much of his father’s identity is attached to what Teofimo is achieving in the ring, one starts to question how the weight of that feels on the shoulders of a boxer who, let’s not forget, is still just 25 years of age.

Most likely, as with Taylor, Lopez will bat away these concerns with all the stubbornness of a world championship prizefighter, then point to last year’s victories as proof he is back in the saddle. Yet, the truth is, it is only in a fight like Saturday’s, against an opponent like Taylor, that Lopez can truly show that he is back to his best and ready to return to the very top of the sport. Until then, he remains an enigma. He remains a fighter capable of beating anyone at his weight on his day, but, equally, is a fighter capable of losing to anyone at his weight when his mind isn’t focused on the task at hand.

Teofimo Lopez (Al Bello/Getty Images)

Taylor, conversely, is a man whose temperament is better managed once he gets in the ring and the first bell sounds. It is there, in that domain, Taylor is at his most measured, professional, and stylish. Gone, for 36 minutes, is the fiery character prone to putting his foot in his mouth whenever he speaks, and gone, too, is the man whose pride sometimes intercepts his grasp on reality. For those 36 minutes Taylor is simply a man born to fight, displaying in that time everything you could wish to see in a world champion fighter. He is a model pro. He is a textbook stylist. He does almost everything right.

Lopez, while less refined, carries an explosiveness Taylor perhaps lacks, as well as extremely quick hands; quick even at lightweight, let alone at super-lightweight. Chances are, he will start Saturday’s fight at a real pace, too, maybe even bagging the early rounds and gaining plenty of momentum along the way. Yet, ultimately, it is in the middle portion of the fight and during the later rounds he will be tested more than ever before. It is in those rounds Taylor, historically, comes on strong and does his best work. It is in those rounds both fighters will need to demonstrate the kind of focus they found wandering during fights in 2022 and hold it all together in the company of someone whose mentality is much like their own. Destined to go long, it seems, it is easy to picture a scenario in which Taylor takes a little while to get going but then, once he is going, proves too much for Lopez as the fight reaches its final stages. By that point, he would have accumulated enough rounds to see the fight through to its conclusion, taking a close but unanimous decision back home to Scotland.