Josh Taylor walked out of the ring at The SSE Hydro in Glasgow, Scotland, with all four of the major super lightweight belts after his mandatory title defense with Jack Catterall.
It would be inappropriate, though, to call him the undisputed champion.
Taylor won a split decision over the massive underdog Catterall that will be talked about for a long time. Judges had it 114-111 and 113-112 for Taylor and 113-112 for Catterall. Yahoo Sports had it 113-112 for Catterall.
The fight and the officiating set off a number of fierce debates:
What was Taylor doing in the first half of the fight, when he essentially smothered himself and didn’t give himself enough room to land his left hand?
What was Catterall doing in the final few rounds, when he quit using a left that had been highly effective and started backing away, as if he’d already had the fight won?
And what was Marcus McDonnell doing refereeing a fight of this magnitude (because he butchered it badly)?
Taylor was as high as a 14-1 favorite, but he seemed to have great difficulty getting untracked in the early part of the fight. Catterall was lightly regarded, but came to fight and gave better than he got most of the way.
It was a rough, physical fight that McDonnell completely lost control of, and in which he made inappropriate decisions. He was repeatedly stopping the action and warning both fighters for all manner of fouls, but didn’t take any points.
Then, when the fight hung in the balance, he took a bogus point from Catterall for holding in the 10th, and then made one of the all-time poor decisions when he took a point from Taylor for hitting after the bell in the 11th. As the 11th ended and the fighters were heading to their corners, Taylor smacked Catterall on the chest as fighters often do. It was a smidge harder than normal, perhaps, but it was clearly not an intent to punch. But McDonnell rushed in and took a point from Taylor.
Taylor was lucky to leave with his championships, even though he put on a brave face afterward and said he was confident of victory.
“I knew I won the fight,” Taylor said. “It was close. Overall, I scored the bigger shots, the better shots, the more meaningful shots so I know I won the fight. It was a little bit close, but I know I won the fight.”
That certainly is debatable. Catterall was rocking Taylor was clean lefts throughout the first half of the fight and opened welts below each of Taylor’s eyes. He landed more than his fair share of what Taylor called the bigger, better and more meaningful shots.
But when Catterall wakes up on Sunday, he’ll have one man to blame and he’ll be able to see that person when he looks into the mirror. Whether it was conditioning or he was trying to protect the lead, Catterall made the highly unwise choice to go into boxing’s version of the four corners over the last four rounds.
If Catterall had fought in Rounds 9-12 like he had in Rounds 1-8, there is a simple truth: He’d be the undisputed super lightweight champion right now.
As it is, he gave it away.
It was reminiscent of what happened to then-light heavyweight champion Billy Conn after he fought Joe Louis for the heavyweight title in 1941. Conn was ahead after 12, but was stopped in the 14th when he stopped boxing and tried to finish Louis.
Afterward, Conn asked Louis if he could borrow the belt, and Louis responded with a classic line that would apply to Catterall on Saturday:
“You had it for 12 rounds and didn’t know what to do with it,” Louis said.
Catterall had the fight in the bag but let Taylor steal it from him.
That, though, does not diminish the fact that he had done enough to win the fight. He even dropped Taylor in the eighth round, making a once unthinkable upset a very real possibility.
Catterall, though, didn’t keep pushing and it wound up costing him dearly.