The rising star of Jack Catterall

John MacDonald
13/07/2015 10:40am

The thought of sharing a ring with the best fighter of your generation can be daunting. This was the prospect Jack Catterall faced as he helped Floyd Mayweather Jr prepare for the so-called ‘Fight of the Century’ against long-time rival Manny Pacquiao. Rather than feeling overawed, he relished the opportunity to pit his skills against those of the world’s highest paid sportsman.

At just 21-years-old Catterall is regarded as one of the brightest young talents in British boxing but he refuses to let the superlatives his recent performances have garnered, go to his head. Instead he’s dedicated to learning his craft and left the Mayweather Boxing Club buoyed by the experience.

“I were just excited really. At the end of the day you can’t put anybody on a pedestal when you’re in the ring with them.  He’s got two arms and a head, just like me. He needs the sparring for his fight, there’s no good in me going in there scared because it’s going to be of no benefit to him.” Catterall told Boxing Monthly over the phone upon his return to his home in Chorley.

“I sparred him a few times a week for a couple [of] weeks. I’ve watched all of his fights but you never really know until you’re in the ring. I work on me defence but he is very accurate the way he places his shots, he’s got good timing, good counter-punching but at the same time I got massive confidence as well because I was landing shots on him. So when I walk away from the gym I’m taking that away, knowing I’ve touched him with shots here and there. It’s brilliant.”

Two weeks in to camp, they had to move on when Cecil McCalla - trained by Jack’s coach, Lee Beard - got offered a fight against Mayweather Promotions’ Ishe Smith. Having continued to train in Las Vegas, it wasn’t long before Catterall received the opportunity to spar another of boxing’s A-list. This time Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez was the man requiring his assistance to replicate the style of - fellow southpaw - James Kirkland.

In stark contrast to the bright lights, crowds and cameras in Mayweather’s gym, Alvarez bases himself in San Diego where he trains away from the glare of the media. Having left Beard and his gym-mates in Las Vegas, Catterall felt more at ease in these less extravagant surrounds even though he was somewhat nervous stepping in to the ring with ‘Canelo’ for the first time.

“I was a bit more apprehensive going out to spar Alvarez,” Catterall confessed. “Obviously, he’s two weight categories above me but he walks around a lot bigger than that as well. It was quite good because I wasn’t there at the beginning of camp when he was big. They brought me in towards the later stages when his weight was down. I was working on speed, giving him good angles because he’s in there with a southpaw so I was doing what I could to help him out but at the same time I’m getting the benefit as well.

“I know fighters all over the country would love this opportunity so I took it with both hands. The way I look at it, I’ve just turned 21 and Lee’s managed to get me in the ring with two of the best pound-for-pound fighters so I was just happy to be learning.

“For me, going in to the Mayweather gym is a bit unrealistic; there’s that many people in there, cameras and there’s always something going on. When I’m in Alvarez’s gym it’s in his garage, two or three people just working hard. It’s nice and peaceful. I prefer it like that.”

Catterall (now 12-0, 8 KOs after stopping Argentine Gabriel Calfin in six on Saturday night) is no stranger to working with world class fighters. Having turned pro at 19 with 48 wins from a 66 fight amateur career – which he admits he was never dedicated enough during – he spent 20 months in the gym with Lee Beard honing his skills ahead of his professional debut.

In the three years that have followed, Beard has taken his prodigy to gyms across the length and breadth of the U.K as well as regular eight-week camps in America. During these trips he sparred the likes of Kell Brook and Amir Khan.

These experiences left him with the belief that he was ready to face a step up in class in just his second fight under the Queensberry promotional banner. Promoter Frank Warren offered him the opportunity to face unbeaten, former amateur star Nathan Brough.

“I remember when I first met Frank Warren and he was explaining to me that when you sign contracts these days, with the way boxing is going, it’s not going to be where you have 15-20 fights and then suddenly you get an opportunity only to get found out,” he recalled.

“It was great that Frank gave me the opportunity. It was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down. I knew whoever won was going to move on and whoever didn’t win was going to have to rebuild so in my mind it was a fight I couldn’t lose.”

To ensure he “couldn’t lose” Catterall travelled out to Miami with Lee Beard, who was training Argenis Mendes for his rematch with Rances Barthelemy. Catterall’s diligence was rewarded with a second round win, scoring one of the knockouts of the year in the process. However, an injury sustained in camp almost cost him his opportunity.

“No one knows about this to this day but I took a cut above the eye in sparring two weeks before the Nathan fight. I managed to hide it and at the weigh-in and the press conference I had to disguise it.    I just thought: ‘I can’t let this opportunity pass me by and be left sat on the shelf for another six months or 12 months.’”

On the back of the win over Brough, Catterall had earned the right to face another undefeated Merseysider; this time - Team GB captain at the 2012 London Olympics – Tom Stalker. Catterall dropped his rival in the each of the opening two rounds before obliging referee Mark Lyson to halt the contest in the eighth.

Despite sustaining a cut in the seventh – his first cut in a professional contest, fighting in front of a hostile crowd, illness and taking the contest at short notice Catterall remained unphased as he knew he had the beating of his rival having sparred a multitude of rounds together in the past.

“Four weeks before the fight I got the call; the opportunity had come for the WBO [140lbs] European title. I’d been in the gym training, I’d actually had a bad week or two really. I’d come down with a bit of illness but I give it a few days in the gym and I was feeling good again. I didn’t even have to think about saying: ‘Yeah.’ Lee rang up and he already knew what the answer was,” he told BM.

“Going in to the fight, I was fighting the 2012 Olympic captain in his back garden, in Liverpool, so for me I didn’t feel any pressure for that fight. Tom believed he were getting the better of the sparring but what he didn’t realise at the time was when I was going down to the gym sparring, each time I was in the ring Lee would have me practicing different things, working on different things every spar. All Tom ever tried to do was try to outwork me, throw more punches. If he wants to walk away and think: ‘I won that spar.’ Brilliant because I know deep down what I was doing every spar. Tom made that mistake of trying to win the spar.”

Despite boyish looks and a mild-mannered nature outside of the ring, Catterall has a burning will to win and a nasty streak inside the ring – as both Stalker and Brough discovered. These attributes combined with dedication to training and improving make for a formidable mix.

“When I get in the ring – it might sound bad but – I really want to hurt people. It may sound stupid but it’s a business and I enjoy fighting and after the fight we can shake hands,” he said. “You have a lot friends in boxing but at the same time are they really your friends? You don’t hang out with them, you don’t see them and that. I respect Tom and I respect Nathan, they are respectful people but at the end of the day you’ve got to do what’s best for you and your career.”