It's been a bit of a wait. Tomorrow, Josh “The Tartan Tornado” Taylor (18-0-0, 13KOs) returns to box in Scotland for the first time in almost three years.
Back in May 2019, Taylor defeated Ivan Baranchyk in the semi-final of the World Boxing Super Series (WBSS). That victory also won him the IBF light-welterweight title. The action played out in front of a raucous home crowd at tomorrow night's venue – The Hydro in Glasgow.
Now Taylor is back on home soil as the undisputed champion of the world in the 140lb division. Taylor hoovered up the rest of the alphabet titles as well as the Ring Magazine belt with victories over Regis Prograis (London, October 2019) and Jose Carlos Ramirez (Las Vegas, May 2021).
Now it's mandatory defence time. In one night, the man looking to make the leap from challenger to undisputed champion is 28-year-old Jack “El Gato” Catterall (26-0-0, 13KOs) of Chorley, England. If Catterall pulls it off, it will be a seismic shock.
That's not to say it can't happen. We aren't too far removed from 2021 – the year of the massive upset in boxing. Before their bouts, it looked like Teofimo Lopez, Mikey Garcia, and Kid Galahad couldn't be beaten by George Kambosos Jr, Sandor Martin, and Kiko Martinez, respectively, but all three favourites were beaten convincingly. Taylor does not want to be placed on the list beside Teofimo, Mikey, and Kid.
So far in Taylor's career, we have seen nothing to suggest he ever takes an opponent lightly. The fact that Catterall is the fifth consecutive opponent who enters the ring to face Taylor boasting an undefeated record should keep the Scotsman focused. Catterall may hope that Taylor has been distracted by the speculation about Taylor possibly moving up to welterweight and lining up a fight against Terence Crawford sometime in the near future.
Another factor on the mental side of things that Taylor has to guard against is the pressure of fighting at home. Home advantage is a good thing, but it can come with the burden of delivering an explosive showing – sometimes to the detriment of the game-plan. Taylor's trainer Ben Davison acknowledged this when he spoke to the Edinburgh Evening News after Wednesday's public workout: “One thing that's key, being realistic, is that, potentially, the crowd could have a negative effect if Josh is too eager too early. It's about being cool and calm.”
That indicates the Taylor camp would like their man to feel his way into the contest during the early stages. That may work for Catterall, too, as his last outing was in November 2020. There may be a layer or two of ring rust to shed for both men. Catterall's longer absence from the ring can be partly explained by the fact that he has been Taylor's mandatory opponent for quite some time. He stepped aside to allow the Taylor-Ramirez undisputed fight to take place last year. I sense Taylor has great respect for Catterall for doing this, and any animosity broadcasters or promoters may be trying to draw our attention to is entirely manufactured.
Catterall, who always carries himself with an air of quiet confidence, is three years younger than Taylor and has been a professional since 2012. A highly talented boxer, the southpaw likes to control the action at medium range and is highly competent at boxing off the back foot. Catterall carries adequate power, relying more on well-timed shots to inflict damage. The Jamie Moore trained fighter has been moved at a slower pace than Taylor – something which is reflected in his style occasionally. That is to say; it looks to me like, from time to time, “El Gato” takes significant portions of rounds off. Every fighter takes a breather once in a while, but Catterall seems to incorporate it into his fight night tactics. I get waiting for an opponent to make a mistake, but you can't wait forever.
Once Josh Taylor has his engine warmed up, Catterall won't have the luxury of taking it easy. He may not even have time to think. Taylor, also a southpaw, is comfortable boxing on the outside or roughing opponents up at close quarters. The Scotsman also holds the height and reach advantage in this matchup, so Catterall's medium-range comfort zone will probably be taken away from him. Assuming he is fully dialed in, Taylor will present Catterall with an intensity he hasn't faced before. Forget about taking breaks – Taylor is looking to use every second of every round to land scoring shots. Perfect evidence of this is his seventh-round knockdown of Ramirez last May. Ramirez thought a clinch was coming and relaxed; Taylor uncorked a fast left upper-cut and sent him to the canvas. “The Tartan Tornado” is relentless.
Another factor that can't be overlooked is the disparity in the standard of opponents both men have faced. While Taylor was moved up the rankings quickly and fought the best the 140lb division had to offer in the WBSS, Catterall was gloving up against – and I mean no disrespect to anyone here – Oscar Amador, Timo Schwarzkopf, and Abderrazak Houya. One common opponent is Ohara Davies. Taylor handled Davies convincingly in July 2017 (TKO7), while Catterall was taken the distance by Davies in the process of winning a unanimous decision in October 2018. Again, this suggests that Taylor is bringing more fire to this particular fight.
While the build-up has been fairly cordial, things did spill over slightly at the weigh-in. Both men did their necessary scale duty without drama – Taylor 140lbs, Catterall 139lbs – before Catterall grabbed the champion by the throat during the face-off. The boxers were quickly separated by security – the next time they get this close to one another will be moments before the opening bell.
Tickets sales for Taylor's homecoming have been brisk, and reports are that The Hydro is sold out. The fight will be broadcast on Sky Sports in the UK and Ireland and ESPN+ in America.
While complacency and lack of focus can affect any sportsperson from time to time, I don't think either will enter the equation for Josh Taylor tomorrow night. As noted, Catterall is a very good boxer who has waited patiently for his title shot; the problem he has is that Taylor is an elite fighter. It says at the bottom of my barely readable notes that after a slow start to the fight, Taylor will really turn up the heat to earn a stoppage victory during the final quarter of the contest.
The belts will remain in Scotland, and Taylor can enjoy the plaudits of his home crowd after all his success on the road. As for what will come next – that can wait until next week.