ON this occasion I was genuinely surprised. That should say it all. After a lifetime of becoming conditioned to the insane world of boxing and expecting the worst, I was genuinely shocked when Josh Taylor was named the winner of a fight he had clearly lost. I was ashamed and more than a little angry, too. But the overriding feeling was one of sympathy. Jack Catterall deserved so much more. Not only to enjoy the euphoria of having his hand raised, he deserved everything that should have followed. But all that awaited the rightful winner of the fight, the orchestrator of a momentous upset, was the wrong end of a miscarriage of justice.
Don’t blame Taylor for this. This was not his doing. This was not a criminal mastermind outwitting the authorities and laughing wickedly as another man was sent to the gallows. Regardless of whether he truly believed he won or not (and his address on social media in the days following the fight was far more balanced than his immediate reaction), Taylor fought courageously in the face of adversity. He did not back down, he did not stop trying to win. He was off-form, no question, but in another world – the kind where justice is not just something we hope for but something that happens as a matter of course – Taylor would have been cheered for his pluckiness in defeat. No, do not blame Taylor nor forget what he has achieved. He should remain an athlete of whom the whole country is proud.
Yet it’s also only fair to consider how he would have reacted if the cards had gone against him following a 12-rounder with Ivan Baranchyk in 2019, the first time he challenged for a major belt. Justice was thankfully done that night. Though Taylor had the odd sticky moment, he was in firm control for the majority of the fight (and dropped his rival along the way). He rightly won by eight points on one card and four on the other two.
They were the kind of margins I expected Catterall to win by at the final bell on Saturday night. Regardless of what follows this latest furore – and the British Boxing Board of Control, as they always do, will investigate the decision – there is nothing bar overturning the result and all the belts being handed to Catterall that can make this okay. That will not happen, of course.
In his next fight, Catterall should have been the world champion, getting paid a world champion’s wages. He should have been going home to his family and telling them all their dreams were about to come true. Telling them why he always had faith in himself. Now he will struggle to have faith in the sport of boxing again.
It’s too easy to say his profile has now been elevated and further opportunities will come. Who knows what this will do to him psychologically? The stink will not do Taylor any favours, either.
The old debate about incompetence and corruption is again the most talked about subject in boxing. Not bravery. Not skill. Not the astonishing levels of physical torment these fighters endure. None of that. Instead, what we’re hearing is that boxing is crooked. My own personal feeling has always been that boxing, while flawed, is not corrupt. However, if at Boxing News we’re just going to meekly say every time there are dodgy scores, ‘Ah, this is boxing, it happens’, then we are doing our job as badly as at least one of the judges did theirs on Saturday night.
Again, though I don’t believe it to be the case in this country, we must be open-minded to the possibility that skulduggery is at play. Why? Just look around at this sport. At this business. Look at the management groups with bottomless pockets. Look at the advisors who we can’t talk about, much less pose a question to. Look at the drug cheats who continue to fight. Look at the mismatches and lopsided bills that occur every single weekend. Look at the sanctioning bodies and their rankings where fighters move up and down on a promoter’s whim. Then consider how easy it would be to have a word in a few ears and make a lot of money by gambling on a particular result. When you’ve done all that, tell me, with hand on heart, that there is no way that boxing can possibly be corrupt.
This is where the British Boxing Board of Control come in. Out of all the commissions in the world, it is ours that always seemed the unlikeliest to be corrupt. They have a thankless task, attempting to preside over this sport of so many moving parts. I know how very hard they work to get things right. And now, they have to get it right. Robert Smith cannot merely say the result is going to be investigated and then just reiterate how subjective boxing is. It’s gone too far for that. We have to remove this notion of corruption from the conversation. Boxing has to start behaving itself, openly and quickly. Otherwise someone with real influence from the outside world will be called in to investigate instead. It’s only a matter of time before that occurs and, wow, imagine what they might find.
Therefore the in-house investigations have to be real and true. They have to be transparent. The Board must show us they are fit to rule, even if other commissions are not. It’s not just the boxers who depend on them, the integrity of their officials depends on their actions, too. From my experience, the officials are good, honest and knowledgeable people. Yet by taking away their voice, by keeping them quiet, the accusations against them only get louder. These human beings, with families and jobs like the rest of us, deserve better than to have their names and reputations muddied so frequently. Let’s hear their justification on how those scores were tallied.
“It was a scrappy fight and both fighters were bending the rules somewhat. In that regard, I thought [referee] Marcus McDonnell did a good job under some difficult circumstances,” Robert Smith told Boxing News. “It was a close fight but I will say that I thought Jack won by a couple of rounds. He boxed fantastically and deserved to win. I was surprised when I saw the decision… I can’t understand Ian’s [John-Lewis] score [114-111 for Taylor] and that’s why we’re doing the investigation that we’re doing.”
Credit where it’s due, Smith is rarely as open as that. Who knows, if he’d have said that in the aftermath of the decision in front of the Sky cameras, the heat he faces now might not be so fierce. Credit, too, to promoter Ben Shalom who admitted he was “embarrassed and angry” about the verdict. Almost immediately, he was widely applauded. The Board, whether Smith or someone else, should consider installing a spokesperson to address controversy as soon as it rears its ugly head. Otherwise, where does the anger from fans go? Already this week, innocent staff at the Board’s offices in Cardiff have been subjected to vile abuse. Needless to say, that is not the way to solve this.
The Board were just one of five organisations involved. There were four sanctioning body titles on the line on Saturday night. Representatives from the WBC, WBA, WBO and IBF stood with their respective belts poised to be handed to the ‘winner’. Each body has considerably greater resources than the Board of Control. Not one of them flinched in their haste to ensure their silverware was draped all over Josh Taylor. But can someone please tell me why the boxers paid substantial sanctioning fees if perhaps the most important sanction of all in a sporting contest – injustice will be rectified – simply does not exist?
There are, of course, other factors to consider. Not corruption, not the incompetence of officials, but the incompetence of fans. We all like to think our opinion is correct. We all like to rant and rave that those who are trained to score a fight do not know how to. It is certainly worth noting that in most cases where we deem a bad decision to have occurred, it’s the underdog, the fighter who exceeds our pre-fight expectations, who we perceive to be the one getting shafted. We can’t ignore the influence of the television coverage we watch, either. None of us are comfortable with the notion that our own view can be skewed by the voices on the television or the replays they choose to show us. But if we’re to demand the opinions of others are investigated it’s only fair to investigate ourselves, too.
As a matter of course, I do this with every contentious verdict. Sometimes I am surprised by what I find. Not on this occasion, however. On repeat viewings, Catterall landed the cleaner (scoring) blows throughout, even in the rounds in which Taylor was the aggressor. He was and remains a clear winner. Yet there were close rounds in which a judge at ringside is conditioned to give 10 points to one fighter and nine to the other. Another conversation, a long overdue conversation, is the effectiveness of the 10-point-must system.
This latest miscarriage of justice cannot be the end of the matter. Because if we ignore it again, the next time it happens, the criticism will be even greater. It has to be the beginning of new ideas and fresh thinking. A fearlessness to punish poor performance. A willingness to accept that this is not the way it has to be just because it’s the way it’s always been. Fighters like Jack Catterall need to know the authorities have their back. The time for change starts now.