THROUGHOUT fight week self-appointed mental health experts were telling Teofimo Lopez he should be sitting on a therapist’s couch rather than appearing in a boxing ring, almost as though being in a boxing ring and calling it your safe space, or your home, doesn’t require a certain element of crazy in the first place.

Perhaps, when it comes down to it, some fighters hide it better than others, this craziness, and some have a way of using it – as fuel, as motivation – better than others. For someone like Lopez, as honest as the day is long, he did an admittedly terrible job of hiding it in the lead up to tonight’s (June 10) fight against Josh Taylor in New York, but in the end did a fine job of using it to his advantage on the night itself. “Tonight was for me,” he told reporters at ringside, moments after being awarded a unanimous decision over Taylor (by scores of 117-11, 115-113, 115-113). “Tonight was for me.”

Divorced from his partner of five years, with whom he shares a child, Lopez admitted he had been “really screwed up mentally” by the ordeal but said that the pressure of performing in a boxing ring, against a champion like Taylor, was something he needed in his life tonight – if just as a distraction, an escape, some form a relief. And, given his troubles, plus his honesty, who are we to argue with that? Indeed, if not occasionally used as an unconventional form of therapy, what actual purpose does boxing serve in a supposedly civilised society? Is it merely a money-making venture? Is it merely a way for violent men and women to embrace their violence without ending up in jail?

Many boxers, in fact, get into boxing to escape themselves and their problems right from the very start. Spend any decent amount of time around one of them and you’ll realise pretty quickly they are wired differently than the rest of us. It won’t take you long, in other words, to understand why they have chosen to get punched in the head for a living and you, and many others, have seen alternative options in the quest for money, purpose, routine and fun. Only few of them, too, will have the luxury of seeing boxing purely as sport or competition or a way of making money. Most, unfortunately, are drawn to it out of necessity.

Teofimo Lopez (Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images)

Teofimo Lopez is one such fighter. No silver-spoon kid, he has grown up the hard way and with a father whose very identity and relevance is entwined, at times unnervingly so, with the success his son has in the boxing ring. Add to that his recent troubles, including the separation from a woman he once loved and is now trying to both fight and forget, and is it really any wonder he has ended up in a boxing ring as opposed to on a therapist’s couch? This is a man, after all, who knows nothing other than boxing and who, like his outspoken father, would be nothing without the release he can experience on fight night; the walk to the ring, the nerves during the introductions, the blissful feeling of possessing the power to block out the crowd and all other voices, both in corners and in one’s head, as well as the perversely thrilling feeling of punching another man in the face, and seeing the hurt on this face, and then receiving something of the same from them in retaliation. This, for a 25-year-old like Lopez, must have been viewed as therapy of sorts, surely. For if wanting to punish himself for his life recently veering off track, boxing, this most abusive of partners, gave him that opportunity tonight. Conversely, if wanting to punish someone else for his life veering off track, he had that opportunity tonight, too. Either way, given all that has gone on, there is every chance Lopez has wanted to hit something or someone hard in the face for a long time now. He has also likely wanted to get hit so hard himself he wakes up from his current nightmare and feels only the sting of physical pain.

Tonight, against Taylor in New York, he was able to achieve both those things. Better yet, over the course of 12 rounds Lopez managed to silence the doubters, including me, who picked Taylor to beat him ahead of their WBO super-lightweight title fight at Madison Square Garden. Too quick, too sharp, and always too clever, he led Taylor a dance for many of the rounds they shared and would often counter him with short and impactful right hands whenever the increasingly desperate Scot, who sleepwalked through too much of the fight, tried to come on strong.

In the end, it was the sort of performance that has critics not only eating humble pie but questioning why they ever felt Taylor was capable of beating Lopez in the first place. To see them both together, after all, was to see a clear difference in class and quality between the pair. Moreover, seeing Lopez go on to control and, for the most part, dominate Taylor forced one to remember that this is a man, Lopez, who has previously beaten the great Vasiliy Lomachenko, a southpaw whose skills are far superior to those of Josh Taylor, 19-1 (13). That Lopez, also now 19-1 (13), went on to immediately lose in an upset against George Kambosos caused us all to reassess our view of him, yet that backtracking should then have perhaps been balanced by Taylor’s own recent struggle against Jack Catterall, a fighter who, like Lopez, appeared far too astute for the comparatively straightforward super-lightweight champion from Prestonpans.

Still, you live and learn. Sometimes, as tonight proved, it’s best not to assume anything, whether in boxing or in someone else’s head, and sometimes it is better not to judge someone else’s behaviour according to your own.

The irony, of course, is that long before Lopez defeated Taylor tonight in the ring, he was being described as “crazy” and “mentally unwell” and being prescribed a course of action by people who believe it is sane behaviour to either take to their phones and tell strangers their opinions of other strangers or, alternatively, yell these opinions at a webcam in a room inside their home.

Maybe, then, in light of this, there is these days a normalised, socially acceptable crazy and a more honest crazy. If indeed that’s the case, it would mean Teofimo Lopez’s only crime, if it can even be considered such, is that he was simply too honest during fight week and the weeks preceding it. That he said too much. That he shared too much. That he was seen too much. Or maybe the greater truth is that we all have our flaws and fragilities and Lopez, a boxer rather than a philosopher, and a broken man in a sport forever welcoming such men, has no way of hiding these flaws and fragilities the way others do. Only when he is in the ring, in fact, is he able to do a good job of hiding both them and himself from the world. Only when he is in the ring is he for thirty-six minutes able to feel normal, balanced, and okay. Only when he is in the ring is he able to relax, breathe, and express himself; the cornerstones of any successful therapy session.