Big preview: Josh Taylor vs Jack Catterall

John Dennen breaks down the Josh Taylor vs Jack Catterall world championship clash in Glasgow

THE United Kingdom has few fighters like Josh Taylor. If he’s not the best boxer in the country right now, he’s on a shortlist of two. His track record is astonishing. He’s been having great fight after great fight, beating top of the line opposition. The world champion at super-lightweight, yet he’s still only had 18 professional fights. The combined record of his last six opponents is an astonishing 136-1. (That one loss they had came against Terence Crawford by the way.)

Those most recent results include overcoming Viktor Postol, a stirring victory over Ivan Baranchyk as well as two outstanding performances to beat Regis Prograis and Jose Ramirez. In the course of that not only did he establish himself as the pre-eminent fighter in the division, the super-lightweight world champion, and unified all four major 140lbs belts as well as winning the World Boxing Super Series. His career statistics speak for themselves and, beyond the numbers, in the course of his rise, while not faultless always, he’s looked very good indeed. 31 years old, at his peak, his momentum keeps on building.

However Jack Catterall, the challenger from Chorley, must try to find a way to derail him when he takes on the great Scot at the SSE Hydro in Glasgow on Saturday (February 26).

Catterall, 26-0, is yet another unbeaten opponent lined up for Taylor. The mandatory for the WBO belt, he’s been bidding his time ahead of this shot at the champion. He stepped aside so Josh could fight Ramirez when the American was the holder of the WBC and WBO straps. Taylor now returns the favor and welcomes the Englishman to Scotland for this contest.

For a mandatory challenger, Catterall is a good opponent. He’s done his part, continuing to win and working his way up the rankings. He’s fought at a solid level. Domestically he handed Tyrone McKenna a first loss, outpointed Ohara Davies, beat Tyrone Nurse for the British title and, going further back, defeated Joe Hughes as well as blasting through Thomas Stalker, who was unbeaten himself then. The style of Catterall’s victory there came as something as a surprise at that time.

But the Englishman’s track record pales in comparison with Taylor’s. In Ohara Davies they have a common opponent and that is a useful reference point. Catterall fought him a year after Taylor but was taken 10 rounds in a bout that did not catch fire as expected. In contrast Taylor had dominated Davies forcing him essentially to quit and stopping Ohara inside seven rounds. Josh went on from there to excel.

The Scotsman has proven himself at the highest level. He is a sharp southpaw. Defensively sound, he can slip shots or protect himself behind a tight guard. He moves quickly on his feet, jabs accurately and with speed. Taylor fights well up close, happy to stand in the pocket and work. His back hand left is a dangerous weapon, as a cross or a vicious uppercut. It was the left that floored Jose Ramirez, the next best super-lightweight in the world, twice, blasting into his chin as a short chopping cross and dropping him on his back as an uppercut. If there were any doubt about the spite he carries in his punches, he revealed to Sky Sports that he put down Yordenis Ugas, the Cuban welterweight who beat Manny Pacquiao, when sparring in Las Vegas.

Taylor is dangerous. He’s resilient too. While he’s picked up cuts in recent fights, he shrugged off their effects and battled through a badly swollen eye to beat Prograis. Taylor can let shots through, a risk when pulling straight back. The best, like Ramirez and Prograis, found holes, on occasion, in his defences but he was able to take their power, and both of them are heavy hitters.

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But just because Catterall hasn’t competed against anyone like Taylor before doesn’t necessarily mean he can’t rise to the occasion. He has shared a ring with elite class fighters. As a prospect, traveling from gym to gym, he sparred the biggest names in the sport, Floyd Mayweather and Canelo Alvarez themselves. Experiences like that are invaluable. He’s had more professional boots and more professional rounds than Taylor. A southpaw too, he can fight with flashes of quality, pivoting at the same time as firing a rapid left cross with real force. He jabs well to set up hard punches with his back hand and can put together impressive combinations.

But fighting at one pace can be a problem for the challenger, while Taylor has shown he can shift his tempo and come on strong late in a fight.
However he has been watching Taylor, studying him and waiting for this chance and this particular opponent for a long time. “It’s going to mean everything to me. Not just this 12-week fight camp but the last couple of years of training and discipline, it’s all going to come together to cause an upset. I am convinced I will win,” Catterall said. “There’s several ways I can win this fight. By turning up and being Jack Catterall, I’ll get in there and punch his head in.”

While Taylor has fought more orthodox fighters than southpaws, it’s unlikely that Catterall’s stance will throw him off. Instead it could actually open him up to Taylor’s attacks. The champion can lead with a punishing right hook and easily fires his jabs down the middle.

Catterall might be patient but if he plants himself too flatfooted in the center of the ring, Taylor won’t stand off. He’ll take the invitation to build up his offensive output. Patience from Catterall could quickly turn into hesitancy.

I expect the fight to open up, for it to be exciting but for Taylor, with clever feinting, sharper footwork and skilled countering to eventually outland the challenger, maybe even forcing a stoppage in the later rounds.

“I definitely believe I can get Jack out of there, 100 per cent, especially if I hit him clean. I see a lot of holes in his game and his defence. If the opportunity is there I will be taking it,” Josh said. “If the opportunity is there, he will be hitting the canvas. I can’t see any ways he can win this fight.

“I am laser-focused on this fight and he’s not getting anywhere near these belts.”

The last time Taylor fought in Scotland it was in 2019, also at the Hydro in Glasgow, when he won the IBF belt in his WBSS semi-final against Baranchyk. Since then he’s boxed at the O2 in London in front of a lively crowd, behind closed doors York Hall to straightforwardly snuff out the challenge of Apinun Khongsong and then to Las Vegas for his only bout of 2021, that glorious victory over Ramirez. This ought to be a fight worthy of the champion’s homecoming.

Josh Taylor vs Jack Catterall
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Sky Sports televise.

Promoter Top Rank are bringing over two-time Olympic champion Robeisy Ramirez for his first bout in Britain since he won his first gold at London 2012. He’s in a surprise match-up with Ireland’s Eric Donovan. The 36-year-old was a good amateur himself and has lost just once, to Zelfa Barrett in his 15 pro bouts. But there are question marks over Ramirez still. The man who beat Shakur Stevenson in the 56kgs final at Rio 2016 lost his pro debut to Adan Gonzales in an extraordinary upset. He’s won eight fights straight since then, avenging the loss to Gonzales too. He has a tremendous offensive arsenal, when he chooses to use it. Equally he can meander through a fight, seemingly going through the motions in a drab 10-round points win over Orlando Gonzalez Ruiz last time out. Ramirez is the pick to win on points, but he needs to make an impression and Donovan will look to pose some problems of his own.

There are top Irish boxers appearing on the undercard. Kurt Walker, a Tokyo Olympian and European Games gold medallist, will have his professional debut. Galway’s Kieran Molloy, an Irish Elite champion as an amateur, has his first pro bout on this bill too. Top prospect Paddy Donovan, still only 23, looks to extend his winning run to eight fights

Nick Campbell meets Jay McFarlane over 10 rounds for the vacant Scottish Area heavyweight title, the first recorded contest for that belt since 1951. McFarlane has a 12-5 (5) record and will be expected to lose. But Campbell, just 4-0, is still a raw novice. A big man, Campbell is a converted rugby player who can be slow and ponderous so this clash could descend into a brawl.

“McFarlane’s a tough guy, but he’s just another guy standing in the way of my goal and what I want to achieve in the sport. I aim to put on a thorough professional performance and get that stoppage. The British title is my aspiration, one step at a time though. McFarlane is my first stop,” Campbell said.

Unbeaten Birmingham fighter Cori Gibbs was set to fight Spaniard Carlos Perez but Covid sees that one cancelled.

There are local fighters slated to appear. Mark McKeown, from nearby Coatbridge, will box on the show. Fellow Scotsman Scott Forrest, a strong ex-GB boxer who competed internationally at heavyweight (91kgs), turns professional on this undercard. Another Boxxer prospect Ebonie Jones is also in action. Their opponents, however, are predominantly poor. The prospect gains nothing from taking apart somebody who’s either unprepared or just too low standard, and it looks terrible on TV.

The Verdict A worthy homecoming show for the world champion.

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