Lopez handpicked a major underdog opponent but failed to impress

Sports

MIAMI — Teofimo Lopez entered the night with grandiose plans.

Perhaps a move to 154 pounds to fight future Hall of Famer Terence Crawford, who has looked unbeatable in recent fights. Or a jump to 147. Anything and everything was on the table.

And why shouldn’t it be? Lopez, 26, is one of the world’s most talented fighters. At his best, he’s an electrifying talent with a creative offensive arsenal. But it always depends which Lopez shows up.

On Saturday, Lopez (21-1, 13 KOs) failed to impress. He won easily, losing only one round across three scorecards. But he was fighting an opponent far below his level, an opponent hand-picked to give Lopez his first KO in four fights.

Steve Claggett fought as advertised, too. He came forward, telegraphed his punches and provided an easy target for Lopez, who obliged by landing 315 shots to just 60 from Claggett (38-8-2, 26 KOs).

But when you select such a fighter — Lopez was a -1200 favorite, per ESPN BET — winning isn’t enough. Claggett had never even competed in a 12-round fight before and lost seven times before this, all against low-level opposition.

That Lopez never came close to finishing Claggett, 34, is concerning. Lopez stunned him in Round 8 with one of his many counter right uppercuts, but he never had Claggett in any real trouble.

And if Lopez is going to campaign at 147 pounds (or beyond), he’ll need more power to gain the respect of bigger, better opponents.

“I feel like this weight cut and everything, my body’s growing, and although it doesn’t look like I can handle my own at 147, I believe I can,” said Lopez, ESPN’s No. 1-ranked junior welterweight. “I truly believe I can. And I want these great champions.”

Lopez is an enigma of sorts. He barely squeezed by Sandor Martin, a quality fighter, in December 2022. Afterward, cameras caught him asking his father and trainer, “Do I still got it?” Lopez then rebounded in a major way with a dominant decision victory over Josh Taylor to win the lineal championship at 140 pounds.

That performance was followed by his victory in February over Jamaine Ortiz, during which boos filled the arena for the lack of action. That wasn’t an issue on Saturday night as Lopez never had to find his opponent. Claggett was right in front of him.

And for a fighter who had showed so much power at 135 pounds, it was a surprise to see Lopez land so many clean shots with no tangible impact.

Maybe Lopez will quickly wash this performance away with a quick return in September, when he plans to fight again. He seems to often fight up and down to the level of his opposition.

In October 2020, Lopez was the underdog when he defeated future Hall of Famer Vasiliy Lomackeno to win the undisputed lightweight championship. In his first defense, Lopez was defeated by George Kambosos Jr. in ESPN’s 2021 Upset of the Year.

There’s no doubting Lopez’s talent, but if he’s going to call out the likes of Crawford, he’ll need to be far better to be taken seriously.

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