Taylor, Catterall and a screaming Bob Arum: how a savage rivalry reached new heights

The Josh Taylor and Jack Catterall rematch was worth the wait, and late on Saturday night in front of boxing’s most fearsome wall of fans, they fought to a standstill in Leeds.

In February 2022, Taylor won a disputed split decision and retained his four belts and position as undisputed champion at super-lightweight; on Saturday, all the belts were gone, but Taylor and Catterall fought over every inch of that blood-stained canvas for pride, for redemption and for revenge.

When it finished, there was no embrace of fighting love, and they each waited in hope for something they had dreamed of since leaving the ring that night in Glasgow. They also had the scars on their faces from their brutal struggle for supremacy; it had been a battle of wills, a personal journey for both, and the wait for the rematch had taken a toll on more than their boxing careers.

As they stood in centre ring waiting for the decision, Taylor dropped his head and Catterall screamed with delight when his name was read out; it was a unanimous decision, a verdict that gave him justice in his eyes. Taylor left the ring insisting that he had done enough to win, and it was, by the end of the fight, a ring of high contrasts.

Bob Arum, the 92-year-old promoter, climbed through the ropes, grabbed a microphone and declared the decision and scoring a disgrace. He promotes Taylor. Eddie Hearn smiled and insisted that the right man won – he promotes Catterall. There is nothing quite like the glorious pantomime of extremes at the end of a fight like this. There were tears of joy, exhaustion and frustration in that ring.

Taylor and Hearn talked of a third fight but Catterall initially suggested he was done with Taylor. “I’m finished with him,” he told me from the packed ring. Obviously, Catterall’s stance might change when the figures are discussed.

Catterall won on all three cards, though many observers suggested the scores were too wide (Getty)
Catterall won on all three cards, though many observers suggested the scores were too wide (Getty)

It was a great fight, a very hard struggle between two men with too much pride. Catterall was too sharp, too fast and too accurate in the early rounds. Taylor was struggling with Catterall’s speed and was open to quality counters from the Englishman. And Catterall fired home blistering left crosses and short right uppercuts; Taylor was marking up and after six rounds I had it 5-1 to Catterall.

The arena in Leeds has just one vast banked side, and it reaches up and up in a dark haze of dancing fans. I think 11,000 people were packed into that iconic wall. A friend of mine was up in the tallest of seats and he said that there was not a spare seat anywhere. It was quite an exceptional atmosphere.

Taylor started to get close and had success from the seventh; Catterall was beaten to the punch for the first time and was being bullied. It looked like Catterall was taking a break, but then Taylor started to take control. It was toe-to-toe at times, brilliant to watch from every seat. The Scot fought his way back, winning rounds, forcing the pace, and by about round 10 the fight was poised.

Catterall and Taylor discuss their thrilling rematch after the final bell (Getty)
Catterall and Taylor discuss their thrilling rematch after the final bell (Getty)

In the 11th, after Kevin Parker, the referee, had given the pair a chat about sneaky punches to the back. Catterall jumped in quickly and caught and badly hurt Taylor. It looked like a pivotal moment in a fight of drama. Taylor held, gripped for survival and they both tumbled over. It was a fall, not a knockdown. Up close, from my seat on the apron, I could see how much this long-overdue fight was taking from the pair of them. It was a savage struggle.

The last round was also close. I thought Catterall had done enough, perhaps seven rounds to five. Two of the judges – both excellent, by the way – had it a lot wider and that seems to have annoyed Arum; the best judges in the land can return odd scores at times – it happens, they are human.

Catterall had his win, Taylor wants to do it again, and Arum is probably still screaming. A third fight is the sensible move after a long, long break, but be warned: it will not be for the squeamish. And, how nice was it to have a fight of this quality without a junk shop of tacky belts thrown at the two boxers.