Jack Catterall was ringside this past January in Manchester, England, with Josh Taylor two seats to his left at the Liam Smith-Chris Eubank Jr. bout. The plan called for Catterall and Taylor to face-off during the card and announce their March 4 rematch, but Catterall found out the previous night that a different announcement was coming: His return bout with Taylor was canceled once again.
The injury was a torn plantar fascia for Taylor, and this time, there would be no rescheduled date. Following multiple postponements, Taylor instead went on to fight Teofimo Lopez Jr. in June and was routed in a unanimous decision loss.
Catterall felt like the uncrowned champion at 140 pounds after a controversial split-decision loss against Taylor in February 2022. ESPN also scored the fight for Catterall and ranks him ahead of Taylor — and Lopez — in the division. Catterall, 30, laughed when he was counted out ahead of the first Taylor fight and to this day feels he has something to prove. He hoped to leave no doubt in that rematch, but Taylor’s defeat to Lopez altered those plans.
Now, the Englishman turns his attention to Jorge Linares, whom Catterall will fight on Saturday in Liverpool, England, as he continues his “I told-you-so tour.”
“After having a taste of that world [class] level — I do believe I beat Taylor, didn’t get the decision — but I kind of proved, not only to myself but to the wider public, that I do belong in these big fights,” Catterall, whose only fight against top-flight competition came against Taylor, told ESPN on Saturday.
“Right now I can only think about Linares, but in an ideal world, you beat Linares and there are some big fights there and world title fights. …We’ll see what Josh Taylor’s up to, [I] would love to give him a spanking.”
Catterall (27-1, 13 KOs) doesn’t have the hardware to prove he’s the guy at 140 pounds, even if it’s hard to deny his claim. He was a 6-1 underdog when he traveled to Glasgow, Scotland, in February 2022 to challenge Taylor for the undisputed junior welterweight championship.
Catterall appeared to do enough to pull out the victory — he even floored Taylor in Round 8 — but dropped a controversial split decision loss that left him disgusted.
After months and months of training and waiting for a rematch that never materialized in the ring, Catterall signed with Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing and returned 15 months after the Taylor bout with a shake-off-the-rust decision win over journeyman Darragh Foley in May.
“It was very frustrating,” Catterall acknowledged. “You invest a lot of time and money in training camps. … He pulled out, it got rescheduled to the new year. Then one thing after another, then his injury and then we turned up at Smith-Eubank, scheduled to climb in the ring and announce the fight.
“He turns up, I get a call at 11:00 PM the night before, the fight’s off with no clear clarification on what was going on. So, it was a frustrating time because I’ve recently turned 30. I believe my style of fighting has given me longevity. I’ve been [a] professional [for] 10 years, but I also feel like I’ve not many miles on the clock on me….
“I know I’ve got a good run now ahead of me to be involved in some good fights and things like Taylor pulling out twice over like a 10-month period is not ideal for me.”
Inactivity is never ideal, but Saturday’s matchup with Linares, a former three-division champion, provides a better opportunity for Catterall to showcase his class ahead of what shapes up as a pivotal 2024.
Sure, Linares is past his peak. The Venezuelan is 38, has lost three fights in a row (the last two in Russia, one by TKO) and hasn’t scored a win since February 2020. On the other hand, Linares (47-8, 29 KOs) possesses a recognizable name in both the American and U.K. boxing scene, is a highly accomplished fighter and was able to stun Devin Haney late in their fight. He also knocked down Vasiliy Lomachenko in 2018.
“The motivation that I have right now is the same it was seven or eight years ago…,” said Linares. “We’re going to make a beautiful fight. This is the most difficult fight of my life. I need to win this fight. … This time is different because I come from a loss.”
At his best, Linares was revered for his blinding speed, flashy combinations and smooth boxing. But he’s also a natural 135-pounder with a shaky chin; he’s been finished six times. In his lone fight at 140 pounds, Linares was picked apart by Pablo Cesar Cano in one round.
Catterall is an 8-1 favorite to defeat Linares, but a win inside the distance would truly put the division’s four titleholders on notice.
Regis Prograis, who is also with Matchroom, defends his WBC title vs. Devin Haney on Dec. 9.
“I think I’ve been clear that I would love the Regis fight…,” said Catterall. “I think the division right now is electric. You’ve got the guys coming up from 135, in and around about 140. There’s a lot of good names, but right now it’s Linares and that’s it.”
Besides Prograis, there’s Subriel Matias, the volume-punching machine who puts his IBF belt on the line vs. Shojahon Ergashev on Nov. 25. Rolando “Rolly” Romero holds the WBA title while Lopez, the biggest star of the quartet, possesses the WBO belt.
The titles were splintered as Taylor vacated one belt at a time in pursuit of the Catterall rematch, but the one man who most deserved a crack at the belts didn’t receive another chance yet. Catterall could land a second title fight next year, but there are other big fights at 140.
Junior welterweight is also home to Haney, the undisputed lightweight champion, and top fighters like Ryan Garcia and Jose Ramirez. Catterall’s manager Sam Jones said, is fighting Linares “because all the champions are busy.”
“Jack is a big crowd pleaser so he wants to give the fans what they want to see but first he has to deal with Linares.”
Even if it isn’t for a title and even if it doesn’t happen next, the Taylor rematch remains the biggest fight of all for Catterall. Grudge matches always sell in boxing, and this one needs no WWE-style histrionics to create hype.
“It is personal and he’s said a lot of derogatory things over the last year or two…,” Catterall said of Taylor.
“He’s not somebody that you’d want to go sit and have a cup of tea with and a catchup. I don’t think he’s a nice guy and the stuff that he said to me, he’s made it personal. So hope I don’t bump into him many times soon.”
Unless it’s in a ring, of course.
Until then, Catterall is out to show everyone just how good he is. That the performance against Taylor wasn’t a fluke. That he does deserve to be called the top man at 140 pounds. He can serve another reminder to all on Saturday.