Eyebrows were raised earlier this week when Jack Catterall was announced as part of the undercard for Lawrence Okolie’s WBO cruiserweight title defence against David Light on 25th March. Catterall’s highly anticipated rematch with WBO super lightweight king Josh Taylor had been delayed due to the champion picking up a foot injury. But given the initial prognosis of a 6-8 week lay-off, fans could at least be sated by the idea the fight could still take place in early summer.
Now it looks like the British grudge match may be off altogether. Catterall’s upcoming fight was unlikely to delay matters too much, being envisaged largely as a tune-up. But now ‘The Tartan Tornado’ is reportedly being eyed for a far bigger showdown according to ESPN. Taylor is being tapped to face former lightweight champion Teofimo Lopez in what would be one of 2023’s biggest fights.
‘The Takeover’ moved up to 140-pounds last summer, after losing his unified lightweight title in a massive upset to George Kambosos Jr. After racking up wins over Pedro Campa and Sandor Martin, Lopez is ready to vie for world titles once again. Taylor is a natural fit as an opponent considering the pair have aimed verbal barbs at each other for years. The Scotsman’s status as the true champion in the division makes it a rewarding bout for Lopez too.
Taylor was the undisputed champion before having three of his belts stripped for failing to face various prohibitive mandatory commitments. His status as the sole ruler of the division, the very first four-belt king in super lightweight history no less, and The Ring belt around his waist ensure his status as the true champion is intact.
It was a status that saw Taylor rightfully feted by fans and experts. ‘The Tartan Tornado’ earned his success the hard way. Taylor won punishing bouts with world class operators like Viktor Postol, Ivan Baranchyk, Regis Prograis and Jose Ramirez. But it was his latest bout that would puncture the goodwill Taylor’s fight-anyone exploits had garnered.
Last February, Taylor was awarded a split decision over Catterall in defence of his undisputed super-lightweight title. As victories go, it was an incredibly damaged one. The champion was widely considered to have lost the fight and the judging was heavily scrutinised. When Taylor initially refused to grant a rematch, the backlash intensified. Over the course of one poor performance, in light of scorecards Taylor himself hadn’t written, the ‘Tornado’ went from hero to villain.
For the last 12 months, Taylor has had to deal with the Catterall jibes. He has allowed himself to be stripped of three of his four championships in order to make the rematch happen. While he is likely to cop a lot of flack for moving on to Lopez, you cannot argue he didn’t try get the Catterall match made.
Ultimately fighting Lopez is a double-edged sword for Taylor. Many will allege he is somehow ducking Catterall in taking this alternative bout. Those people would be wrong. While it is disappointing that the long-gestating rivalry will not be fulfilled, Taylor-Lopez is actually a better fight. Lopez is a better fighter and bigger name than Catterall. That is not to disparage Chorley’s ‘El Gato’, but the American has beaten pound-for-pound superstar Vasyl Lomachenko. There are levels to this game and Lopez has fought and won at a higher one. A victory over Catterall would remove the albatross from Taylor’s neck. But one against Lopez would enhance a legacy already bulging with big names. Were it not for their controversial first fight, nobody would be picking a Catterall rematch over a fight with A-lister Lopez.
Taylor is taking a risk if he accepts either contest. In many ways it’s the same risk. He struggles mightily to make the 140-pound limit these days. A move to welterweight has long been mooted and it is somewhat surprising that it has not come to fruition yet. Catterall was a cause worth sticking around for though, and you could argue the same of Lopez. But the next fight in the career of Josh Taylor, no matter who it actually ends up being against, could be the riskiest and most important of his career.
*18+ | BeGambleAware | Odds Subject To Change