Lopez had largely struggled since his landmark win over Vasiliy Lomachenko in October 2020. There was the setback to George Kambosos Jr. in ESPN’s 2021 upset of the year and a pair of lackluster performances against Pedro Campa and Sandor Martin, the latter of whom many believed deserved the nod over Lopez.
So when Lopez (19-1, 13 KOs) put on a show in dominant fashion to capture Taylor’s lineal junior welterweight championship, it was all the more impressive. However, after the fight, Lopez announced his retirement. Of course, nobody believed him.
The triumph over Taylor came amidst the backdrop of a turbulent prefight buildup for Lopez. He claimed that he would try to end Taylor’s life in the ring. Lopez also discussed his impending divorce and the ramifications on the child he and his wife share.
He simply didn’t seem to be in a good place. This came six months after he asked his father/trainer in the ring after the disputed Martin win: “Do I still got it?”
There was never any question about Lopez’s talent. But his mindset was a different story.
It’s a rite of passage, of sorts, for fighters to claim retirement, only to return soon after. Lopez is simply the latest primed to enter the ring following a retirement claim, and he’ll do so in the first defense of his WBO junior welterweight title against Jamaine Ortiz on Thursday in Las Vegas (ESPN/ESPN+, 10:30 p.m. ET).
“I can’t really explain why they do what they do,” Lopez told ESPN on last Thursday’s “State of Boxing.” “I did it my own way, just I guess to have some downtime.”
LOPEZ WAS 11 months removed from the best win of his career — an upset decision over Lomachenko to become undisputed lightweight champion — when Kambosos floored him in the opening round.
“The Takeover” rallied in the bloody battle to drop Kambosos in Round 10, but it wasn’t enough to avoid his first career defeat. That started a three-fight stretch in which Lopez didn’t resemble the same explosive, creative boxer who had dominated his fellow 135-pounders en route to the Lomachenko win.
So when Lopez defeated Taylor and made it look easy throughout the 12 rounds, the opportunity was there to taunt his doubters. Instead, Lopez went another route.
“I’m not getting paid enough,” Lopez said. “A million dollars? Get the f— out of here.”
Lopez, ESPN’s No. 1 boxer at 140 pounds, actually earned $2.3 million for that outing and will make $2.5 million for his main event against Ortiz, sources told ESPN. If Lopez’s retirement claim wasn’t for leverage in negotiations with his promoter, Top Rank, perhaps it was related to his family situation. He said multiple times following the fight that his “next battle is in court for my son. I’m not really focused on who I’m going to fight next.”
Two days later, he reiterated retirement claims during an ESPN interview. Yet one month later, the WBO revealed that Lopez had informed the organization he had no plans to relinquish his junior welterweight title.
How does that relate to Stevenson’s retirement claims?
“It could be a strategic move,” Lopez said of Stevenson, “but you won’t really know until the WBC decides to vacate that belt for him.” Lopez said if Stevenson relinquishes his 135-pound title, it’s time to take the retirement seriously.
“Until then, I think it’s just emotions,” Lopez said. “I think what Shakur Stevenson needs to do is work on his emotions.”
Lopez said his son just turned 2 a few months ago, and that was really at the heart of his desire to take some time away from the sport. Training camp can be lonely, and all the promotional obligations are taxing. Lopez realized he needed a break. And in the lead-up to his fight with Ortiz, he’s appeared more mature in the face of criticism. Some of the chaos that usually surrounds Lopez was replaced by calm.
Stevenson’s retirement claim appears to be a negotiating ploy along with genuine frustration with the boxing business. Stevenson (21-0, 10 KOs) has one fight remaining on his deal with Top Rank. The 26-year-old was angling for a fight with Mexico’s Emanuel Navarrete and was offered a five-fight extension with Top Rank worth $15 million, sources told ESPN.
Stevenson declined the offer and instead looked to do the last fight on his deal and enter free agency. In response to the news that the WBO ordered Navarrete to fight Denys Berinchyk for the vacant lightweight title, Stevenson posted last Monday on X, “This is sickening.”
I’m officially retiring from the sport of boxing I’ll be in the gym forever perfecting my craft and helping the next generation become great and chase they dreams but I ain’t fw this weak boxing game 💪🏾
— Shakur Stevenson (@ShakurStevenson) January 30, 2024
Twelve minutes later, he wrote, “I’m officially retiring from the sport of boxing. I’ll be in the gym forever perfecting my craft … but I ain’t [f—ing with] this weak boxing game.”
“How old is the guy? Twenty-six. Of course he’s not retiring,” promoter Eddie Hearn, who has no affiliation with Stevenson, said Saturday in a FightHype interview. “He’s moaning because the WBO have ordered Navarrete and Berinchyk.
“So he’s just sulking. You don’t need to sulk, you’re in a good position, and the fans don’t like sulking.”
Stevenson’s retirement remarks follow a November victory over Edwin De Los Santos, a matchup that was sharply criticized for its lack of action. Stevenson and De Los Santos combined to land just 33 power punches over 12 rounds.
“Boxing is always going to have naysayers and people always going to talk, whether it’s good or bad,” Lopez said. “Just focus on your emotions, focus on your daughter and focus on what kind of man you want your daughter to see you as.
“For Shakur Stevenson announcing his retirement, maybe he really does feel that way, especially after taking big shots from Edwin De Los Santos and not performing the way everyone expected him to perform. This is not easy. Eventually you get to a point where you hit the elite level and you really have to take some [punches] to give some. … Whatever he’s going through, we wish him the best. Maybe he just needs some time with his daughter, just like I needed with my son.”
LOPEZ AND STEVENSON aren’t the only fighters to claim retirement in recent memory.
Following his November 2006 victory over Carlos Baldomir, Mayweather fought back tears as he said he would fight just once more. That retirement claim followed an $8 million payday, a career best at the time, after Mayweather rejected the same offer from Top Rank to fight Antonio Margarito.
“I have decided to permanently retire from boxing,” Mayweather said then. “These past few years have been extremely difficult for me to find the desire and joy to continue in the sport. … After many sleepless nights and intense soul-searching, I realized I could no longer base my decision on anything but my own personal happiness, which I no longer could find. So I have finally made up my mind … and made my decision.”
He was just 29 at the time.
That “retirement” lasted six months, and Mayweather fought 13 more times in the next 11 years — amid many other retirement claims.
Mayweather’s next fight was with Oscar De La Hoya in May 2007, when Mayweather scored the win that changed his career. Despite the launch to stardom, Mayweather followed through on his retirement promise, saying, “I have nothing left to prove.”
Naturally, Mayweather announced his return 14 months later and went on to TKO Ricky Hatton. After the December 2007 win, Mayweather again claimed retirement. Then he entered talks with De La Hoya for a lucrative rematch, only to again say he was finished fighting in June 2008.
He returned to the ring the following year, ending a 21-month hiatus, with a May 2009 victory over Juan Manuel Marquez. “Money” Mayweather went on to announce another retirement following his May 2015 win over Andre Berto but staged one final match in August 2017, a victory over MMA fighter Conor McGregor.
Pacquiao, whom Mayweather defeated in 2015 in what remains boxing’s richest event, also vacillated between retirements and returns, and so too has the heavyweight champion Fury.
Fury first said he planned to retire following his November 2015 fight with Wladimir Klitschko, whom “The Gypsy King” upset for the unified heavyweight championship. He was set for a rematch with Klitschko the following year when he withdrew to address his mental health as he battled depression and substance abuse.
Fury returned after a two-and-a-half-year layoff and defeated Deontay Wilder twice in one of the greatest trilogies in heavyweight championship history. And when Fury emerged from that series of bouts, he did so with a TKO over Dillian Whyte in an April 2022 title defense. That’s when Fury made another retirement claim.
He said he didn’t have “anything more to give” and that “no amount of money” would lure him back. Of course, that wasn’t true. Five months later, Fury announced he would fight Derek Chisora a third time in December 2022.
And in October, the 35-year-old said he would fight on “as long as the body will let me.”
“I decided to come back cause I was bored, basically,” Fury said. “And I can still knock motherf—ers out and get paid to do it.”
WHILE STEVENSON’S FUTURE is uncertain — at least if you go by his words — Lopez’s plan is more clearer.
He’s a -700 favorite, per ESPN BET, to defeat Ortiz (17-1-1, 8 KOs) during Super Bowl Week and move onto bigger fights. One such option Lopez mentioned is a fight with undisputed welterweight champion Terence Crawford.
Crawford, rated the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter by ESPN, is expected to move up in weight for his next bout, which isn’t scheduled. Lopez said he would be willing to meet Crawford at a 150-pound catchweight or even at the junior middleweight limit of 154.
Perhaps the biggest fight for Lopez is a title unification against Devin Haney, who moved up to 140 pounds in December with a dominant showing against Regis Prograis. Haney retained his undisputed lightweight championship when he defeated Lomachenko in May but is now the WBC junior welterweight titleholder.
Whomever Lopez fights later this year, he must first avoid another letdown when he meets Ortiz. The 27-year-old is a solid technician who performed well in a 2022 unanimous-decision loss to Lomachenko. The New Englander is challenging for his first world title and he’s doing so at a new weight.
Lopez can’t look past him, and if he wants to keep the momentum going, he needs to deliver another dominant showing. Since the Lomachenko victory, Lopez has yet to deliver back-to-back impressive performances.
“Man, what I love about this sport is the adversity,” Lopez said. “And what I really love mainly is proving myself right; nobody else wrong. … I have yet to hit my prime. I just turned 26 a couple months back, so I just needed the time away from the sport to see who is really that guy while I take the time with my son. I’m a father at the same time.”
Perhaps Lopez realizes that he doesn’t need a retirement claim to take a break when he needs one. That the best peace of mind may come from doing what he does he best: putting on a show in a boxing ring.