THERE is always the element of the backhanded compliment whenever a boxer is praised for being “exciting” and “fan-friendly,” for often what that means is this: you are vulnerable, too easy to hit, prone to being involved in competitive fights you don’t always necessarily win.
Equally, however, it does a boxer no good to win fights so convincingly that they develop a reputation for being quite the opposite of exciting. Perfection, after all, is something easier to admire than enjoy. Moreover, one could argue that the appeal of a boxing match can be found in the two-way action it teases and that considerably less appealing is the sight of one boxer trouncing the other with technique, forgetting in the process that there are fans in attendance who want to be entertained. Again, such displays of artistry may be things to be admired, but rarely are they ever enjoyed.
In the case of Jack Catterall, the excellent technician from Chorley, we are at the point now where only a real test will be able to silence those who claim he is not to their taste; or, in other words, winning fights a little too easily for their liking.
On Saturday, it’s true, engaging in a glorified spar-slash-testimonial-slash-victory lap with Jorge Linares would have done Catterall’s reputation as a difficult watch no good whatsoever. It was, as everyone predicted beforehand, a fight with zero jeopardy, zero point beyond the obvious, and zero drama (save perhaps for a brief flashpoint in round five when Linares stumbled back to the ropes). Indeed, what also made matters worse, both for Catterall and those who endured the fight, was how content and happy everybody seemed about it all afterwards. Linares, all smiles, even announced his retirement, telling Boxing News it had been the plan all along should the fight go as expected. Losing by decision, he said, was the perfect way to go out. He was, he said, delighted to finish his career in this manner.
Be that as it may, one must ask why Linares, a man whose career should be celebrated (as should his retirement), was in the ring with Catterall in the first place. We knew, yes, the 38-year-old would be able to look after himself and that a run of three straight losses didn’t say everything about his rate of deterioration and the diminishing of his skills. But still, from Catterall’s point of view, what exactly was the thinking behind (as well as the upside of) the fight?
Certainly, given what we now know about Linares’ desire to secure the “perfect retirement defeat”, there was very little chance of this fight ever igniting or becoming something more than what it was: an exchanging of salutations. Furthermore, at a time when Catterall is a man easy to ignore, easy to avoid, and easy to forget, surely the last thing he needed was a fight like this. For there are only so many times The App (DAZN) can continue to be blamed for the lack of attention and momentum some of these fighters are currently feeling. At some point, you have to look at fights like this and analyse why plenty on the night will have chosen to watch a British cruiserweight title fight between Isaac Chamberlain and Mikael Lawal, Sky Sports’ offering, instead of it. You have to look at the fighters involved and what putting them together will create in terms of a spectacle.
Here, with Catterall and Linares, there was never any doubt what would happen. There was never any doubt about who would ultimately triumph, nor how the fight would unfold. That it then played out exactly as expected left those who chose to watch it over the British cruiserweight title clash – which, by the way, was every bit as one-sided – in a state of either regret or deep contemplation. “Was expecting something different an example of blind hope, or delusion, or insanity?” they asked themselves.
For Jack Catterall, meanwhile, it’s just a shame. All of it. Last year, let’s not forget, he produced arguably the finest performance of the year, when dominating but still losing against Josh Taylor in Glasgow. That should have been his launchpad to greater things and even more meaningful fights. As it was, however, outboxing Taylor the way Catterall did only added more reasons to why the rest of the division, and even Taylor, pretend to be busy when Catterall’s name is mentioned.
Not only that, and somehow worse than that, Catterall, 28-1 (13), now finds himself meandering through fights that don’t do his skills justice. That is to say, had he beaten Taylor, and was now fighting the elite fighters each time out, there would be no need to dispute whether Catterall is either boring or brilliant, for such a thing would hardly matter. At that level, you see, when to be boring is to be brilliant (or at the very least dominant), we find it much easier to forgive those boxers who neglect entertaining in order to secure victory by any means necessary. At that level, if you’re shutting down the likes of Josh Taylor or, say, Teofimo Lopez, you can get away with pretty much anything; for all you will receive is praise and adulation.
Sadly, though, Catterall is currently showcasing his skills, as fundamentally sound as anyone’s in British boxing, in fights that mean very little to anybody outside his team. Before Linares, for example, he had beaten Darragh Foley over 10 rounds, which was another fight he both dominated and one nobody will ever choose to watch again.
The question then, I suppose, is to what extent is Catterall himself responsible for the ease with which people ignore him? Is it as simple as him being too good for his own good, or rather is it the job of Catterall to try to strike a balance between winning every round cleanly and ensuring nobody watching the fight, either at home or in the arena, has fallen asleep during it?
According to Sunny Edwards, the IBF flyweight champion who was in the DAZN commentary booth for Catterall vs. Linares, winning is everything and that, for a boxer, is all that counts. Yet, of course, if anyone is likely to subscribe to this view and promote it live on air it is going to be Edwards, someone whose skills are comparable to Catterall’s and whose problems are exactly the same. That is, while undoubtedly a wonderful technician, and a belt-holder hard to beat, Edwards boasts neither the size nor, it seems, the desire to be able to do anything other than befuddle and outbox his opponents with speed and evasiveness. This, also true of Catterall, leaves the audience at best nodding respectfully at the skills on display and, at worst, bored stiff.
A better example, as far as something to which Catterall should aspire, might be Terence Crawford, the world’s best welterweight. He, not unlike Catterall, is someone who is always wonderfully poised and balanced and extremely economical and clever with whatever he throws. Yet, unlike Catterall, Crawford appears to possess a drive, or a hunger, which guarantees he will invariably try to finish a fight regardless of how far he finds himself in front at the time at which he smells blood. Indeed, it is almost as if Crawford doesn’t feel victory is truly a victory unless he has taken something from his opponent and beaten them beyond all argument. Which is perhaps why, whenever we find ourselves these days hailing the Nebraskan’s rise, we consider him to be both the world’s premier technician and also, crucially, one of the most exciting boxers to watch. To find that sweet spot, which is no mean feat, is of course a testament to not only Crawford’s brilliance as a stylist but also his awareness of the need to entertain and, in pursuit of what he deems total victory, take the occasional risk.
Maybe risk, then, is the key. If not willing to take unnecessary ones inside the ring, what must surely be imperative, particularly for a low-key boxer like Jack Catterall, is that calculated ones are being taken by others around him in the respect of matchmaking. For without that Catterall’s talents are as good as wasted. What is more, when looking back in years to come, both he and his supporters, those who have acquired the taste, may feel as though he was robbed in more ways than just one.