Josh Warrington returns as boxing’s perfect antidote to culture of glitz, excess and broken promises

Steve Bunce

In many ways Josh Warrington is the perfect antidote to the routine excesses in the boxing business where fights collapse, boxers are banned and promises are endlessly broken.

Warrington defends his IBF featherweight title for the third time on Saturday when he meets Frenchman Sofiane Takoucht at the First Direct Arena in his beloved Leeds. No other prizefighter in Britain has Warrington’s devoted following, a flock that has grown steadily since the boxer’s early punishing days fighting on the lost circuit in leisure centres and tiny hotels.

Warrington is from the wrong side of the boxing tracks and was never displayed like a nine-stone show pony in the glare of a big arena’s neon beam when he was learning the old trade. He was never presented like a prized dog in some modern court of extremes and fake adulation by promoters or television executives; Warrington probably had a hot dog surrounded by his pals on an away day at Southend United instead.

He had hard fights on tough nights in honest acts of matchmaking, he came through bloodied and improved and then, when he could no longer be denied, he was matched for the world title at Elland Road and was given no chance. Trust me, nobody in the very heart of the game was desperate to fight Warrington.

At Elland Road as the football hymns rattled the roof, Warrington defied the conventional thinking to beat Lee Selby last May and then in December, once again as the designated loser, he won the British fight of the year when he beat Carl Frampton in a sell-out in Manchester.

Selby was a fluke win, a bad night for the champion, some cynics offered, but the Frampton win finally altered the discussions. Warrington could really fight and Frampton led the praise: “Some bastard told me Warrington can’t punch - he’s a liar,” he said. Beating Selby and Frampton makes Warrington the best British fighter of last year and in a sport tarnished by multiple baubles there is no need for an official prize.

Warrington, unlike so many British champions and leading contenders, has never felt the need to tell people how good he is. There are no boastful rants, no verbal assaults on potential opponents and that has often meant he is ignored in the world of quickly dismissed flickering giants. Warrington still drops off tickets for his fights to his punters, driving to their homes and far from the spotlight he walks the corridors of a children’s cancer ward - he finds inspiration there. “I’m just a normal Leeds lad,” Warrington insists.

Josh Warrington defeats Lee Selby by unanimous decision in May 2018 (Getty)
Josh Warrington defeats Lee Selby by unanimous decision in May 2018 (Getty)

In June of this year Warrington completed a trio of wins over British feathers when he came through an ugly, often mauling and always difficult 12 rounds to retain his title against Kid Galahad. It was a fight forced on him by the quirks of a sanctioning body and their intricate mandatory policy. “It’s hard to look good against Barry,” offered Warrington, who referred to Galahad as Barry, which is his given name.

It is no surprise that the other world champions and top fighters at his weight in America, an odd mix of the brash, flash, brilliant, protected and reclusive have dismissed Warrington. Some of the other feathers would struggle to pack a moped with their fans and, oddly, that is not an issue in America right now where multiple television deals seem to have put promoters under pressure to constantly deliver content in a swamp of live action.

Josh Warrington dominates Carl Frampton in December 2018 (Getty)
Josh Warrington dominates Carl Frampton in December 2018 (Getty)

On Saturday, as the walls at the venue start to sweat, Warrington will look to make easy work of Takoucht, not because he is inferior but because he knows that he has to stay in boasting range of the division’s other names; Selby, Frampton and Galahad could all be defeated on points, Takoucht needs to be worn down and stopped.

It sounds harsh, but it is true. “I have always wanted a big fight against a big name in America,” said Warrington. It is fair to say that he is probably just one win away from getting his wish and taking his Leeds horde on the road.