All-action Josh Warrington headlines a fight on Saturday at Headingley Stadium in front of a frenzied capacity crowd that will shower him with the kind of hero worship usually reserved for Marcelo Bielsa or Kalvin Philips. It could almost feel like all is right in the world for the Leeds United fanatic. Almost.
Instead the 30-year-old featherweight is fighting to save his career after a nightmare start to this year. Warrington vacated his hard-won world title in January, then – after not fighting at all in 2020 due to the pandemic – lost by ninth-round KO to unheralded Mexican Mauricio Lara behind closed doors in February.
That defeat wrecked the 30-fight unbeaten run of the Yorkshire fighting machine but now he has a chance for revenge, which will be live on DAZN. The fight comes as one of the early DAZN UK shows watchable on any device from 7pm Saturday
Win and his career is right back on track; lose and it’s hard to see where he goes. It takes some steel to get straight back into the ring with a man who’s battered you to a knockout defeat, but nobody has ever questioned Warrington’s heart.
This is a fighter who made his reputation in back-to-back wins over Lee Selby and Carl Frampton in 2018. Both opponents were the bookies’ favourite going into those bouts, but both boxers were run ragged by Warrington’s mixture of will and skill.
The fight against Selby, a 12-round thriller where Warrington won his 126lb world title in front of 25,000 wild supporters remains a career highlight. It featured one of the great ring entrances with Leeds legend Lucas Radebe accompanying him to the ring and Kaiser Chiefs belting out Warrington’s music live.
Elland Road hadn’t been so buzzing since Tony Yeboah was performing GBH on goal nets.
It was Warrington who dished out the punishment that night, storming out from the first round and tearing into the champion. His ferocious pace barely let up as he leathered Selby to body and head.
It takes a special kind of courage to fight the way Warrington does. His impressive 30-1 record contains just seven victories via stoppage but the ‘Leeds Warrior’ is, as his nickname suggests, anything but a backpedaling defensive master.
Intelligently applied pressure is the name of Warrington’s game and he does his best work standing in the pocket in front of an opponent, making him miss (mostly) and making him pay (definitely) with a barrage of combinations.
To trade up close with an opponent knowing that you might not have the power to take him out, that in fact he is the puncher in the fight, takes a unique type of fortitude.
Although Frampton, a world-class boxer-puncher at 126lbs, expressed surprise post-fight at the pop on Josh’s shots. Not enough to knock out the cream of the crop at featherweight, perhaps, but definitely enough to sting, stun and take opponents out of their gameplan.
It isn’t just an exhilarating style that helps Warrington inspire such loyalty among his supporters. Articulate, funny, honest, down-to-earth and a pleasure to be around (unless your name is Kid Galahad), Warrington is easy to warm towards.
He built up his fanbase the old school way: selling tickets himself and often popping round to deliver them in person. That’s the kind of thing fans remember – and Warrington has never needed his followers more.
His performance against Lara in an empty Wembley Arena in February was one to forget. Warrington started unusually slowly but it was still a shock to see such a tough, durable boxer hurt with a left hook then floored. That he was able to get through the round at all was a tribute to his always excellent conditioning and some generosity on the part of referee Howard Foster.
George Groves was undoubtedly watching at home with eyebrows raised as an unsteady Warrington was allowed to see out the round. He somehow gritted through and made it all the way to the ninth before another left hook ended matters.
The early contender for upset of the year left Warrington with a fractured jaw, perforated eardrum, a shoulder injury and a badly bruised ego. He’s admitted since that he felt ’embarrassed’ to leave his house in the aftermath; that he broke down in tears while driving back from a fight card in Manchester six weeks after the defeat.
A boxer losing their first pro fight, particularly by knockout in a huge upset, suffers multiple challenges – from humiliation to the realisation that they are not, in fact, indestructible after all. Wisely, Warrington spoke to Anthony Joshua in the build-up to the Lara rematch, picking his brains on how he came back from his own devastating loss to Andy Ruiz Jr to dominate the rematch.
Unfortunately for Warrington, featherweight Lara is unlikely to have piled on 15lb of blubber before Saturday’s showdown. It’s also clear that he’s a far better fighter than he was given credit for: a strong, heavy-handed Mexican who’s improved immeasurably since losing two of his first 13 bouts.
Warrington told talkSPORT earlier this year that he was guilty of overlooking Lara, that he got caught cold. He had better hope that was the case and that the fire is back with a vengeance. Warrington certainly looked in good shape in February, trained as always by his father Sean O’Hagan.
Now he gets back in the ring with the same opponent, the same weight, the same trainer, the same mission. So Warrington needs to hope that his skills really are superior and that the raucous noise of his army of fans really can provide the spark that was clearly missing last time out.
It will not be easy. But you get the feeling Josh Warrington wouldn’t like it any other way.
You can watch Lara vs Warrington 2 live on DAZN for £7.99 a month and €7.99 in Ireland . Sign up here