IN his two most recent contests, Josh Warrington has been the underdog. He wasn’t expected to wrest the IBF featherweight title away from Lee Selby in May last year, but he did. He wasn’t expected to successfully retain his belt against Carl Frampton seven months later, but he did.
This Saturday (June 15), at the First Direct Arena in his hometown of Leeds, the popular 28-year-old defends his crown for the second time in a fight that, for once, he is expected to win. But just as he overturned the odds against Selby and Frampton, his challenger this weekend – fellow unbeaten Kid Galahad – possesses the skills to potentially pull off an upset of his own.
There is a similarity between the two Yorkshiremen in the way that they gradually worked their way to world level the old-fashioned way. They each claimed the three major stepping-stone straps to arrive at the top table – the British, Commonwealth and European belts. While Warrington did so at featherweight, Galahad’s title triumphs came at super-bantamweight. A drug suspension ended the Sheffielder’s time at super-bantam, as since returning from the year-and-a-half ban in April 2016, he has settled in the feather division.
Galahad, 29, became the IBF’s mandatory contender by unanimously outpointing the useful Toka Kahn Clary eight months ago on foreign soil in Boston. Although his upcoming outing will not be abroad, the venue will be even more hostile, as Warrington enjoys fervent support when boxing in front of his home fans. This will be the 13th time that he’s competed in Leeds as a pro, and what with Galahad coming from only 35 miles south, the atmosphere will be white-hot in this county derby, especially considering the two fighters are not exactly the best of friends.
Warrington’s KO ratio may not look intimidating – only six of his 28 victories have come inside time – but he hits harder than his record suggests, as Frampton concurred following his unanimous points loss to “The Leeds Warrior”. Against both Frampton and Selby, whom he outscored via split decision, the relentless Warrington stormed out of the blocks and set a typically torrid pace with his controlled aggression and smart pressure-fighting. He simply refused to be denied, despite his opponents possessing the more refined technical talents.
This isn’t to say that Warrington can’t switch things up when required, as he certainly can. When he’s not marauding ahead and unleashing furious two-fisted flurries, he is able to get behind his jab and box on the move, though admittedly he is more at home when busily firing off hooks in close. Fit, game and energetic, he swarms forward but isn’t reckless, as he makes sure to keep his guard tight and high.
Unlike Warrington, the 26-0 (15) Galahad is not generally known for his physicality and strength, yet he is more than capable of handling himself when things get rough on the inside. An accurate, speedy switch-hitter who is difficult to pin down, the Qatar-born boxer shoots out stiff jabs and sharp straights down the middle. He combines his punches cleverly, including one-twos up top and hooks down low.
Galahad has long been waiting for an opportunity to prove himself on the world stage, and he will likely induce some awkward moments for Warrington. However, following his standout performances against Frampton and Selby, it is difficult to pick against the champion, who has mixed in a higher class. He can harass and harry his way to a deserved points win.
A pair of interesting vacant Commonwealth title bouts feature on the Queensberry Promotions undercard, live on BT Sport 1 (UK) and ESPN+ (US).
Going for super-featherweight honours are Manchester’s Zelfa Barrett, 21-1 (13), and Leicester’s Lyon Woodstock, 12-1 (5). In their sole setbacks, each of the 25-year-olds suffered a knockdown but battled back bravely, making things competitive and entertaining. Barrett found himself on the wrong end of a majority verdict against ex-British title contestant Ronnie Clark in February last year. Woodstock, meanwhile, dropped a unanimous decision to undefeated prospect Archie Sharp, losing by three points on all three scorecards in their October clash.
Both 130-pounders have won titles – Barrett the English and Woodstock the Midlands Area – yet most of their successes have come against journeymen. The athletic, all-action Woodstock strikes the midsection well, but Barrett’s own impressive body work, in conjunction with his strong conditioning and long jabs, can see him prevail over the distance.
Liverpool’s James Metcalf, 19-0 (11), and Tividale’s Jason Welborn, 24-7 (7), vie for the super-welterweight strap. Metcalf, 30, is unbeaten but still searching for a breakthrough victory. In contrast, despite having a number of losses on his ledger, Welborn has achieved some notable wins. In March 2017, he took Marcus Morrison’s ‘0’ via unanimous verdict, before twice pipping Tommy Langford to split decisions in British middleweight title tussles the following year (May and September).
In December, Welborn returned to super-welter after securing a surprise shot at the WBA and IBF belts, then held by the imposing Jarrett Hurd. Although the 33-year-old was KO’d in the fourth, he performed gallantly and gave his highly regarded foe a scare early on.
The gritty Welborn, who has also shared a ring with the likes of Frankie Gavin, Liam Smith and Matthew Macklin, boasts far greater seasoning than Metcalf, yet can be susceptible to attacks downstairs. With his tenacity, accuracy and variety, the fresher Metcalf is favoured to succeed on points.
The Verdict A world title civil war between two undefeated grudge rivals – what’s not to like?