Sports

Lopez won, but it wasn’t pretty; where does he go from here?

LAS VEGAS — Teofimo Lopez held onto his son tightly with a blazer covering his bare chest and a few marks on his face.

Lopez said the swelling mostly was the result of head clashes, not the punches of Jamaine Ortiz, whom Lopez narrowly outpointed in the first defense of his junior welterweight title on Thursday at Mandalay Bay.

To be fair, Ortiz only connected on 60 power punches, 60 less than the champion. That lack of action conjured boos — lots of them — from the crowd on hand to watch one of boxing’s rising stars three days before Super Bowl Sunday.

Lopez (20-1, 13 KOs) has been here before. When he fought another slick southpaw, Spain’s Sandor Martin, in December 2022, boos rained down as Martin boxed and moved and refused to engage in exchanges against the bigger puncher.

Ortiz (17-2-1, 8 KOs) followed that game plan, and if he had won one round more on two of the three scorecards, he would have pulled out the draw. Instead, Lopez swept the final three rounds — the championship rounds — in the eyes of each judge, the difference between winning and losing.

For that, Lopez deserves credit. Just like he did in his career-best win over Vasiliy Lomachenko in October 2020, Lopez closed strong. But he’s once again left frustrated in the face of a lackluster performance against an opponent who was there to box, not fight.

“I mean, the only thing that we got to do, I guess, double up, triple up [the jab] maybe on the shifting,” Lopez, 26, told ESPN afterward. “I blocked his jabs. I was trying to draw my jabs as much as I could at those moments.

“But he was running, he was staying off range a lot. Even when I doubled, he wasn’t there. He was just running off the sides.”

That this style presents such issues for Lopez doesn’t bode well for a potential matchup against Devin Haney, ESPN’s No. 6 pound-for-pound boxer. Haney is a masterful boxer who is adept at controlling range with his jab. And though he isn’t a southpaw, he’s a far better boxer than Martin or Ortiz.

That Lopez realized his inefficiency with cutting off the ring provides hope Lopez will learn, adjust and work on his game ahead of a future bout with such a slick style.

Another option, of course, is to avoid these types of opponents altogether. Lopez claimed he was retired following his dominant victory over Josh Taylor in June to capture the lineal junior welterweight championship. And make no mistake: Taylor is a top-level fighter whom Lopez beat up in convincing fashion.

“I don’t even know why I came back to this, honestly,” Lopez said. “Seriously, why did I come back to this? Nobody wants to fight. Everybody just wants to clout the name out of all my hard work. … They just want to be famous.”

Where does Lopez go from here? He told ESPN he’d like to return in April or May, maybe in Honduras, the country he represented at the Olympics.

“I don’t really care at this point because that wasn’t a fight tonight,” Lopez said. “That was just a sparring session. That’s just me chasing a chicken.”

The kind of opponent Lopez really needs: Subriel Matias.

The Puerto Rican volume-punching machine isn’t hard to find inside the ring. He would surely pressure Lopez and make for the sort of fight — and style — Lopez craves. They’ve exchanged some words on social media, and it’s the perfect matchup to once again show off Lopez’s elite talent.

But another slick southpaw? There’s no point in such a matchup any time soon.

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