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Taylor v Catterall: Why Bother With Boxing?

… The door slammed shut.  

And in Jack Catterall’s dressing room, the crestfallen Chorley-man sunk into a cold, uncomfortable, steel folding chair. This wasn’t the same fighter that was hoisted above trainer Jamie Moore’s shoulders just minutes before, a couple of hundred yards away; flexing, tensing, smiling with an undisguisable sense of pride. It couldn’t be, could it? That Jack Catterall was waiting to hear his name – only his name. He’d been raised aloft, paraded to the Glasgow crowd, exposed, and excited. Now, in that dressing room, his head was bowed, entirely covered by a white towel, while the bodies that swarmed around him were lost for words. They weren’t alone.  

Boxing is such a revered, respected sport because when all is said and done, it strips back the element of competition to the simplest of variables. Two men or two women, obeying the same, unified code, in search of who is superior. The sport itself is a beacon of hope for kids growing up in disadvantaged, troubled areas, or to those channelling anger and upset in a conducive fashion, becoming somebody despite continually being prodded and reminded that they’re worthless. And that is all great. It’s a beautiful, powerful notion. But boxing, to fulfil its promise to those participants and to continue ensuring the sacrifice is worthwhile, must – it must – be fair. And, sadly, once again, it doesn’t feel fair at time of writing.

Saturday evening seemed to prove that officials either aren’t sure what they’re watching, or they know exactly why they’re chosen to sit in that seat. We know it’s subjective to an extent, and we’re sick of hearing the word being thrown at boxing’s detractors. Subjective. But how can it explain the disparity in scoring of recent bouts? Subjective scoring should mean a slight difference of opinion, with the same clarity in scoring criteria. A close round, maybe it goes one way, maybe it swings the other. That’s fine. Preferring an aggressive fighting style over a slick counter puncher? Okay – taking into account the accuracy of punches thrown or the efficacy of defence, you could make a case for either. But this past weekend wasn’t subjective. There is just no way you can score three of the opening four rounds for Josh Taylor. There’s no way you can score the bout 8-4 in Taylor’s favour (before considering docked points), surely, as Iain John-Lewis did complicitly.

I’d been reading WhatsApp messages that came flying through from Josh Taylor fans, claiming that “if it was VAR, and if the goal was scored in your team’s favour, you’d take it, wouldn’t you?” This isn’t football. And this isn’t something that can be rectified midweek, or the following weekend, or even later in the game. It’s done. Catterall told Boxing News’s John Evans that he’d been picking up the odd day’s work to support his family during his partner Lauren’s maternity leave, as he waited for this fight, stepping aside for the good of the sport – not for the good of his wallet. And for that brief period as Moore, Nigel Travis & Co. celebrated with their fighter after the final bell, he seemed vindicated. He was the travelling man, inactive, unfancied; but sadly, it seems he wasn’t the only one here to ‘make up the numbers.’ 

Moore was outstanding and brutal on Sky in the immediate aftermath, asking how he could encourage his own son to continue falling in love with boxing after this? Travis fumed in a colourful, honest IFL TV interview, angry, and ranting in disbelief. Catterall stayed silent. Lauren, his partner, was pictured on her knees in front of him, attempting to console him as he kept his head pointed at the concrete floor. What can you say? When boxing remembers the career of Jack Catterall, they’ll remember his performance, the scorecards, the outrage. But they’ll never remember him draped in four world title belts, celebrating, and changing the remainder of his young life.  

It’s extremely rare that fighters can spend years visualizing one moment, just to have it snatched away in that fashion. Most never actually reach their goal, while many are well-beaten or never stood a chance, not really. Catterall excelled, and they still let him walk away with nothing. 

I’ve been asked by casual ‘big time’ boxing fans and random folk I play football with to explain “how that was scored for Josh Taylor?” And even with the greatest of respect for Taylor – a fighter I’ve followed for years, interviewed, and spent a little bit of time with – I can’t pen my workings to match those of the judges. Rounds were scrappy, and yes, some were close; the Scot definitely improved as the contest progressed. But it just wasn’t enough – for me, or for the vast, vast majority of the boxing audience. But the scoring of the fight isn’t the champion’s responsibility, or his shame to bear. He fought with bravery and continued with ambition, refusing to allow a slow start to dishearten him. And I wonder if, when rewatching, Taylor feels the same as he did during an antsy post-fight press conference.  

The British Boxing Board of Control have stated this morning that the scorecards will be investigated/reviewed. Don’t hold your breath for any change in personnel, or any strict sanction against the judges responsible. Saying the right things under fire is very different to doing the right thing when the temperature has cooled. But you never know. The fact that the same officials – referees and judges – are plodded out to every high-stakes affair is archaic. Where are the new, A-star referees or the next generation of respected judges? This is heartbreak on repeat for fighters, a Groundhog Day of all risk-no reward. It must change, surely.  

Jack Catterall has found his voice in the days that have followed the fight, sharing his opinion on the “deluded” scorecards and tagging Taylor into his Instagram story, asking the Edinburgh-fighter when he’d be dropping the belts off. It’s screaming from the inside of a padded room; nobody will hear him, not truly. When the final bell sounded and Catterall was skyward, throwing his arms up, ecstatic at proving the boxing world wrong, those of us conditioned to the dirty state of the sport felt something brewing, while Top Rank’s international conglomerate shook hands ringside. We’ve seen that rot before, we know it dominates headlines and social media for a few days, and then it dissipates. And so, we’ve become numb to it. But for Chorley’s challenger, sitting slumped over on that seat in his dressing room, he felt every bit of pain.  

On his way back home, he clutched bags, instead of cases containing shiny, championship belts. Empty-handed, as boxing pick-pocketed everything he’d foolishly allowed himself to dream of. Who knows what comes next. Why bother with boxing?