LAST year Jack Catterall warmed up inside the Mayweather Boxing Club and waited patiently for his turn. He wrapped his hands, he shadow-boxed, he jumped rope. He thought about the many years he’d spent watching Floyd Mayweather on television. He thought a little about Mayweather’s upcoming fight with Manny Pacquiao, one of the biggest in history, and how he, a southpaw, had been brought into the gym to mimic the style of the legendary Filipino. He thought about the sweltering heat. He thought about the countless cheerleaders congregating around the ring. It was then, while mid-thought, that Catterall spotted Mayweather extend an arm his way and beckon him to enter the ring. With that, the kid from Chorley was up first. He’d kickstart Mayweather’s sparring that day.
“I was more nervous then than I’ve been for any fight as a pro,” recalled Jack. “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t.
“We got into the gym and it felt like it was 200-degrees in there; I’d only been in Vegas a week, so I was still adapting to the altitude and the heat. Also, it felt like there were 500 people in the gym, all banging on the ring canvas and making lots of noise.
“I was nervous, but grateful for the opportunity because I knew Floyd’s career was coming to an end. Anyway, as soon as the bell goes, all the nerves leave you and you’re just doing what you do day in, day out. You’re doing what comes naturally.”
Catterall was staying in Las Vegas with his manager and trainer, Lee Beard, as well as fellow fighters Jamie Cox and Cecil McCalla. Together they decided to rent a house not far from the Mayweather Boxing Club and then use a hire car to get to and from the gymnasium. Catterall was asked to spar Mayweather twice a week for four weeks and each time he did so he grew more and more in confidence; no longer the sheepish Englishman at the back of the gym, drowned out by the whoops and hollers of the overbearing Money Team posse, Catterall started to make noise of his own.
“Floyd was very good,” he said. “You see him hitting the bag and pads and sparring other people and you think you can see things you can exploit. But it’s totally different when you’re in there with him. He’s a very good defensive fighter, he picks his punches extremely well and he’s very accurate.
“Still, you come out the gym and you feel on top of the world. It gives you a lot of confidence. That’s the level you’re looking to reach in the future.”
Before heading home, Catterall, seemingly benefiting from word-of-mouth, gained more priceless experience when, days after finishing with Mayweather, he ventured to San Diego to work with Mexican Saul Alvarez ahead of “Canelo’s” fight with James Kirkland. Again, Catterall’s southpaw style had landed him a job. But so too had his ability and growing reputation.
“I enjoyed that more,” he said. “Both of them were amazing experiences, don’t get me wrong, but going over to San Diego and leaving the rest of them in Vegas was a great thing for me.
“I got to go to the gym three times a week for two weeks and it was nice and quiet up in the hills. There were only three or four other sparring partners and ‘Canelo’s’ coaches. It was very peaceful. You’d focus on the boxing when in the gym, but once you were done, that was it. You’d just chill out for the rest of the day, eat some food and relax.”
Whether in Las Vegas or San Diego, it was a world away from where Catterall’s boxing journey began; he’s no longer the hyperactive 10-year-old who followed older brother, Alex, to Chorley Amateur Boxing Club, only a mile up the street from where they lived, and decided to stay when Alex became bored of it all, and he can now laugh when recalling the moment, at 11, he was lifted into the ring ahead of his first ever amateur bout at Rivington Hall. “There were no steps at the time,” he said. “I couldn’t climb in the ring, so somebody had to lift me up there. I was tiny. I’ve got some pictures of the fight and they make me laugh every time I look at them. We’re both so small. The head guards and gloves look massive on us.
“The kid I boxed from Preston actually beat me. We ended up having four fights together and finished even at 2-2.”
Catterall would go on to have 66 amateur bouts in total. Yet, despite showing much in the way of potential, he never viewed boxing as something that would ultimately one day define him. It didn’t grab his attention in that way. Instead, he knuckled down at school, got his GCSEs, and then completed a two-year public service course at Preston College.
“The idea was to go into one of the public services,” he said. “I hadn’t made my mind up whether it would be the police, the fire service or the ambulance service, but that was definitely my aim. It was only once I finished college that the opportunity to
box professionally came about.”
His decision to switch plans at the eleventh hour, when on the cusp of ditching the idea of boxing altogether, was one inspired by Beard, his future trainer and manager, and a chance trip to Miami, Florida. “I met Lee soon after I finished college,” he recalled, “and then the opportunity to go to Miami came about in 2012. Argenis Mendez, Lee’s fighter, was preparing for an IBF eliminator and I’d only been training with Lee for a matter of weeks, having just finished my college course. I was in between doing a bit of part-time work and boxing.
“Lee gave me the opportunity to go along to the training camp in Miami, so I did. He didn’t have to ask me twice. Then, once I was out there, we were planning what was going to happen when we got back to England. I got away from home, I had a lot of time to think between training sessions and, ultimately, I decided to turn pro.”
Catterall did exactly that in September 2012, defeating Carl Allen on points to kick things off, yet turned over with next to no fanfare. He wasn’t an Olympian and he wasn’t much of a talker, either. As such, fights would be low-key at first; he’d beat journeymen types, sometimes on points, sometimes via stoppage, and remain simmering while higher-profile amateurs turned pro in a blaze of post-Olympic glory.
“When I turned pro, I didn’t have a promoter,” said Jack. “Lee was my manager and he was doing his best to get me fights. I was happy about that, too, because it meant I didn’t have too much pressure on me. I could fly under the radar.
“All the Olympians turning pro after London 2012 had a platform, which was great, but they also had a lot of pressure on them to deliver quickly. I didn’t have any of that, though. I had eight fights against your normal journeyman opposition – learning all the time – and then we stepped it up in 2014.”
Not only did Catterall step up in 2014, he also enjoyed a breakout year, one in which he snapped the unbeaten records of two promotional stablemates and showed that Olympic pedigree was no substitute for hard graft, heavy hands and natural talent. With wins over Nathan Brough and then Thomas Stalker, it was clear that Catterall’s time flying under the radar was soon coming to an end.
“Stalker and I had both just signed with Frank (Warren) and I’d been doing a lot of sparring with him,” he said. “We were travelling all over at the time and one of the gyms we visited was Tom’s old gym in Liverpool. We sparred a lot.
“I never really thought much of it until the final couple of weeks we sparred. Then it crossed my mind that we might soon fight each other. We’d just signed with the same promoter, we both boxed at the same weight and there was a good chance we could meet.
“In fact, when I signed with Frank, he explained to me that I wouldn’t just be given a load of easy opponents to build up my record. He said I had to prove myself from the get-go and earn my position within the promotional company. Well, he had two other fighters at my weight and there was no doubt in my mind that I could beat them.”
The left hand he used to flatten Brough was about as clinical as any knockout shot landed that year. It ended a cagey and competitive battle in the second round. Stalker, meanwhile, was overwhelmed early, floored in rounds one and two, before being stopped on his feet in the eighth.
Both results, in truth, caused quite a stir among the British fight fraternity. After all, Catterall, the dark horse, wasn’t supposed to beat a World Junior bronze medallist (Brough), let alone the captain of the 2012 GB Olympic squad (Stalker). It wasn’t the perceived order of events. Pedigree, they said, would always prevail. But he didn’t just beat the pair, he dominated them.
Now Catterall, 12-0 (8), sits on top of the domestic pile at super-lightweight – a division once run by Mancunian hero Ricky Hatton – and seems more than capable of producing similar shocks on the world stage. Still only 22, and already comfortable in the presence of bonafide boxing superstars, it’s fair to say that the Chorley southpaw won’t be fazed by much on his rise up the world rankings. Floyd Mayweather? Been there, done that.