By Richard Hubbard
When Jack Catterall comfortably negotiated a fourth defence of his WBO Intercontinental title against Joe Hughes back in August – while at the same time becoming mandatory for the British super lightweight title – to the outsider looking in, everything in the boxing garden appeared blooming for one of Britain’s brightest prospects.
On the inside of camp Catterall there was doubts and anguish stemming from a breakdown in the relationship between the 16-0 boxer and his trainer-manager Lee Beard.
Breaking up is hard to do – so says Neil Sedaka’s seventies soundtrack – and it is never truer than in boxing. Remaining with one coach throughout a career is a rarity in other individual sporting pursuits where the stars of, say, tennis or golf, have no qualms over seeking out a fresh perspective on a fairly regular basis, but in boxing eyebrows are raised and brows furrowed when pastures new are sought out.
A peculiar irony in a sport supposedly lacking in loyalty.
Catterall spotted the cracks appearing ahead of his headline appearance at the Bolton Whites Hotel, but kept his counsel and concentrated on the job in hand before beginning divorce proceedings in the aftermath.
It was complicated by the fact that a mandatory date was awaiting against British champion Tyrone Nurse, one that was subsequently delayed by the Huddersfield man opting for a voluntary defence against Tommy Coyle, which resulted in Catterall taking up the option of a tickover fight against Lucasz Janik in August.
Catterall remains grateful for the input and guidance applied to his career by Beard, but he initiated a split in the wake of his August outing and, for that reason, his proposed October tilt for British honours was put on hold after consultation with his promoter Frank Warren.
“I had the fight in May, the final eliminator for the British and won that, and without going into the breakdown of the relationship between me and Lee too much, certain things happened and there were a lot of frustrations leading up to that fight in August,” revealed the Chorley southpaw.
“I took it upon myself to still fight and got it done but straight after I pretty much made my mind up that I needed to make some changes. Things were going on that I wasn’t happy with, Lee was my manager and trainer and I just felt there were things I needed to do to make myself happy.
“There was a gap then from when the purse bids went out and Frank managed to get the fight, so I went down and had a chat with him to speak about what was happening as things had not been working out up here, which he obviously wasn’t aware of. I had that conversation and the Tyrone fight was going to happen in October, but I’m not stupid enough to dive into that fight and I had hurt my hands a little bit against Janik.”
Catterall doesn’t doubt his ability to dethrone the champion, but is keenly aware he will need to be on top of his game and free of any distractions because the tricky Nurse has got the miles on the clock and his engine is purring nicely at present with notable wins on his recent record.
The 16-0 man is now working in tandem with Haroon Headley – who also exited the Beard camp at a similar time to forge his own path – and the pair wish to establish a rhythm to their new relationship by taking a fight before re-entering title territory.
“Haroon, who is now my trainer and has been working with me over the last three years, has taken over and it isn’t a drastic change as we have found a gym to work in and we are in the process of getting our own gym.
“His issue wasn’t the same as mine, but I’ve got to thank him really because he has stuck by me as I think he was planning on leaving before my last fight.
“He knew who I would train with wasn’t a decision I would take lightly, but I had a chat with him and my family and I am comfortable with Haroon and training with him.
“The fight (against Nurse) got proposed – I was in the office with Frank at the time – and there was no doubt in my mind that I wouldn’t beat him, but with the transition I was going through it was best to wait. Tyrone is on a good run of form, beating Limond and Coyle, and I respect him enough to know that jumping into the fight with not a lot of training and mentally not there wouldn’t be right.
“So we requested to the board that the mandatory be held to get another fight to settle into the new training regime and how things are going to be. I haven’t heard back from the board but, from the outside, it just looks like I pulled out of the fight.
Catterall is currently unaware over whether his mandatory status has been upheld or not, but won’t become a hostage to domestic success in a division of many possibilities.
“I still don’t know what Tyrone is up to and there was a lot of frustration coming from his side with his dad writing certain things on the internet. They don’t know what has been going on so they can say what they want really.
“If the Tyrone fight can be made in the new year then it is a fight I will get involved in because the British is a nice belt, but Tyrone is not the be all and end all as there are a lot of good fights out there for me.
“The main thing for me is getting a fight with Haroon so we are looking at late November, early December to settle in, then fights like Tyrone and other names are ones I would like to get stuck into next year.”
With a title bagged in just his ninth fight and a career that appeared to be cruising on an upward curve, Catterall acknowledges that himself and his former handler always appeared a tight knit unit.
Times and people change, he does not dismiss the contribution made to his success, but the choice of who steers your career is the one decision where fighters have to put themselves first and do what feels right. Getting it wrong comes at a cost in this sport.
“Yeah 100 per cent, Lee did a lot of good by me and I did a lot of good for him. I’m not sure how to word it, but there were a lot of things in training and how things have been dealt with business-wise. Lee had personal things going on and I felt like it was affecting my business, I spoke to him before the Hughes and Janik fights and I don’t think he was digesting it.
“I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do and, since the change, things have been much clearer and I’ve made good relationships. I’ve got a good relationship with Frank, I’ve got a new manager at MGM and I working great in the gym with Haroon. I feel in a good place and now it is a case of getting a fight.
“I’ve seen a lot of fighters bouncing from gym to gym and it looks bad. I was with Lee from turning professional and was none the wiser, he taught me the business and I learned a lot of things within boxing with Lee.
“On a personal level we had a good relationship, but you’ve got to be selfish and it is about what is happening right now. If things had gone wrong and I was still with Lee I would’ve kicked myself for not making the move.
“I’ve made it now and I feel miles happier in myself and I’m enjoying what I’m doing.
“I tried to go about the situation as best I could but it didn’t end great, but I didn’t expect it to end brilliantly as it is like a relationship being together for so long.
In an interview on BoxNation last week, Catterall admitted that he was somewhat bullish when a few names were mentioned to him. Truth be told, he wants to shake of the prospect tag because he believes he has served his time on the learning circuit and graduated with honours.
He now wants to mix it in the 50-50 fights and prove himself top dog in the division, although he hasn’t exactly had it easy up to now, with only six of his 16 opponents to date not having a winning record and four of them unbeaten.
“I don’t wish bad on any fighter and want them to do well with what they need to do, but everybody is competition and in the way of what I want to do and where I need to get to.
“They were throwing in names like Tommy Coyle, who I like, but they talk about him like a warrior. Why is that? Is it because he has been dropped so many times? They mentioned Ashley Theophane, who has done well, but my time has come now and I have done my apprenticeship.
“When I signed with Frank Warren after seven fights, in my second with the promotion I boxed Nathan Brough, who was undefeated, then Tom Stalker, who was also undefeated, and I got a good momentum. After that I had another good period boxing people with different styles from abroad.
“So I would say my apprenticeship is over and it is a case of getting one fight with Haroon, so it can be fight week, everyone can do what they do and we can be on the same page. Once that is set up it will be on to next year, where I want some good, meaningful fights.
“I want to prove to myself that I can beat these people.”
The super lightweight in this country is shaping up for a battle between the old guard and the young thrusters, with the likes of Ricky Burns, Coyle and Nurse soon to be challenged by the new order of Catterall, Josh Taylor and Ohara Davies.
“I think it is one of the best divisions with a lot of fighters in the UK. I watched Josh the other night and I saw Tyrone against Coyle, while there is Ohara Davies too. I see the names pop up and everybody talking so it is good.
“I don’t focus on what anyone else is doing though, I go to the gym and work as hard as I can work and do what I need to do so I can be prepared for those fights.
“I just hope that these fights can be made in the future.”
For Catterall and his new team, the future is now and he is certainly up for the fight.