Josh Taylor barely let the question finish being asked.
He’s steadfast that there shouldn’t be any doubt, nor any reason to argue otherwise.
Regardless, the discourse surrounding the hierarchy in the junior welterweight division is only amplifying.
The Scottish Taylor (19-0), 32, is set to return to the ring for the first time in nearly 16 months when he defends his WBO junior welterweight title against the 25-year-old Brooklyn native Teofimo Lopez (18-1) Saturday night (10 p.m., ESPN) as the main event on Top Rank’s card at The Theater at Madison Square Garden.
It’s his first fight since he defended his undisputed 140-pound crown against Josh Catterall in Feb. 2022.
The heavily-contentious nature of that split decision victory, along with Taylor’s subsequent vacating/being stripped of three of his belts and long layoff, have allowed new faces to emerge and make bids as the division’s top dog.
“I am still the man in the division,” Taylor told The Post. “It doesn’t matter that I’ve taken so many months off. It doesn’t matter, I’ve been in the gym, I’ve been preparing well, and I’ve been getting back to my old self. I am the man in the division, there’s no question in my mind. Absolutely, I feel like I’m still the top man, there’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that I’m still the top guy in the division.”
After becoming the undisputed junior welterweight champion in 2021 with a unanimous decision victory over Jose Ramirez, Taylor’s bout against Catterall was his first undisputed title defense.
Following the much-debated win over Catterall, Taylor pushed for a rematch in order to put any doubts about the decision to bed instead of fulfilling his mandatory title defense obligations against other challengers.
Taylor wasn’t able to make the rematch happen, however, and was subsequently stripped of his WBC, WBA and IBF junior welterweight titles while inactive and rehabbing a foot injury.
In his place, it allowed Regis Prograis, Rolando Romero and Subriel Matias to now possess three of the division’s four titles, while fighters like Ryan Garcia and Lopez have moved up from lightweight into the division as superstars and former world champions.
Current undisputed lightweight champion Devin Haney is also likely to move up to junior welterweight in the near future as well.
“I am the man to beat in the division,” Taylor said. “I’m the man who beat the man, to collect all the belts. All these other guys, they’ve got belts but they’ve done it through vacant titles. They haven’t actually beaten the champion to collect the belts. Really, they’re bogus champions. They’re the No. 2, or No. 3, they’re not the No. 1.
“[My] fight with Prograis was a great fight, the first one, and we’ve said to each other we’ll have another fight in the future, 100 percent. Now, he’s got a title. He’s got my title. It makes it even more interesting. That one is always there, it’s a huge fight. Yeah, absolutely, until these guys beat me, then they’re not No. 1 in the division.”
First, Taylor has to go through Lopez, who is aiming to return to the glory he once enjoyed and make his stamp on the division.
It’s just Lopez’s third fight at 140 pounds after formerly ruling as king of the lightweights.
Lopez defeated Vasiliy Lomachenko in a stunning unanimous decision victory in 2020 to become the WBA, WBO and IBF unified lightweight world champion.
But as soon as he became king, he was dethroned by George Kambosos, who beat him via split decision in his first unified title defense in what was largely considered the upset of the year.
The effervescent Lopez subsequently moved up to junior welterweight to start a new chapter, and after two inconsistent victories, again will have the type of opponent in front of him that gives him an opportunity to restore his stature in the sport.
“I think he’s a space cadet, to be fair,” Taylor said about Lopez. “I think he’s all over the place. He just talks nonsense. He doesn’t make any sense when he’s speaking. One minute he’s talking about being a role model, the next sentence, he’s talking about Mike Tyson and taking quotes from Mike Tyson. Then in the next sentence, he’s talking about being a role model for people, and then right after saying that, he’s talking about how he wants to kill me and take my life and stuff. He’s just all over the place. I think he’s gone in the head, I think he’s a complete tool.”