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The patience of Jack Catterall

Jack Catterall
Mark Robinson/Getty Images
Laid back he might be but the wait for his shot at glory has tested Jack Catterall mentally, physically and financially. By John Evans

THE letter was dated August 6, 2019. “…the parties have thirty (30) days upon receipt of this letter to negotiate and reach an agreement regarding the WBO Jr. Welterweight Championship Contest between champion Mr. Jose Ramirez, and mandatory challenger Mr. Jack Catterall.”

Nine hundred and thirty six (936) days will have passed by the time Catterall answers the first bell on Saturday night.

Catterall will fight Josh Taylor in Glasgow instead of Jose Ramirez on the American west coast and his first world title fight will be for the entire crown rather than just a portion of it.

In fact, just about the only thing that didn’t change during the past two-and-a-half years was the repetitive daily grind of waking up, going to the gym and waiting for somebody to ring with that life-changing fight date.

His private life was a little less monotonous. Catterall also became a father and is getting ready to move house. Again. “Lauren, how many times have we moved house?” Catterall shouted to his girlfriend, baby Riley bouncing on his knee. “We’ve been together seven years and we’ve moved seven times. This is the longest we’ve been anywhere. It’ll be two years next month.

“Apart from that I’m pretty patient. I think I’m quite laid back. I hope so anyway. Might be a bit too laid back sometimes.

“I don’t like queuing up, though.”

Catterall must be much more than ‘pretty patient’.

Most people love the thought of a new home but hate the thought of moving house. Maybe throwing himself at the mercy of lawyers, solicitors, landlords and estate agents so often has taught him that everything will work out eventually or maybe Catterall was born with superhuman levels of patience but, still, the constant delays must have become torture, even for somebody with the 29-year-old’s tolerance for bureaucracy.

“Ultimately I’ve had no choice but to be patient,” said Catterall, who spent years fighting and elbowing his way to the front of one queue only to find another snaking away into the distance. “I didn’t wanna waste my energy kicking up a fuss when it wouldn’t really get me anywhere. I guess that’s the same in life. You can only do what’s in your control in boxing and your day-to-day life. Once you’ve exhausted everything you can do you just have to let it be.”

Catterall has absolutely no airs and graces. If something needs doing, he is the type to take it upon himself to get it done rather than complain or expect somebody else to do it for him. 

Last spring – as Ramirez and Taylor ratcheted up the sparring ahead of their fight for the undisputed title – Catterall hired a mini digger and set about grading his own back garden. Nine months after being made a mandatory challenger, he still had no idea when he would get his opportunity.

The novelty of walking behind a wacker plate wears off pretty quickly but with a flight to Las Vegas booked to watch the fight and show the winner he was ready and waiting for his shot, he could finally let his mind wander in a positive direction.

Many a time, the sight of roadworks had triggered thoughts that his future may need to be spent in a hi-vis jacket rather than fighting at world title level.

“I’ve had a few wobbles over the past couple of years,” he said. “It’s all well and good being a mandatory challenger for a world title but the reality for me was that I was in the number one spot with no fight pencilled in. I had a young family to provide for and there was nothing coming in.

“I was hitting roadblock after roadblock. There was Maurice Hooker, Ramirez, Covid, the WBC making Ramirez and Viktor Postol, then the undisputed fight between Taylor and Ramirez and it just went on and on. It does cross your mind that it’s alright being mandatory for this world title but I might not get to fight for it because I’ve had to revert back to grafting. Maybe it won’t happen.

“I think it’s testament to my family and the people I’ve chosen to have around me. My girlfriend, my family and Jamie Moore and Nigel Travis. I’m dedicated but they’ve kept me in better spirits in the gym and, ultimately, I’d like to think it’s gonna pay off.

“It was always, ‘You’ll probably get a date next month’ and then something else would come up. Then again, ‘Do you wanna fight next month?’ I’m a fighter, of course I wanna fight but if I’m being offered shit dough for a fight I can’t get up for when I know it might be the very next month they finally give me the green light to fight for a world title, what do you do? People say I’ve been a bit inactive. I have but though no choice of my own. I’ve been fit and well. I’ve been training, I’m hungry and I want the fight.”

But what about his step aside money he received for letting Taylor and Ramirez unify the division? Surely times weren’t that tight?
Catterall agreed to step aside and let the ‘undisputed’ fight take place. He didn’t agree to a step aside deal. The difference in wording is slight but to an inactive fighter with a family to support, the difference was massive.

“I got nothing,” he said. “I’m not bothered about people knowing now but I’m not sure how you’ll word it.”

Taylor and Ramirez were going to fight no matter what Catterall decided. He had a business decision to make. 

In American sport, the term ‘business decision’ can be used in another scenario. We can use the example of an NFL quarterback. Things have gone wrong and he finds himself standing directly in the way of a rampaging 250lb linebacker

He could stand his ground. He may prevent a touchdown but might also have plenty of time to consider his heroics whilst sidelined in concussion protocol. 

He does have another option.

He can make a ‘business decision’, stay out of the way and let the juggernaut proceed serenely along knowing that he will soon have the ball back on his side and an element of control. It might hurt his pride in the short-term but it is probably the most sensible course of action for his long-term prospects. 

Catterall could have decided enough was enough and derailed the fight everyone wanted to see in the 140lb division but it would have likely meant fighting for a vacant belt for a fraction of the money and making himself a persona non grata at the sport’s top table. He decided to stand aside and let the biggest fight in the division go ahead.

His patience has been rewarded but it wasn’t an easy decision. All he had was a promise that he would get the first shot at the new champion rather than a newly vacated belt. He had to place his trust – and his family’s future – in the hands of the winner. 

“I see people and they’ll say, ‘Oh, you stepped aside to let the fight happen’ and they’re looking at me like I got a pretty penny for it. Everybody thinks I’ve been just going to the gym every day but bills have been going out and you wonder if you’re actually gonna get a fight. I think people think it’s all been singing and dancing. It hasn’t and I hope I’ve not portrayed it that way.

“I’ve picked up the odd day’s work and sacrificed a lot. We’ve had to watch what we do, we’ve been careful with our spending and Lauren was on maternity leave. You have to be sensible how you live. Hopefully I can get active and fight more. I’m not a flashy person but everybody likes a trip abroad and a nice meal out and that’s all you want to do.

“That’s all on one side now. Put it in a box and forget about it. The fights on – course it got rescheduled again – but I can finally show people what I’m about.”

Jack Catterall
Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

As well as the in-form Taylor, Catterall will have to cope with a hostile atmosphere and the constant drip-drip of people downplaying his chances.
A modern fight week is nirvana for wannabe body language experts who read far too much into open work outs and press conference outbursts.
Those who know the sport best are looking for much more subtle signs. A fighter’s true feelings can be betrayed by the slightest change in their normal demeanour. An experienced eye can spot the tell-tale signs before the fighter themself has even felt a butterfly. 

Catterall’s cutman, Kerry Kayes, has been around hundreds of fighters over the past 20 years and insists that he has never known a fighter to be as unfazed as the final days, hours and minutes drag by. He describes Catterall’s poise as ‘remarkable.’

He shared Doghouse rounds with Floyd Mayweather in the build up to Mayweather’s mega fight with Manny Pacquiao and spent time away from his team sparring Canelo Alvarez in the San Diego hills. His early career stoppages of Nathan Brough and Tom Stalker won’t feature in any pre-fight analysis but to a young fighter, thrown in tough to prove himself, they will have felt like world title fights in their own right.

When the moment he has waited years for finally arrives, it would be a shock if Catterall grew impatient and snatched at it. 

“I can’t control things that aren’t in my control. Josh has boxed at a higher level this last couple of years. We’ve all seen his fights and we’ve seen my fights,” Catterall acknowledged. “He’s had the opportunities and I haven’t. That’s the only difference I believe. I’ve been pro-active. I’ve taken myself away and into other gyms and in uncomfortable positions. I’ve been the underdog a few times where I’ve gone to their back yard and caused the upset. Of course people are gonna ask questions but every question I’ve ever been asked so far, I’ve answered. I’ve just been waiting for the opportunity to answer more. I think it [patience] translates to the boxing. I pick my moments. I don’t rush or go head first. Don’t get me wrong though, I practice everything. I feel like if I need to go and have a fight or get on the front foot and lead off I can do that but like we’ve seen in most of my other fights, I like to let them make the mistakes and wait for my opportunities to capitalise.”

Taylor is too experienced to allow a raucous crowd to affect him and too well rounded to allow his pocket to be picked. Catterall has painstakingly ticked every box you would want a world title challenger to. He has been patient for long enough, it is time for him to take matters into his own hands.

“I’m gonna soak this up and enjoy the moment. It’s not just a few weeks I’ll have been waiting for it. This is turning pro in 2012. This is about being one of the very small percentage of people who get to fight for a world title, let alone the undisputed title. This is about all the experiences of sparring and fighting. All the ups and downs you go through. It’s about remembering all of that, putting it together and going out and winning those world titles.”

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