Lopez underwhelms in win over Claggett in Miami

MIAMI — Teofimo Lopez retained his WBO junior welterweight title with a unanimous decision victory over Steve Claggett on Saturday evening at the downtown James L. Knight Center, but he failed to make a statement against the major underdog.

Lopez — a -1200 favorite, per ESPN BET — shut out Claggett on two cards, 120-108, with 119-109 on the third. Canada’s Claggett (38-8-2, 26 KOs) was fighting in a 12-round fight for the first time.

And that first title shot came against ESPN’s No. 10 pound-for-pound boxer. Lopez easily defeated Claggett — he outlanded 315 to 60 — but surprisingly never came close to scoring a knockdown, much less a knockout, against a boxer fighting on the world-class level for the first time.

Lopez (21-1, 13 KOs) showed tremendous power at 135 pounds, where he reigned as undisputed champion, but in five fights at 140, has scored just one KO. That came in August 2022 against journeyman Pedro Campa.

“I knew exactly what kind of fighter this guy was … he’s going to come forward and test my conditioning. And that’s what we had today,” said Lopez, 26. ” … He’s a tough fighter. I don’t think anyone should overlook him. I knew that coming into this. … He handled himself.”

Lopez, who grew up in South Florida, seemed to acknowledge his lack of power afterward. He said it was a tough weight cut “and although it doesn’t look like I can handle my own at 147, I believe I can.”

Lopez, with his back to the ropes, was able to fend off the hard-charging Claggett. Yet it was clear what caliber of fighter Claggett was. Someone far below the top level, a fighter with shoddy footwork who simply plowed forward and let his hands go.

Claggett’s fighting heart can’t be questioned, and he can be proud that he went the distance. He was able to bust up Lopez over both eyes, too, and touch him up far more often than expected.

Perhaps Lopez took Claggett, 35, lightly. Lopez, after all, was on the wrong end of ESPN’s 2021 Upset of the Year when he was defeated by George Kambosos.

Lopez also barely defeated Sandor Martin, a quality fighter, in his second bout at 140 pounds. Lopez rebounded, however, with a dominant performance against Josh Taylor last summer to win the lineal championship.

But in February, Lopez was booed as he struggled to cut off the ring against Jamaine Ortiz, a contender who didn’t engage.

In choosing Claggett — promoter Top Rank also offered fights with Kenny Sims, Elvis Rodriguez and Ray Muratalla — Lopez chose the easiest option. He also chose the fighter who was guaranteed to come forward, ostensibly to produce a knockout. It never materialized despite all the clean counter punches Lopez landed.

Lopez uncorked right uppercuts and left hooks that connected flush. He stunned Claggett in Round 8 and poured on more punishment in Round 9, but Claggett showed his fighting heart — and chin — by continuing to push forward.

Lopez unleashed a staggering 946 shots and 100 in Round 4, both career highs. Claggett, known for his volume punching, threw 366 punches.

Lopez told ESPN earlier this month that he planned to return in September. It’s possible that will mark his welterweight debut.

“We don’t dodge nobody,” Lopez said. “I just want the best and I want to fight the best so I can collect more legacy. That’s what it’s all about. The glory. … Teofimo’s still here.”

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