THE hardest fights can often be the ones you think will be the easiest. That’s what Josh Warrington must bear in mind when he defends his IBF featherweight title against unheralded Frenchman Sofiane Takoucht at the First Direct Arena in Leeds on Saturday (October 12).
Warrington enjoyed a huge 2018, ripping the title from Lee Selby and retaining against Carl Frampton in fights many picked him to lose. But 2019 has proved a disappointment. He had to accommodate mandatory challenger Kid Galahad and while Josh won a split decision, Galahad’s negative style made it a horrible spectacle.
Warrington then set his sights on the likes of champions Leo Santa Cruz (WBA) and Oscar Valdez (WBO) but instead has to make do with Takoucht in a mark-time bout televised live in the UK on BT Sports and on ESPN+ in the USA.
Frank Warren, whose Queensberry Promotions stages the Leeds show, explained: “We wanted to make the Valdez unification fight, but he’s given up the WBO title and has moved up in weight. In the IBF ratings number one and two are vacant, and Takoucht was pretty much the next available contender.”
Warrington is aware that now is not the time to get complacent and throw away all the hard work he and his father-trainer Sean O’Hagan have put in over the years.
“I have to stay focused and not take my eye off the ball,” said Warrington, a massive Leeds United fan. “I’m after the biggest fights in the division. From what I’ve seen, Takoucht is tough and got his IBF ranking through hard work. This is a massive opportunity for him.”
Indeed it is, given that the Frenchman’s record, while shiny-looking, upon closer inspection does not seem so threatening. The southpaw from Charleville-Mezieres in the north of France been a pro for nearly 13 years yet his biggest win dates back to 2010, when he outpointed (split) Oleg Yefimovich for the European title in Ukraine.
Takoucht lost it in his first defence the following year, dropping a split decision in France to Georgia-born Alexander Miskirtchian, who would beat him again (majority) in his Belgium homeland in 2014.
Since then he’s won eight in a row, including two for the IBF International bauble – but not against anyone who would worry a world class performer like Warrington.
Apart from a two-round technical draw against Spain’s Ivan Ruiz Morote in 2013, the other blemish on his ledger is a French featherweight title points loss in 2009 to Guillaume Frenois, who in the last year up at 130lbs has drawn with Jono Carroll and lost a world title bid against Tevin Farmer.
Yet Takoucht, who is trained by Alain Vastine from the famous French fighting family, is convinced his trip to Yorkshire will be successful. He said, “I’m sure Warrington will look at me and think I am easier than his last three opponents, but I won’t let this opportunity go. Get ready for a shock.”
A win for the challenger on Saturday would upset all known form, however. Yes, Josh struggled with a southpaw in Galahad, but he’s also beaten portsiders – more straightforward ones – in Rendall Munroe (rtd 7) and Dennis Tubieron (pts 12 unan).
The edge in power would appear to be with the champion, too: Davide Dieli lost to Takoucht on a 12-round split decision in 2012, yet Warrington dropped the Italian and stopped him in four a couple of years later.
Assuming Warrington comes into this one with the same focus and drive that took him to the top, his intelligent aggression should enable him to swarm all over Takoucht for a clear points victory.
A stacked undercard features two Commonwealth title bouts involving Manchester hopefuls. Zelfa Barrett, 22-1 (13), won his belt last time out against Leon Woodstock and now makes the first defence at super-featherweight against Cambuslang’s Jordan McCorry, 18-6-1 (4). Barrett’s only defeat came against another Scot in Ronnie Clark, via majority decision last year. But “Brown Flash” has the skills and punch to retain against McCorry, who is more experienced but has lost three of his last four, albeit against good opposition. It figures to go the full 12 with Barrett triumphing on points.
Meanwhile, Lyndon Arthur starts hot favourite to win the vacant light-heavyweight championship against Emmanuel Anim, who has held Ghanaian titles at 168 and 175 but never beaten anyone of note.
Arthur has won all 15 fights, 12 inside the distance, and is ready to step up after encountering moderate opposition. Anim is 14-2-1 (12) but endured a three-fight winless spell in 2018, although a draw in South Africa and points loss in Russia suggest a certain resilience. Five years younger at 28, Arthur has the power to secure victory somewhere around the halfway mark.