Josh Taylor defends his undisputed super-lightweight world championship against Jack Catterall at a sold-out SSE Hydro in Glasgow this Saturday as the Scot seeks to rubber-stamp his status as one of the best boxers in the world. Luke G. Williams previews the action…
The fact that Josh Taylor’s first defence of his undisputed super-lightweight world title against Jack Catterall at Glasgow’s SSE Hydro on Saturday has garnered nowhere near the hype and column inches afforded to last week’s showdown between Amir Khan and Kell Brook can be interpreted as an indictment of many things: the general anonymity of boxing among the public at large, the modern obsession with celebrity and grudges, both perceived and real, and – perhaps most of all – the poor promotion of Taylor since he signed with Top Rank in 2020.
Neither Khan nor Brook was ever an undisputed champion, as Taylor currently is, but the Tartan Tornado’s prickly personality, as well as extremely lacklustre promotion of his undisputed title showdown with Jose Ramirez last May in Las Vegas, has seen him assume the position of the best boxer in Britain, while outside of Scotland and his own household his name garners barely a flicker of recognition among the mainstream.
(An unscientific straw poll I conducted of old friends on a Whatsapp group found that just two out of nine respondents knew who Taylor was – and this among a group of sports-loving men who in our school days gathered together to watch Hamed-Robinson and Hatton-Tszyu among many other fights).
Treatise on the popularity or otherwise of post-millennial boxing to one side, it must be said that this is a genuinely intriguing fight for a genuine world title which deserves far more attention than it has garnered.
Despite his low profile, the 31-year-old Taylor (18-0, 13 KOs) is a quality operator. The only Scot (or Briton) to win all four major sanctioning body straps in the four-belt era (believe me, I hate myself for using that phrase and writing that sentence), Taylor is pretty much the complete package.
The Prestonpans pugilist can fight on the inside or on the outside; he can hit hard with both fists; he can take a punch and, above all else, he is an astute tactician who seems to have a sixth sense for when to change tack during a fight in order to regain the advantage and momentum. He is also a man of formidable and enviable focus with a genuine edge of nastiness in the ring – he seems to enjoy fighting and inflicting damage on his opponents.
Taylor enjoyed a prestigious amateur career, winning silver and gold medals at the 2010 and 2014 Commonwealth Games and competing at the London Olympics in 2012. After turning over – initially with Cyclone Promotions and trainer Shane McGuigan, although he is now trained by Ben Davison – his ascent was rapid; he won the vacant Commonwealth title in his seventh pro fight, he memorably dispatched the then unbeaten and much hyped Ohara Davies in his tenth contest and became the first man to stop tough former IBF lightweight champ Miguel Vasquez in his eleventh.
En route to becoming first IBF and then WBA (Super), WBO and WBC champion Taylor has repelled the challenges of world-level foes in Viktor Postol, Ivan Baranchyk, Regis Prograis and Jose Ramirez to accumulate a sparkling CV and secure pound-for-pound top ten status in the eyes of most sane observers. Remarkably, Catterall is the sixth unbeaten foe in a row that Taylor has faced (before facing him this sestet had an astonishing combined record of 133-0).
At first glance, Catterall, who hails from Chorley, Lancashire, would appear to have little chance of breaking the Scot’s brilliant run. Although Catterall has collected some decent scalps at domestic level – chiefly Joe Hughes, Tyrone Nurse, Tyrone McKenna and Ohara Davies – and has fought more times as a pro than Taylor in assembling a perfect 26-0 record (13 KOs), the 28-year-old has fought no one approaching world class.
Constructing a case for a Catterall win is hard but not impossible. Many insiders speak glowingly of his abilities, and he has a solid team behind him in Jamie Moore and Nigel Travis, so perhaps we are yet to see the best of him in the ring and Saturday will be the night that he raises his game and pulls off a major shock. Furthermore, although Taylor is still only 31 perhaps the run of hard and punishing fights he has endured against the likes of Baranchyk, Postol, Prograis and Ramirez will suddenly catch up with him and he will grow old overnight.
However, although both these scenarios are possible, neither seems particularly plausible. Taylor has not betrayed any visible signs of wear and tear yet, and – fierce competitor that he is – he is unlikely to have cut many, if any, corners in his preparation for this fight, or to be taking Catterall lightly.
Indeed, ever the pro, Taylor has resolutely refused to look past Catterall and speculate about future foes or fights in any way, shape or form, emphasising: “The future is Saturday and that’s it… It’s Jack on Saturday. It’s his turn next. He’s going to get the beating Saturday, which I’m going to dish out.
“All I’m thinking about is Jack Catterall. He’s trying to take away what I’ve worked so hard to get. I’ve cleaned out the division. He’s getting a shot at the jackpot in one fight. I’m going to put him in his place on Saturday. He’s good. We’ll find out on Saturday, but he’s in for a long night. A long, painful methodical beatdown on Saturday.”
Catterall has responded with some defiant talk, but even he doesn’t quite seem convinced he can pull off the upset. “I’ve been mandatory for the WBO title,” he said. “After waiting two years, I’ve got a chance now to capture the undisputed. I’ve not just come up here to make up the numbers. I’ve been waiting two years for this opportunity.
“I think the respect has been there. Me and Josh know once the bell goes, the respect is out of the window. We can shake hands after. We’re going to punch each other’s heads in and that’s in.”
All things considered, although there have been plenty of upsets in boxing over the past 12 or so months, I can’t see this fight providing another. The confident pick is for Taylor to inexorably outclass Catterall early and beat him up late, as he cruises to a wide points win or a mid to late rounds stoppage victory.
Image: Mikey Williams/Top Rank