SOMETIMES it’s good to be reminded that a boxing rivalry can still be genuine, full of disdain, aggression, and feature two men who can’t stand the sight of each other. Like an unnecessarily acrobatic save from a goalkeeper, we’re sometimes presented with a rivalry that’s meant for the cameras and nothing else.

Working as a studio analyst for the BBC during their coverage of Audley Harrison’s early fights as a professional fighter, the great Marvin Hagler let it be known to viewers that he does not like fighters touching gloves before, during or between rounds. The former middleweight champion had no problem with a handshake afterwards but when it’s time to fight it’s exactly that: a fight. It’s a fight featuring men and women prepared to go to unimaginable lengths to win.

After attempting to break each other’s bones, make the other bleed profusely, and end it all with a knockout, a rivalry is often put to one side when fighters embrace afterwards. Everything that was said in the build-up can be quashed by handshakes and embraces, or by post-fight photographs taken together, or by hugs in the changing rooms. or even by sharing a burger or some Chinese food.

The sight of two fighters putting their differences behind them for the sake of sportsmanship shows maturity and is to be admired – long may it continue. This is, after all, the so-called noble art.

But boxing has many tags hanging around its neck. Another is that this is still the hurt business.

When Josh Taylor and Jack Catterall took their seats, with promoter Eddie Hearn sitting between them, for yesterday’s press conference in a luxury Edinburgh hotel there was a feeling that everything may get out of hand. After all, this is two men who angrily put their hands on one another at the weigh-in the day before their fight in February 2022. We then watched the two super-lightweights engage in an untidy battle which went the distance. And because of the unexpected result the action which preceded it has been forgotten by many.

But certainly not Taylor, Catterall and those around them.

“I’m excited. We’ve finally caught him. I don’t believe he wanted to fight me. He’s here now, he showed up and I’m going to smash his head in.”

Those were Catterall’s opening remarks, arriving several minutes after his manager Sam Jones said his piece which led to verbal jousting between himself and Taylor’s supporters. Jones clearly loves hamming it up and tries to steal the show, but the local support made it known no-one was there to listen to him. And they were right.

Catterall and Taylor have spent two years entwined in each other’s life without seeing one another. Social media has ensured they remain locked together; intensifying a rivalry that didn’t need intensifying.

“There’s been a lot of talk for the last two years,” Hearn reminded Taylor.

“I can’t wait for this fight. It’s gonna be class,” the Scot said. “You’ve billed it as Hate Runs Strong (note: the title is Hate Runs Deep). I don’t hate anyone. I just don’t like this guy; I can’t wait to smash his brains in… whatever brains he’s got.”

Catterall had also commented on Matchroom’s use of the word “Hate” in the fight’s tagline and he too attempted to play that down. But if one wants to “smash” the other’s head in and the next “can’t wait to smash his brains in”, perhaps it’s justified.

Taylor and Catterall continued to take verbal swings at one another for the remainder of yesterday’s first leg of their mini press tour. The second takes place later today (February 20) in Manchester just 25 miles from Catterall’s home town of Chorley.

Once Taylor and Catterall had put a full stop on what they had to say, Eddie Hearn asked them to come together for photographs and the traditional face-off. A betting man would have got thin odds on one of them not reacting aggressively to the other just a few paces apart. And within seconds it blew up. Taylor put his hands on the jacket of Catterall, whose response was to grab the Scot’s neck, at which point Taylor reacted by throwing what looked like a punch from his left hand.

Within seconds security was on the scene to manhandle and move the two as far away from each other as possible. It was another reminder that this rivalry is not for the cameras and is not being exaggerated to drive numbers up for DAZN, who will broadcast the fight, or the various interactions on YouTube or social media.

Hearn asked the fighters to return once again. Perhaps at that stage it would have been wise to let them go their separate ways and carry out their media duties. But both made their way back with the suited-up Hearn doing his best to keep them apart. The bating continued before Catterall tried landing a little slap on Taylor. That was enough.

Nigel Travis, an integral part of Catterall’s training team and someone who has seen it all before, was in attendance and gave his reaction to Boxing News.

“As the tagline says: ‘Hate Runs Deep’. They genuinely dislike each other. Sometimes it’s a narrative to build something up, but this is not. They dislike each other immensely [and] for good reason as well.

“Jack is certainly hard done by, [and] most people agree with that. Josh feels devalued in that apparent victory and he has. But it is what it is. I don’t like to see that. These kids need that energy to take it to the ring but unfortunately sometimes it does boil over.”

DAZN’s Marketing Vice-President Alfie Sharman was sitting at the top table to represent the broadcasting outfit but was well out the way during the face-offs. BN asked Sharman if he had any concerns that something similar may happen today in Manchester.

“The fans like to see back and forth, of course, but we don’t condone that,” he answered. “It’s risky, most importantly. The security were obviously prepped and know there is some genuine dislike between the guys. They’ll be even tighter tomorrow. I wouldn’t say concerns, these guys are experienced they do this week in, week out. I think we’ll be okay.”

Perhaps Taylor and Catterall will be reminded by those invested in the fight that they need to keep a lid on everything until April 27.

Yesterday reminded us of the fallout from that night at Glasgow’s SSE Hydro on February 26, 2022, when the sport was left with a black eye. There is bad blood between them – maybe hatred, even if they deny it – and being at close quarters clearly tests the patience of both Taylor and Catterall.

This is as bitter a rivalry as you’re likely to see in the modern era and, while the nastiness isn’t something to revel in, it’s a timely reminder of what boxing can be and always will be – whether we like it or not.