Josh Taylor insists the hunger remains ahead of his grudge match with Jack Catterall in Leeds tonight.

The 33-year-old Scot scaled the top of boxing’s mountain by winning all of the belts at junior welterweight, but through injuries, politics and inactivity parted company with three crowns outside of the ropes before losing the fourth, in the only defeat of his career, by Teofimo Lopez in New York in June 2023. 

Taylor had a bad run of injuries, and almost a year on says he had not been truly fit for Lopez – and that he had no problems with the decision.

“I thought it was okay,” he said of how he performed that night. “The right man won, obviously. I thought I won five of the rounds. I thought I won the first three, I had a good eighth and I had a good 10th, so going into the 11th I was thinking, ‘Right, well if I can get these championship rounds, I can keep my belt and come back with a victory’.

“But after four rounds my legs were ‘gone’. My legs were away after four rounds and you can tell that by watching the fight. My legs were like Bambi on Ice. 

“In hindsight, I should have put that fight back as well, due to the injury, because with the injury to my ankle I couldn’t really do the conditioning on the legs, the running and the weights… the S-and-C training and all that. It was only the boxing training I could do. I couldn’t really get the conditioning in my legs. But I prepared to the best of my ability and I honestly thought going into that ring, I was in great shape. I was absolutely in great form. I was sparring fantastically, but on the night he was better than me. Simple as. I’d love to go back and fight him again after I beat Jack on Saturday, but I’m focused fully on Saturday first.”

Lopez crops up with some regularity as Taylor talks about the future. Taylor’s 19-1 (13 KOs) record has that lone blemish, and he’d like it corrected. He also insists that after what he recognises as being a poor performance against Catterall and then losing to Lopez, he has been written off – condemned to the downside of his career by the critics. Those are his last two fights over the course of more than two years, and combined he maintains neither Catterall nor the former champion’s detractors should look beyond him. 

“Look back in boxing history, all great fighters have had defeats and poor performances,” Taylor said. “Just because you have a poor performance on the night or a couple of bad performances, does it make you a crap fighter? It’s just you were crap that night, that’s all. Look back at the ‘70s, ‘80s, your [Marvin] Haglers, [Thomas] Hearns, [Ray] Leonards, [Mike] Tysons – they’ve all had bad nights, had defeats and come back. Does that make them bad fighters? Does that make them not as good as they are, just because of a couple of bad performances? No. It’s a bad performance and that’s all it is. I’ll prove this on Saturday night that I’m still at the top of the game… It wasn’t that Jack was great, it was because I was crap.”

Taylor’s and Catterall’s is a grudge that has not gone away. If anything, it’s grown. Both fighters have been bombarded by fans since that night in Glasgow, asking about when they would box again.

“When I’ve been out and about I’ve had it, ‘When’s the rematch going to happen?’ – things like that but people who have brains between their ears can know stuff happens,” Taylor continued. “If I never had an injury, we would have already had the rematch straight away, locked on, but I picked up the injury, Jack took another fight and it fell through, then he moved promoters and then – by that time – my mandatory [Lopez] comes calling, so it’s like everyone keeps blaming it on me, but there’s a lot of things that have been taken out of my hands. Things you just can’t help.

“If it was up to me, we would have done this rematch long ago but things happened and it is what it is. But we’re here now and it’s better late than never and I can’t wait for Saturday night now. It’s been a long time coming – that’s for sure.”

Taylor insists it was not a matter of beating Catterall last time, and then moving on to bigger and better things – like Lopez. He wanted to put the rivalry to bed and then move on. He said he was always keen to prioritise Catterall before setting his sights elsewhere.

“No – I wanted to get the fight done straight away, which we were nailed on for doing,” the Scot explained. “We were going to announce it at the Chris Eubank-Liam Smith first fight but on the Wednesday of I was sparring and picked up the injury on the Monday, got scanned on the Wednesday and got the results back on the full plantar fascia tear on my heel so it was a pretty horrific injury. We told [promoter] Ben [Shalom] on the Wednesday when we got the results – said the fight’s off because we’ve picked up this bad injury and, from then on, it’s out of my hands and Ben’s duty to get the fight booked in for a later date, which he never done. 

“He then took Jack for another fight on an undercard somewhere in March or April, which then fell through, and by that point obviously I’m sitting there waiting on a fight coming but by that point the WBO have come in and said, ‘You’ve not got a fight organized or a date, so we’re mandating you to fight your mandatory challenger, which is Teofimo Lopez, or we’re stripping you’. 

“That was the only belt that I had left and I wasn’t going to be giving it up without a fight and it was a fight against Teofimo Lopez over in Madison Square Garden so I said ‘Yes, absolutely’. 

“I might get another chance, but I was thinking this might be the first and only time I get to box at Madison Square Garden and it’s a mandatory challenger, and it was a bigger fight – a tougher fight – I got better paid for it, and it was a no-brainer. 

“Obviously the plan was to go over there and get the fight, get the win, come back and fight Jack for the title again, but obviously I lost so it never went according to plan. So it was shit.”

Taylor has, however, been accepting of his inactivity. With his belt collection stacked high, he is a satisfied man and says even the loss to Lopez and the comparative inactivity over the last 25 months has not been frustrating.

“Not really,” the southpaw added. “Things happen. Injuries happen all the time. They happen to every athlete, everybody gets them, some are more severe than others, mine happens to be quite a bad one, and other stuff gets taken out of my hands. I took my first loss against Teofimo, which was a tough pill to swallow, but apart from that, I enjoyed the trip, I enjoyed the rest of the year, so it’s been okay. It’s been grand.”

What does come as a surprise in conversation with Taylor is the grudging respect, through the animosity, he has for Catterall’s skills. The Chorley fighter is a handful – awkward, hard to hit – and he has pop in his shots. He has been deemed negative, but that does not mean he’s not effective. Even Taylor is content to concede that. 

“Give him credit where credit’s due,” Taylor smiled. “He’s good at what he does, which is slowing the fight down and trying to hypnotise you into his way of fighting and being very boring on the back foot and being sort of very unengaging. He’s a very unengaging fighter and every time he’s tried to put his foot on the gas, he’s looked terrible or every time he’s tried to put his foot on the gas people have weathered the storm or he gasses out. It’s just not his style of fighting. 

“But he is good at what he does – slowing the pace down, trying to spoil and hold and just do enough to nick the fight, which is what he does, I believe. He’s very good at it. He’s very good at slowing the pace down and trying to make you box his way of boxing.”

Does this mean Taylor will make Catterall come to him this time?

“We will wait and see on Saturday.”

Despite the emotions invested in the rematch – the crackling atmosphere that is so obvious when they are in the same room – the often-fiery Taylor is unconcerned about the psychological duress and burden of fight week and the night itself. He’s a veteran now, and has seen much of it before.

“It’s not stress – it’s part of the game,” he chuckled. “It’s part of the journey, it’s part of the carry on, it’s part of the fun. It’s no stress to me. He might be a bit angrier because he ain’t got much between the ears – he’s quite easily wound up, because he’s not the most intelligent guy, so I think he’s the one that’s more wound up than me. 

“His emotions are tense and tight this time around and he might come out and be a bit more aggressive, which is good. So I’m not really bothered. I’m emotionally unattached. It’s just another boxing fight to me and I’m looking forward to it. I’m going to enjoy being part of it, winning, and it will be a sweet victory after it's all said and done, so I’m just enjoying the ride. 

“I’m good. I’m nice and cool and calm and collected. I know I’ve done the upmost to my ability to prepare for this fight and I know I’ve been performing well and I’m fully confident. 

“I’ve seen this moment so many times. I’ve already won the fight. I just need to go in and do the physical part now.”