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A new chapter for Josh Warrington

Josh Warrington
Mark Robinson
Josh Warrington sets out on the road to major fights, writes Matt Bozeat

MATCHROOM stage their first domestic show of the year on Saturday (February 13), topped by Josh Warrington. Sky Sports Arena/Main Event (UK) and DAZN (US) televise from the SSE Arena in Wembley.

The 10-rounder against Mexico’s Mauricio Lara marks the start of Warrington’s second spell with Eddie Hearn, and the 30-year-old from Leeds goes into it as a former world champion. He vacated the IBF featherweight title last month on the day purse bids were due for the rematch with Kid Galahad. Warrington had been hoping the IBF would sanction a fight against WBA secondary titlist Can Xu, but they stood firm and Warrington vacated.

Warrington (30-0) outpointed Galahad on a split decision when they met in June 2019 – a fight the judges found hard to score. Steve Gray had Warrington winning the last six rounds, while Howard Foster gave Galahad four of the last five. I’m not sure Warrington has avoided the rematch because he fears he would lose. Rather, it seems he doesn’t want to spend what could be his peak going over old ground.

Mention Galahad to the usually upbeat Warrington and he deflates instantly. He is looking for new challenges, not rematches with tricky switch-hitters who don’t necessarily excite the crowds or himself. Hearn hopes to make the match with Xu or possibly WBC belt-holder Gary Russell Jnr in April, provided Warrington gets past Lara – a 22-year-old who’s won his last 10, but has never fought anywhere near world class in his 21-2 (1NC) career.

Warrington has proved himself a good world champion. Feeling undervalued, he left Hearn for Frank Warren in 2017 and on memorable nights, he took the IBF title off Lee Selby in front of 20,000 fans at Leeds United FC’s Elland Road and defeated Carl Frampton, a fighter he used to pay to watch. Warrington beat Galahad – narrowly – by upping the pace in the second half and last time out, he took less than six minutes to overwhelm Sofiane Takoucht, a French southpaw never stopped in 39 previous fights.

Josh Warrington

Warrington is a fighter who finds motivation in doing the opposite of what’s expected of him and is determined the best days of his career are to come. Asked last year by a major publisher to write his autobiography, Warrington turned them down. He told them to ring him back after he’s retired.

No wonder publishers want Warrington’s story. The odds on him winning world honours would have been lengthy when he turned pro a couple of weeks before his 19th birthday in 2009. He started his climb on the small hall circuit, having to sell enough tickets to cover his opponent’s purse. Whatever was left over, Warrington got to keep. That is the reality for most professional boxers and when Warrington got title shots, they were away from home.

He won the vacant English belt in Dudley, against Chris Male, and the Commonwealth crown in Hull, where Samir Mouneimne was the local favourite. The support Warrington got when he fought in Leeds persuaded Matchroom to take the Sky Sports cameras back to the city after a lengthy break, giving Warrington a new audience to convince.

Sections of that audience questioned his punch, wondered whether he was just a ticket-seller and were left scratching their heads by the antics of his father Sean O’Hagan – nobody’s idea of what a trainer looks like. Those questions have motivated Warrington – and been answered. The Selby fight was an upset, there were those who fancied Frampton to beat him and nobody saw the two-round mugging of Takoucht coming. That fight looked certain to go 12 rounds. Warrington saw that as a reply to those who say he’s a non-puncher. That was his last fight – in October 2019.

Warrington believes Hearn can deliver the fights in the States he has promised his supporters. Those supporters won’t be there this weekend, which is just as well for Lara. He did go to Argentina and hand Eduardo Estela (10-0) his first loss and though the atmosphere that night was presumably hostile, I’m not sure anywhere compares with the First Direct Arena in Leeds when Warrington is fighting.

Lara doesn’t have to contend with the crowd, but he does have to deal with a fighter who’s by far and away the best he has faced yet. A pro at 17, Lara has won all 10 – there was also a No Contest – since Eliot Chavez (5-1-1) knocked him out in 50 seconds in May 2018. Last time out in December, he was a clear 10-round points winner over Sergio Puente – a veteran with a 28-10 record who was on a losing run.

The fact is, there’s nothing on Lara’s record to suggest he will last more than a handful of rounds against Warrington.

The clash between Leigh Wood (23-2) and Reece Mould (13-0) for the vacant British featherweight title promises to be more competitive. From Doncaster, Mould is trained by O’Hagan and his high-tempo style has taken him to the English belt, while Gedling slickster Wood has claimed the Commonwealth strap. We go for Wood – beaten on a majority by Jazza Dickens 12 months ago – to win on points.

Kiko Martinez is well known to Warrington fans. The former IBF super-bantamweight champ pushed Warrington to a majority vote in Leeds in May 2017. Now 34, the seasoned Spaniard (41-9-2) is up at 130lbs to take on Manchester’s classy Zelfa Barrett (24-1) over 10. Barrett has won all five since showing heart in a majority points loss to hard-as-nails Scot Ronnie Clark. He has triumphed early in his last two. He impressively broke down Jordan McCorry in nine with body shots in a Commonwealth title defence, before ironing out Irish southpaw Eric Donovan in eight. The well-schooled Donovan was giving Barrett trouble until he connected cleanly. Down twice in the seventh, Donovan was laid out in the next.

Barrett has the size and power to stop Martinez as well.

The Verdict After Lara, Warrington wants Xu or Russell.

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