YOU can’t be perfect every fight. In his 18 previous contests Josh Taylor had been superb. He’d risen quickly as he beat Ivan Baranchyk, Regis Prograis and José Ramírez to establish himself as the world champion at super-lightweight. But against Jack Catterall in the Hydro arena on Saturday he stuttered, he struggled. Frankly he should have lost the decision.
The rhythm that typically comes with his work, his sharp feet and fast strikes had deserted him. It would be Catterall, the unheralded challenger from Chorley, who settled as the bout progressed, who kept composed and picked out impressive counter-punches. It would be Catterall too who was left in despair at the judges’ verdict.
Taylor entered the arena to a reception befitting a champion’s return. It was his homecoming after an astonishing run that culminated with his victory over Ramírez in Las Vegas when unifying all four of the major sanctioning body belts. Catterall, then the mandatory for Ramírez, had stepped aside to allow that fight. Taylor was returning the favour by making this defence.
Despite being the underdog and the away fighter in a deafeningly loud arena, Catterall’s composure held together. He didn’t hurry himself, he stayed away on the backfoot and looked to counter the champion coming in. Early on Taylor could slip his jabs and evade the Catterall’s left cross. But he kept on marching in and it was the challenger who landed the cleaner countering punches, targeting Taylor with hard hits.
In the first round he knocked Taylor back from an attack, a hint that he was strong and did carry power. Anxiety quickly crept into the Scotsman’s work. A southpaw, like Catterall, he pushed himself forward, heaving out his jab and hacking at Catterall with his left hook when they did get up close.
In the first half of the fight Taylor did bring pressure, he was aggressive and the roar of the crowd swelled behind him. The craft and the guile though that he normally fights with were absent. He can draw a punch and counter viciously himself. But that wasn’t happening. It was as though he wanted just to drive himself through Catterall and batter his challenger down. He left openings in his defences that Jack could fire sharp shots through.
There were rough clinches throughout, the collisions left Taylor bleeding from cut below and beside his right eye. The referee Marcus McDonnell would ultimately take a point from Catterall in the 10th round for holding, Taylor was also docked a point for digging in a little punch after the bell at the end of the 11th.
Catterall made his breakthrough in the eighth round. He unleashed a blazing combination of punches. As Taylor tried to slip away from him, Jack’s left scythed down, streaking into his jaw and for the first time in Josh’s career knocked the Prestonpans man down to the canvas.
Taylor had to press his attack desperately from then on. He ploughed on, looking for a way in. He led with his right hook, digging it to the body, to the head where he could. But he couldn’t hurt Catterall in the same way. The challenger’s combination punching remained dangerous, hitting in his lead uppercut after a straight one-two.
For an instant, in the 11th round, Taylor had Catterall in a corner. He held his right out, put everything into a left cross and launched it at his opponent’s jaw. But Catterall just slipped past the punch and pivoted away from the corner to move off, up on the balls of his feet out into the clear space of the ring. Another desperate chance missed.
By the last round Taylor should have needed a knockout to win. But Catterall would not allow that. He guarded against any major damage and stood his ground at times to fire back too.
The drama however would only ratchet up once the scorecards came in. Howard Foster had it 113-112 for Catterall, only for Ian John Lewis and Victor Loughlin to overrule him by margins of 114-111 and 113-112 respectively for Taylor.
Catterall was left devastated. “You know what hurts the most, it wasn’t for me, I done all of this for my family, my team, my town and country,” he stated on social media. “Boxing, shame on you.”
Taylor retains his WBC, WBA, WBO and IBF belts. One bad performance does not change his legacy. His remarkable accomplishments, achieved so quickly in his career, still stand. But it’s to be hoped that one good performance can still make a fighter. Jack Catterall made his name. If the judges let him down, surely a broadcaster, with the goodwill of fans behind him, can bring him back.
Yet while the fighter fights the fight, he doesn’t score it. Still it was Josh Taylor who still came out to face the media and it was him who had to bear the brunt of the backlash. With fresh stitches in his cuts, his shorts still on, he said, “The right man won the fight.”
“I put far too much pressure on myself in the lead up to this fight,” he added, “with it being the homecoming.” (Read more from Josh here.)
He has to move up in weight. “Trust me that was far from my best, when I move up to 147lbs I’m going to be a monster at it, I’m going to better than I am now,” Taylor insisted.
On the undercard Robeisy Ramírez sent out a threat to the featherweight division. The two-time Olympic gold medallist dismantled Eric Donovan with frightening speed. Ramírez robbed Donovan of his balance in the first round, the Cuban southpaw’s right set up a heavy left hook that wobbled Eric backwards off his feet.
The Irishman fought back with defiance, throwing what he could. But he couldn’t read Ramírez, who continued to catch him with vicious shots. Soon in the third round, Ramírez’ left uppercut set up a right hook . A left of shocking force had Donovan badly shaken and referee Victor Loughlin rightly stopped him at 1-04.
There were competitive fights on the bill. The Scottish heavyweight title has been dormant for 71 years but Nick Campbell and Jay McFarlane breathed a strange life into it. Their brawl was clumsy, they tired rapidly but they entertained. Campbell, taller but more rigid, slammed long straight punches down into McFarlane. In the fifth round the former rugby player threatened to unravel but eventually thumped punishing crosses back into McFarlane. Campbell put him over and referee Kenny Pringle stopped him at 2-28 of the seventh round.
Bilal Fawaz dropped Manchester’s Malam Varela in the first round and they met one another directly to trade fire. Eventually the volume of blows from London’s Fawaz prompted referee Maxwell step in at on the bell at the end of the third round. Portsmouth’s Ebonie Jones began with deft head movement and good punch-picking, only for the size and physicality of Greece’s Effy Kathopouli to force Jones back and take a 57-57 draw for referee Kevin McIntyre after six-twos.
Paddy Donovan did look good cycling through his repertoire against stubborn Czech Miroslav Serban. The Irishman reeled off smooth southpaw jabs, trebling them on occasion and dug firm lead hooks to the body. An injury to the ear saw referee Kevin McIntyre stop Serban 56 seconds into the sixth and last round.
The problem with the undercard wasn’t that it didn’t have some competitive or intriguing fights. It was that it was marred by too many ghastly mismatches. You don’t have to have seen Belgium’s Erik Nazaryan weighing in to know that a portly 37 year old, who was down at super-lightweight at the beginning of his career, was no match to make for Scott Forrest, a quality ex-GB boxer, at cruiserweight. Edinburgh’s Forrest duly slugged him with easy shots and by 1-08 of the second Nazaryan was waving his right hand to self-diagnose an injury. Kevin McIntyre refereed.
Another Scotsman, John Docherty levelled Hamilton’s Jordan Grant with a long southpaw left at 2-49 of the second round. Darren Maxwell was the referee. Coatbridge’s Mark McKeown put Engel Gomez down in their opening round, going on to outpoint the Nicaraguan 60-53 after six for referee Maxwell.
Kurt Walker, an elite Irish Olympian and a European gold medallist as an amateur, took out Jaroslav Hriadel. Cleaving a left hook to the body deposited the Czech on his knees in considerable pain, stopped after 2-03. Darren Maxwell refereed. Another Irishman making his debut, Kieran Molloy walloped Damian Esquisabel round the head with hooks, obliging referee McIntyre to stop the Spaniard 33 seconds into the second round.
The Verdict A bad decision damages both fighters in different ways.