QUITE what possessed Nick Manners, the co-trainer of Leeds’ Josh Warrington, to arrive at a world championship weigh-in with inflatable sheep ahead of his charge’s challenge to IBF featherweight champion Lee Selby is unknown, but the Welshman’s team – who have lodged an official complaint with the British Boxing Board of Control – were not amused.
In truth, no one found the stunt particularly amusing bar, perhaps, a small minority of Warrington ‘fans’ who have been behaving badly this week, culminating in some hammering on Selby’s bus as it left the weigh-in.
“It’s just a few mindless idiots who turn up and act like hooligans at every event, whether it be the open workouts or the weigh-in,” Lee Selby’s manager, Jamie Sanigar, told Boxing News. “There’s 20 to 30 of them, they’re middle-aged, they’re football hooligans basically.
“The saddest thing is that there are kids and family present, then these idiots ruin it. It doesn’t do the city of Leeds any favours, it doesn’t do Josh Warrington [front of picture, below] any favours and it doesn’t do boxing any favours.”
But Sanigar, sounding upbeat and confident, laughed off any concerns that the hostile environment will affect Lee Selby, 26-1 (9), when he takes on his 27-year-old challenger.
“He’s revelling in the spotlight,” Sanigar reported. “He’s relishing the challenge and he thrives in situations like this. He’s been there before, many times. He won the British title in Liverpool [beating Scouser Stephen Smith in 2011], he defended it in Belfast [against Martin Lindsay in 2013], and people forget he made the first defence of his IBF title just a few miles from the Mexican border against Fernando Montiel [w pts 12]. Now that was hostile! Thousands of Mexican fans was a lot scarier than a few thugs from Leeds.
Sanigar was quick to stress that the vast majority of boxing fans in the city have been in great form this week and Selby, touched by the positive messages he’s received on social media, is in the shape of his life for the eagerly-awaited encounter.
“I think you’re going to see something a little special from Lee,” Sanigar continued. “People have said making the weight is an issue for him but that’s nonsense. He was even joking about making super-bantamweight yesterday.”
Selby, more so than the vast majority, is used to adversity. In the build-up to two of his world title defences he was forced to endure tragedy. Before that aforementioned victory over Montiel, Selby heard of the passing of his childhood friend, Darren Bray, and in the immediate build-up to defeating Jonathon Barros in 2017, Selby’s mother died.
“With Lee you’re talking extreme mental strength,” Sanigar explained. “A few idiots banging on the bus is nothing compared to your mother passing away. In comparison, this fight will be a walk in the park.”
But the behaviour of Manners is a lot harder for Sanigar to brush off.
“I don’t know if was naivety or plain stupidity for a licensed member of the Board to turn up to a weigh-in with blown-up sheep and wave them around,” Sanigar told BN on the morning of the Elland Road showdown.
“In all my years in boxing, I have never seen such a level of unprofessionalism. You wouldn’t accept it in any other facet of life, and we won’t accept it here.
“You can’t deny it was a racial slur. Perhaps you might expect it from some of the mindless idiots we’ve encountered this week, but not someone with a Board licence.”
An official complaint has been lodged with the BBBofC’s General Secretary, Robert Smith, who told Boxing News: “We obviously take these things very seriously, but let’s get the fight out of the way first. Then we will deal with it.”
The build-up to the highly-anticipated 12-round bout, 31-year-old Selby’s fourth defence of the belt he claimed in 2015, has exhibited the extraordinary support 26-0 (6) Warrington attracts, with over 20,000 fans – some estimates even put that figure at 30,000 – expected to be in attendance tonight.
Unfortunately, as with any stadium event, there are concerns about security.
“Yes, there is concern,” Smith admitted. “As always with any event like this, we’ve had several security meetings and the potential for trouble is being taken very seriously.
“Ultimately any idiot can cause trouble but we’ve done everything we can to prevent any trouble occurring.
“The hope is that the contest is won comprehensively by Selby or Warrington.”