Josh Taylor has been stripped of the WBA super-lightweight championship. The Scot, who still holds the WBC, IBF and WBO titles at the weight, became the first ever four-belt 140lb ruler in May 2021 with a unanimous decision win over Jose Ramirez. But on a weekend where boxing gained another undisputed champion, as Jermell Charlo unified the four light middleweight titles with a tenth-round stoppage of Brian Castano, it lost one in kind.
The WBA claim they took the decision to revoke Taylor’s championship status after the fighter failed to make their deadline for a fight with mandatory challenger Alberto Puello. The sanctioning body will now hold meetings with Puello and their other five highest-ranked contenders to determine a way forward for the vacant belt. Discussions are expected to include Ohara Davies, the 23-2 Brit who Taylor stopped in seven rounds in 2017.
Taylor tells the story far differently, however. The 19-0 fighter claims to have vacated the championship by choice. Taylor took to Twitter to say “FYI, I vacated it the belt I want (sic) stripped”. When a follower put it to him that the WBA saw things differently, the unified champion responded, “I spoke with them last week. I vacated it”.
While we will likely never know for sure what has gone on, there is supporting evidence to suggest Taylor could have abdicated his crown. The 31-year-old has expressed a desire to move up to welterweight in the near future, and even fuelled that speculation by admitting his controversial points win over Jack Catterall in February could be his last super lightweight contest. The nature of that victory, and the resulting storm it caused, adds another layer of intrigue to Taylor’s championship future.
When Taylor was awarded a split decision over Catterall at the OVO Hydro in Glasgow earlier this year, almost nobody agreed with the ruling. Taylor has found himself fighting a losing battle in the court of public opinion, with even the British Boxing Board of Control weighing in. The body downgraded judge Ian John-Lewis in the wake of the decision, and have lobbied the sanctioning bodies to install Catterall as mandatory challenger. The campaign has fallen on deaf ears. The WBA selected Puello, and do not even rank Catterall in their top ten at the weight. Neither do the IBF, while the WBO and WBC feature him at third and fourth respectively.
A natural assessment of Taylor vacating or being stripped of titles, and having no fight on the docket, is that he is perhaps avoiding the inevitable Jack Catterall questions. That if he announces a fight that doesn’t feature ‘El Gato’, he will be accused of ducking the Chorley man. But the fact none of the sanctioning bodies are pressing for the fight seems to suggest this isn’t the case. Technically, Taylor could fight other boxers and face no further impediment to his career.
Recent social activity from Taylor supports the theory that his super lightweight days might be done, while also igniting the Catterall feud. In a post made the day before news emerged about the WBA title situation, Taylor hints at concerns making 140lbs while fuelling fresh talk of a rematch. “Couldn’t beat the worst, weight drained version of me, never mind me on form” Taylor says in response to a Catterall post about the fight, continuing “He’ll get KO’d next time we fight.”. These don’t sound like the words of a man who is avoiding a fight.
Before the Catterall fight, the talk of a Taylor move to welterweight was rampant. The Sportsman even questioned WBO welterweight champion Terence Crawford about it. But such fights are unlikely while the Catterall situation hangs like a black cloud over Taylor.
It is cruel that an illustrious amateur and pro career has come to this, but the Scotsman can barely poke his head above the social media parapet before someone informs him they thought he lost his last fight. If the weight struggles are too much, a move to 147lbs might be unavoidable. But the Catterall issue isn’t going away.
You sense a victory over his tormentor, even up at welterweight, is the only logical next step at this point. Whether it’s for three belts or zero belts, at 140 or 147 pounds, it is a fight they both need. Taylor, as the moral loser in the eyes of many last time out, perhaps needs it even more than the injustice-fuelled Catterall.