We’re one day away from learning the answer to the question an army of doubters, and apparently even Teofimo Lopez himself, have about the former unified lightweight champion.

Does he still have it?

Lopez will fight for the first time Saturday night since a hot mic caught him candidly asking that very question in the immediate aftermath of his 10-round, split-decision win over Sandor Martin almost six months ago at Madison Square Garden. As surprising as it was to hear him ask that question in the ring the night of December 10, it is valid based on Lopez’s three performances following his career-changing upset of Vasiliy Lomachenko.

The brash Brooklyn native has displayed flashes of the explosiveness in those three fights that made the polarizing Lopez must-see TV throughout his ascent to stardom. He has also shown a lot more vulnerability, particularly defensively, against George Kambosos Jr. and Martin than in prior performances.

Kambosos knocked Lopez to the canvas in the first round of their November 2021 bout, which Australia’s Kambosos stunningly won by split decision. Lopez attributed a lot of his struggles against Kambosos to a serious respiratory condition that he maintains should’ve prevented him from fighting that night.

He wasn’t physically compromised against Martin, who dropped Lopez with a right hook in the second round. Referee Ricky Gonzalez missed the seventh-round knockdown, caused by another right hook, that should’ve counted for the Spanish southpaw.

Josh Taylor will exploit those defensive flaws if Lopez hasn’t made the improvements in the recently completed training camp he claims to have made.

“He makes a lot of the same mistakes over and over and over again, so he’ll be getting exposed on fight night,” Taylor told BoxingScene.com. “He’s improved a bit, but he still makes a lotta fundamental mistakes that I plan on punishing him for.”

Lopez pushed to challenge Taylor for his WBO junior welterweight belt because Lopez knows he can atone for a lot of the mistakes he has made over the past two years with a spectacular performance in a venue – The Theater at Madison Square Garden – where Kambosos knocked him from the ranks of the unbeaten and pound-for-pound lists.

A victory over Taylor (19-0, 13 KOs), the former fully unified 140-pound champion, would establish Lopez as the man who beat the man in a second division. The WBC’s franchise nonsense notwithstanding, beating Lomachenko accomplished the same thing for Lopez (18-1, 13 KOs) in the lightweight division 2½ years ago because the Ukrainian southpaw was commonly considered boxing’s best 135-pounder at that time.

Taylor’s subpar performance against Jack Catterall cannot be ignored, of course. The Scottish southpaw nevertheless remains undefeated, and the only reason he is no longer the fully unified 140-pound champion is because he chose to give up his IBF, WBA and WBC belts rather than making mandatory defenses in which he had little interest.

Dethroning a fighter of Taylor’s caliber obviously won’t be easy, yet Lopez responded emphatically when moderator Mark Shunock in effect asked him during their final press conference Thursday if the “vintage” Teofimo Lopez still exists.

“F--- yeah, I’m there,” Lopez said. “Heck yeah, man, I’m excited about this. This is like a dream come true, turning into reality. I mean, what more can you really shoot for? You know what I mean? This guy, no one has really called out Josh Taylor. Who knows why? Maybe because he beat everybody already. So, for me, I’m here. I’m here to come in there and take everything that you got. That’s what we are, ‘The Takeover,’ worldwide.”

Though still only 25, Lopez desperately needs to shift the focus back to what he does in the ring and off of what he says outside of it. The unapologetic Lopez has turned off fans in recent months with some of his controversial comments, most recently that he wants to literally kill Taylor in a main event ESPN will televise.

The 32-year-old Taylor also has plenty to prove following his own subpar performance against Catterall 15 months ago in Glasgow, Scotland. Taylor says he has taken training camp for this fight much more seriously than when he prepared to defend his four titles versus Catterall in February 2022.

Taylor called Lopez “a clown” Thursday for, among other things, quoting Mike Tyson. An unfazed Lopez promised that he has put aside the much-discussed turmoil in his personal life and taken an extremely serious approach to getting ready to produce a win that would rejuvenate his career.

“You know, for me I think this is really the best version of me that I have yet to see in myself,” Lopez said. “You know, I question myself because I know I’m greater. And every true artist always does that. We aim for perfection, but there’s only one perfect person that’s perfect – that’s God. So, for me, I think it’s just practice makes improvement. And we’ve improved since my last fight. And we’re ready to put on that show, and I think that we will win, most definitely.”

Winning will require a much sharper, more focused Lopez than the one that lost to Kambosos and struggled to overcome Martin. He cannot afford those types of defensive lapses against Taylor, who won’t shy away from getting inside and trying to hurt Lopez in exchanges.

Like Martin, Taylor fights from a left-handed stance. Taylor isn’t as elusive or committed to defense as Martin and is more than willing to trade punches, which should help make this a fascinating fight one could make realistic cases for Taylor or Lopez winning.

Taylor trained for the version of Lopez that beat Lomachenko by unanimous decision in October 2020, not the flawed fighter we’ve watched against Kambosos and Martin. That Teofimo Lopez, which Lopez insists still exists, is clearly capable of beating just the second undisputed 140-pound champion of the four-belt era.

Lopez has 12 rounds Saturday night, at the same venue where his career came crashing down 18 months ago, to prove to an army of doubters, himself seemingly included, that he still has it.

Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.