After a difficult 16 months outside of the ring, WBO super-lightweight champion Josh Taylor (19-0-0, 13KOs) returns to action against former unified lightweight king Teofimo Lopez Jr (18-1-0, 13KOs).
Both men head into the fight at Madison Square Garden in need of a big performance after doubts were cast over recent performances.
Although the challenger has his won his last two fights at 140lbs since surrendering his lightweight titles to George Kambosos Jr, Lopez has been far from convincing.
The second of those fights in particular probed not only those outside of the ring to question his temperament but even the man himself.
In the immediate aftermath of a split-decision win against Sandor Martin which saw Lopez floored in the second round, the 25-year-old muttered ‘do I still got it?’ as both men awaited the judge’s scorecards.Embed from Getty Images
The clip was a difficult watch as he cut a figure that is a far-cry from the man who just two years earlier had dethroned one of the sport’s best in Vasyl Lomachenko.
Questions also continue to linger around the relationship between the fighter and his head trainer who also happens to be his father, and Lopez’ antics during the build-up to this weekend have done little to quash any doubts about his mental state.
“Aim for death, for that’s where life begins”, exclaimed the American, appearing to reinforce quotes from previous interviews where he says he is looking to kill Taylor in the ring on Saturday.
The Scot also heads to the Big Apple on a mission following his controversial victory over Jack Catterall in February last year.
Despite talks, the rematch failed to develop and Taylor, after vacating three of his four super-lightweight titles, also opted for a change in his corner.
Ben Davison made way for the emerging Joe McNally who operates out of the acclaimed Rotunda ABC in Liverpool.
Though highly-regarded in the North-West for some time, McNally is only now garnering the credit he deserves as he continues to build a strong stable consisting of former world champion Liam Smith, Caiomhin Agyarko and JJ Metcalf.
Like Lopez, Taylor’s confidence have been questioned following the swathes of vile abuse directed towards his family following the Catterall fight.
Collecting all four belts is a rare feat for any fighter, especially inside 18 fights like Taylor had managed, but a man who was being heralded as one of the best fighters in boxing was now finding himself absent from the majority of pound-for-pound lists.
What had come before Catterall appeared to no longer matter, an occurrence which clearly irked Taylor who is determined to provide a reminder this weekend.Embed from Getty Images
While struggles with making the super-lightweight limit have been apparent in the past, the Scotsman appeared to come in under 140lbs with relative ease this time around, coming at 139.8 lbs on Friday.
Instead it was Lopez Jr who required a second attempt to make the championship limit, another danger sign as he heads into one of the biggest nights of his life.
The fight is perhaps failing to receive the attention it deserves given their recent outings and while it would be harsh to say the loser has nowhere to go, both men find themselves at a peculiar crossroad given their recent positions of strength.
Taylor looks to remind the sport of his standing among the elite, while Lopez is in dire need of regaining the confidence which prompted many to hold him as one of the future pillars of boxing.Embed from Getty Images
Massachusetts lightweight Jamaine Ortiz (16-1-1, 8KOs) returns for the first time since his close ten-round decision defeat to the aforementioned Lomachenko in October, this time facing off against California’s Humberto Galindo (14-3-1, 11KOs) over ten.
Former world title challenger Robson Conceicao (17-2-0, 8KOs) also takes on Nicolas Palanco (20-4-1, 11KOs) at super-featherweight, while top Puerto Rican prospect Xander Zayas (15-0-0, 10KOs) faces Ronald Cruz (18-2-1, 12KOs) at super-welterweight.
Featured image: Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing.