AS HE contemplated his first defeat as a professional fighter Josh Taylor is said to have forgone the car that was sent to take him from Madison Square Garden to his hotel to instead walk the crowded streets of Manhattan in the rain.

Whether coming to terms with being outclassed by so brilliant a fighter, punishing himself for – by his own admission – neglecting his game plan or fearing, as has previously been suggested by those outside of his inner circle, that he is declining remains unclear. After so remarkable a run of success since 2015 when he made his debut he is approaching his biggest test.

There will be those – Jack Catterall prominent among them – ready to remind him that he perhaps had not just lost for the very first time, and Taylor, whose stubbornness has for so long been one of his strengths, may finally have been struggling to convince himself otherwise. There is little question he had just lost to the finest of his 20 opponents – and he has long been matched aggressively – so if he responds accordingly the growing fears surrounding his future may yet prove premature. His 16 months of inactivity and him suffering a torn plantar fascia will not have helped his preparations for Teofimo Lopez, but Taylor and those around him will know that, unlike ahead of the fight with Catterall, he was in a good place.

In the days before Taylor-Lopez no less an authority than Chris Algieri had told Boxing News of the need for Lopez to earn Taylor’s respect in the opening rounds. That he succeeded in doing so may even be what changed the course of their fight, even if Taylor had remained committed to the tactics they had planned.

Another of the 32-year-old Taylor’s strengths has been his ability to bully his opponents – on occasion psychologically, as well as physically, as has often been possible in the context of being a super lightweight with a 69 1/2ins reach and 5ft 10ins frame. That Lopez appeared unconcerned by his early aggression – despite being caught by a left hand at the conclusion of the second round he returned to his corner with a smile on his face – ultimately also proved significant.

Taylor’s advantage never looked more pronounced than it did in the opening round, in which a bruising exchange involved him landing to both head and body, him forcing Lopez to fight at a fast pace, and him also later landing a further left hand to the body.

Brooklyn’s Lopez, 25 and by some distance the crowd favourite, had been attempting to land hooks from close range and in the second saw Taylor block a strong right-left combination and then taking a further left before that then landed by Taylor on the stroke of the bell. That in the third Taylor hit Lopez when he was low and crouching by the ropes not only led to a warning from the referee Michael Griffin and boos from the crowd, but was a demonstration of Taylor’s bully’s mentality. He threw a further punch when afterwards he proposed touching gloves, and then after throwing a left hand and an uppercut took a strong left hand and a left to the body as Lopez countered him. After taking a later right to the chin Taylor then swung and fell short with a right hand of his own, and it was then that the pattern of their already entertaining fight started to change.

If Taylor had been the favourite – and by most estimations he was – then his combination punching would have contributed to that status, and yet he abandoned that and the volume of punches with which he had started to instead too often attempt to load up. By absorbing Taylor’s aggression in the opening rounds and then hurting him, Lopez – who may yet have been undermined by his opponent’s body punching, had it remained consistent – had unsettled Taylor, leading to him fighting Lopez’s fight and neglecting so many of his strengths.

A minor cut opened on the bridge of Lopez’s nose in the fourth round after they traded and after Taylor landed a left that Lopez again absorbed. A straight right from Lopez was followed by, in a symbol of the way that his evening was about to start unravelling, Taylor slipping, Lopez rushing in to throw a further right hand, and the two finishing the round fighting toe-to-toe.

Lopez’s consistently superior quality of punching meant that he continued to win the middle rounds. For all of the aggression of both fighters he had succeeded in reducing the pace to a tempo that suited him as much as the distance at which they were largely fighting; their combined quality was complemented by the extent to which they blended as opponents, and showcased by, in the fifth round, Lopez landing further right hands, and for a period in the sixth him stalking his opponent.

When in the seventh Taylor, from Prestonpans, landed a left hand he was punished by taking a hurtful right, by when swelling was starting to appear by his right eye. Another right hand from Lopez caught the eye when they traded on the inside with the American towards the ropes; another small cut then opened by Lopez’s right eye before they ended the round trading, when Lopez again had the edge.

If it was tempting to interpret, at the start of the eighth, Taylor lunging to land a left hand as a sign of his growing desperation then it was also tempting to wonder if doubts had grown in the back of his mind as a consequence of it being over two years, dating back to the night he defeated Jose Carlos Ramirez in Las Vegas, since he last impressed. Where he may previously have succeeded in convincing himself he had deserved that most controversial of decisions against Catterall, the fragility of the confidence he had sought to preserve since that night was potentially being exposed. Lopez again punished his naivety with a right hand; the southpaw Taylor again swung and missed with his left. Taylor then landed a right but was then countered by another; Lopez, already appearing to be enjoying himself, showboated by simultaneously shaking his shoulders and hips. Taylor swung and missed with a right; Lopez, admirably moving his head, launched a left that caught the eye and landed, extending a further pattern that had emerged in him ending rounds on top.

Taylor succeeding again with a right at the start of the ninth – though being out-thought and out-fought, his periods of success typically came towards the start of rounds – was followed by them trading lefts and then Lopez, often timing him to close to perfection, hurting him with a left hand and falling short with an uppercut. Taylor, in turn, landed a further right but didn’t hurt his challenger, and was then hurt by three successive right hands.

When Taylor won the 10th there existed the possibility of him finishing strongly, as he previously has, and potentially testing the endurance of the naturally smaller fighter and reducing his lead. Instead the 11th involved Lopez throwing another accurate right, Taylor again falling short with a left, Taylor’s mouth swelling, Lopez timing another fine right hand and unloading on his body, and then raising his hands at the bell, prompting Taylor to do the same in a similar expression of machismo.

Before he came out for the final round Taylor looked up at his new trainer Joe McNally – likely telling him he required a knockout – with both eyes reddened by a fight that had become increasingly one-sided. Lopez soon wobbled him with a left hand and another powerful right, before in turn hurting him to both head and body. Sat directly behind BN was none other than Gerry Cooney, who had been watching intently, and having confidently predicted victory for Taylor, pre-fight, he could be heard admiring his “bravery” as he fought to stay upright. A straight right, left uppercut and further right even briefly put Taylor at risk of being stopped; BN saw little choice but to score the 12th 10-8 in Lopez’s favour.

When the respective scores of 115-113, 115-113 and 117-111 from Steve Gray, Joseph Pasquale and Benoit Roussel went in Lopez’s favour, Roussel’s total was alone in seeming just. That Taylor didn’t win the final round and therefore retain the world super -lightweight title avoided another scoring travesty. Even if he had, there’d have been no avoiding the reality that he had just endured his most punishing night.

Post-fight when he spoke of considering moving to welterweight he made as little sense as he did when his pride insisted he wanted to again fight Lopez. That Terence Crawford is scheduled to fight Errol Spence makes his options at 147lbs minimal; the evidence provided by the 12 rounds he has shared with Lopez also did little to suggest that in the event of a rematch he would win.

Even less logical – given the wider picture of his age, his career, and the lucrative fights that today exist for Lopez – is the prospect of the world’s new leading super-lightweight (and WBO belt-holder) retiring off the back of a performance so masterful it surpassed even that he produced on the night he defeated Vasyl Lomachenko. It will have been forgotten by few that he followed that high by the low of losing to George Kambosos Jnr and struggling to convince until encountering Taylor. His next test – assuming he can achieve a sense of peace in his personal life as he battles his ex-wife Cynthia for custody over their child and that doing so doesn’t somehow weaken him as a fighter – may exist in how he performs against the next opponent he feels beneath him, and in him avoiding a similar decline.

The decline in Taylor that has been witnessed since the victory in May 2021 over Ramirez may prove more permanent, and yet may not be as significant as losing to one of the world’s finest fighters on his finest night would suggest. Bill Haney, the father, trainer and manager of Devin, was in New York to assess the winner as a potential opponent for his son; after witnessing Lopez’s transformation it may yet transpire that Haney and Lomachenko instead fight again.

Over eight rounds Xander Zayas – the Puerto Rican from San Juan fighting Ronald Cruz of Los Angeles the evening before New York’s Puerto Rican Day parade – earlier deservedly earned three scores of 80-71 from John McKaie, Allen Nace and Robin Taylor. Despite the one-sided nature of the scorecards he will likely have gained valuable experience. Having knocked Cruz down early in the opening round under the supervision of Steve Willis he attempted to force the stoppage up to and including the competitive third round, when Cruz convincingly fought back. Zayas’ form started to deteriorate in the final rounds, owing to him not conserving his energy.

The super-featherweight fight between Robson Conceicao of Salvador, Brazil and the Dominican Republican Nicolas Polanco ended in a no contest when an accidental headbutt in the second round led to Polanco, from Santo Domingo, being so determined to insist he could not fight on that he forced Eddie Claudio’s intervention. Tom Carusone, Glenn Feldman and Ron McNair had all Conceicao 20-18 ahead.

The all-Puerto Rican fight between super lightweights Omar Rosario of Caguas and Jan Carlos Rivera of Vieques was edged by Rosario via three scores of 77-75 from Mark Consenting, Robert Perez and Don Trella at the conclusion of eight competitive rounds under the supervision of Shawn Clark. Damian Knyba, the heavyweight from Wudzyn, Poland, entertained his not insignificant local following by earning three scores of 79-73 from Nace, Robin Taylor and Basile at the end of eight punishing rounds for the resilient Mexican Helaman Olguin.

There were also victories for Bruce Carrington of Brooklyn and Aguadilla-based Puerto Rican Henry Lebron over Luis Porozo, the Ecuadorian from Santo Domingo, and Carlos Ramos of Madrid, Spain. Carrington was, by Clark, prematurely awarded a stoppage victory 137 seconds into the eighth of eight largely one-sided rounds. Shada Murdaugh refereed Lebron-Ramos, which was scored 98-90, 98-90 and 97-91 in Carrington’s favour by Basile, Mark Consentino and Perez.

THE VERDICT – Though signs of deterioration in Taylor are difficult to ignore, it is the brilliance of Lopez that deserves the headlines.