Bradley’s take: Why Lopez vs. Ortiz is an exhilarating blend of styles

Boxing

Teofimo Lopez defends his WBO junior welterweight title against Jamaine Ortiz on Thursday, in the main event of a Top Rank on ESPN card at Michelob Ultra Arena in Las Vegas (ESPN/ESPN+, 10:30 p.m. ET).

Lopez (19-1, 13 KOs) is a prolific counterpuncher with a very entertaining style highlighted by powerful combinations and excellent footwork.

Ortiz (17-1-1, 8 KOs) is as fast as he is unpredictable, always looking for offensive attacks, sometimes neglecting his defense and possessing crafty jabs that he uses to disrupt his opponent’s rhythm.

Lopez vs. Ortiz, without question, will be an exhilarating blend of styles, and a fight that could be decided by strategy and game-plan execution.

Two-division champion, member of the IBHOF and ESPN boxing analyst Timothy Bradley Jr. breaks down the junior welterweight title fight and picks the winner.

Describing Lopez’s entertaining style

Lopez is one of the most athletically gifted and talented fighters in the sport today. He is a dynamic boxer with several dimensions to his game, who has gained many fans for his exceptional foot and hand speed, explosive combinations and single-punch knockout power. He brings a unique, unorthodox approach to the ring which has made him an entertaining fighter to watch Generated by his fast-twitch reflexes and electrifying counterpunching fighting style, Lopez has captured the lineal junior welterweight title after his remarkable performance defeating the former undisputed 140-pound champion Josh Taylor. Lopez’s fighting style embodies the qualities of a bona fide rule-breaker like Roy Jones Jr., who fought tactically off instinct, posturing himself in advantageous positions, while simultaneously ignoring sound boxing fundamentals.

In a nutshell, Lopez seamlessly blends traditional boxing techniques with a unique flair, often catching his opponents with unpredictable punches and maneuvers with sharply placed three-punch combinations, lightning-quick uppercuts, right hands, left hooks and undetected counterattacks. His explosive first step is so good it helps him get mid-range in a blink of an eye, and allows him to land his offense with supreme confidence — tilting near arrogance.

Lopez works extremely hard in the gym, submerging himself in grueling workouts and taxing his body to improve his overall cardio and fitness. More importantly, his mindset is fully on the battle when training and performing.

I’ve noticed that Lopez tends to fight to the level of his competitors and the event, leaving some room for error. However, If he is laser-focused and healthy, he is a problem for anyone in the division because his instincts inside the ring set him apart from most other champions, including Devin Haney. With creativity and adjusting to the game of hit-and-don’t-get-hit mantra, Lopez adapts to his opponents’ strategies on the fly, making split-second decisions to capitalize on openings and opponent’s weaknesses.

Like a predator that orchestrates a plan firsthand, Lopez is every bit of one, an Apex predator influenced by scurrying prey as he wounds them with a perfectly timed, premeditated strike. So, combined with his intuitive fighting style and savvy audacity, Lopez has succeeded in high-stakes prize fights against top-notch competition. Lopez’s rise in boxing comes primarily from his willingness to challenge the best, breaking the boundaries of modern-day fighters. Lopez’s confidence, creativity, and willingness to take risks have catapulted his career toward legendary heights.


What does Ortiz do well?

Ortiz truly lives up to his nickname, “The Technician.” Possessing quick hands and footwork, sharp reflexes and top-notch athleticism, he’s improved with every fight and years of hard work. Now, he’s ready to fight for a world title in a heavier weight class after outgrowing the 135-pound division. This path resembles Haney, a young prodigy who recently beat the well-known but not long-lasting two-time world champion Regis Prograis. Ortiz knows his way around the ring with a deep understanding of the sport. His ability to fight equally well from both sides is impressive, much like baseball star Hall of Famer Tim Raines, who could hit from both sides of the plate with power. Ortiz can hold his own in close-range fighting, where quick thinking, positioning and fast maneuvers count the most.

Ortiz’s style in the boxing ring is unpredictable and explosive. He looks for the slightest chance to strike and leverages quick offense surges. He uses crafty feints to freeze his foes while exploiting small openings in his opponent’s guards. However, Ortiz can also abruptly attack with a series of quick jabs to throw off his opponents. Ortiz is one of those fighters who can do it all. He’s not exceptional at one thing, but average at all things. Whether it’s landing clever counter punches, fighting up close, setting up clever traps, or throwing fast combinations, he’s well-equipped for any challenge. With such a complete set of skills, Ortiz is primed and ready to win any battle that comes his way, including his potential matchup with someone as tough as Lopez.


How can Lopez win?

Both Lopez and Ortiz exhibit not only similar physical attributes but also skill sets. Their weaknesses are a shared variety of vulnerabilities. Both tend to operate with low guards complemented by numerous guard changes like long guards and “Philly Shell” defense designed to disguise their intended attacks. Both fighters, when committing offensively, often overreach or lunge to initiate their offense. This leaves them both considerably open, susceptible to straight right counters and check left hooks. For reference, Joseph Adorno timed and dropped Ortiz with a left hook as he rushed inside with a combination.

Conversely, George Kambosos Jr. timed and floored Lopez with the right hand, capitalizing on his mid-range jab, thrown with a purpose.

Lopez and Ortiz’s footwork, while retreating or disengaging, show subtle imperfections. These include feet gathering — drawing both feet together in a way that compromises stability. Ortiz shows a characteristic known as a “reset rhythm step,” a predictable bounce following an offensive maneuver that leaves him temporarily unprepared to deliver a punch. Lopez tends to forward shift and reverse shift back and forth like a person putting their feet in a pool, to check if the water is cold — and quickly pulling it back.

Ortiz, in particular, shows a notable pattern when engaging. After executing a jab, his guard return is low, creating a prime window for Lopez to capitalize on the open lane with his explosive right cross. Take note: To fight Ortiz one must be patient, crafty, and equipped with precise, accurate offense, skills — which Lopez possesses. He must be eager to counter during Ortiz’s flurries of activity because during these moments, amid flight, Ortiz is wide open between and after he punches. Ortiz, will move laterally to reposition himself, but not without more moments of exposure and disadvantageous positions. Ortiz has also shown defensive lapses when evading, like dropped hands or raised arms exposing his body. Ortiz tends to place his head in what is known as the “D-slot” — to the far right, near his back pocket, making him vulnerable for well-timed left hooks and right crosses.

In boxing, timing is as vital as footwork, and Lopez boasts exceptional timing and explosive first steps to get his strikes off at mid-range. This ability could be the key to his success. Remaining on high alert and prepared to counter is critical. Ortiz is known for his willingness to take risks and persistently engage his opponents, especially during low punch output matchups. Lopez can respond to Ortiz’s single jabs or three-piece jab with precise right hands, left hooks, or even with his sneaky inside slip lead uppercut during his bursts, which could very well position Lopez to dismantle Ortiz’s approach effectively, eliminating his threat.

I see a little room for Lopez to be aggressive in spots as pressure offsets Ortiz’s rhythm, forcing him onto his back foot to create space to counter. However, when moving laterally, Ortiz is not set to punch and is not defensively responsible. This will allow Lopez to penetrate the mid-range and set up shop to throw land power shots.


How can Ortiz win?

Reflecting on Lopez’s career, his battle against Kambosos remains the most challenging and controversial fight of his career. Lopez attributes the defeat to illness, a claim heavily documented by Mark Kriegel. However, a closer review of the fight suggests many technical mistakes in that loss. It seemed Lopez entered the ring disoriented, and his overzealous pursuit of a knockout worked against him. Kambosos’ cunning ways of trash-talking and getting under his skin pushed Lopez into self-destruction mode. Boxing, predominantly, is a mental game and something that can be used when strategizing against Lopez. Disrupting his composure is key. Exploiting his big emotions can help override his mindset and hopefully throw him off his game.

In terms of his boxing style, Lopez, a prolific counterpuncher, shows vulnerability to body shots, neglecting defense against straight rights and stab jabs to his body. Isolating any counterpuncher requires an educated jab thrown at the appropriate distance. Doing so will disrupt timing and force them to reposition continuously.

Technically, Lopez’s defense relies on a repertoire of pulls, step-backs, slips, parries, occasional cross guards and predominantly the Philly shell. To outmaneuver Lopez, Ortiz should capitalize on the openings he exposes, mainly targeting the midsection area left vulnerable by his Philly Shell stance. Employing stab jabs to the body while staying poised for Lopez’s predictable counter right hand allows for a counter-the-counter dynamic, which is critical for Ortiz to do if he wants to win.

Observing Lopez’s telltale elbow raise before he throws a right cross can give Ortiz the upper hand, as anticipation is vital. The aim should be to engage reactively rather than simultaneously, avoiding the danger of Lopez’s precise counters with set-up shots like throw-away punches to get a response. Timing punches a fraction after Lopez’s attacks could capitalize on his less-than-solid foundational habits. Patience will give Ortiz a road map to victory.

Opponents of Lopez who make him commit and make him pay are highly successful against his explosive arsenal. Just ask Sandor Martin and George Kambosos.

There are many ways to beat a particular style, and if Ortiz has problems early on, he should opt to turn southpaw and fight off his back foot to lure the champion in. Lopez looks to deploy his right cross against a southpaw, which is the conventional wisdom of boxing. However, Lopez drops his lead guard as he attempts to land his cross. Ortiz has a sharp right hook that can punish Lopez if timed perfectly. Ortiz seems to counter well from the southpaw stance with both his right hook and straight left cross. Turning southpaw will also slow things down as the open-stance battle (righty-left) is a game of chess, strategy and positioning.


Who wins?

I want to witness an exceptional battle from both sides. I must say that Ortiz, while a highly skilled fighter, falls a shade or two short of Lopez. The reigning champion excels in every aspect of Ortiz’s abilities and should emerge victorious in a harsh, grueling battle, provided that Lopez remains focused and driven for success. Weight should not be a problem, as Ortiz, a robust young contender, has outgrown the 135-weight class. The potential wildcard in this matchup is the judges, should the fight go the full 12 rounds, but I have a feeling Lopez will catch Ortiz and dramatically finish him.

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