Josh Warrington has been here before and once more he has a point to prove. In an empty Wembley Arena in February, Mauricio Lara shocked the world and handed the Leeds Warrior his first defeat. In a full capacity Headingley on September 3rd Warrington will hope to right the wrong and springboard himself back into world-title contention.
A lot has changed in the two years since Warrington made the third successful defence of his IBF World Featherweight title. In October 2019 he had dealt with Sofiane Takoucht in two rounds, an opponent short of the calibre of those he had beaten before. Ranked number one in the world by Boxrec, few in world boxing could boast such a sequence of wins. Lee Selby outgunned to pick up the IBF title, Carl Frampton outworked to defend it and an undefeated Kid Galahad negotiated to settle the score.
Shakur Stevenson, Leo Santa Cruz the best in the world were calling and thousands of Yorkshiremen would be flying to Vegas for a few more famous nights. COVID put paid to that, at least for now, and Mauricio Lara delayed it further. In seeking those nights he also vacated his IBF title.
Everyone knew Mauricio Lara was tricky. Emanuel Navarrete had always boasted of his stablemate’s power but few genuinely thought the Mexican would be the first to defeat Warrington.
That night some good work in the second round gave the impression Warrington would have enough but it quickly unravelled. A booming left hand in the fourth caught Warrington off-guard. Lara quickly made him pay, down Warrington went a few moments later.
When he rose for the count if it wasn’t Josh Warrington the fight would have been over but Howard Foster allowed him the chance, one that proved merely a stay of execution. By the time the final blow came, a minute into the ninth, Warrington had taken some serious punishment.
A burst eardrum, a fractured jaw and an injured shoulder Warrington will head in the rematch with genuine question marks over his future but it is his current opponent that may cause the greatest challenge.
Warrington’s previous experience means he knows the Mexican’s power but Warrington is at his best when he is the one applying the pressure. How willing will he be to take those first steps when he is wary of the whipping left hand that caused him so much trouble? If we don’t see the high energy, obscene workrate that we have come to expect from Warrington then how will he figure at the elite level of featherweight boxing?
Warrington has been written off before. Selby would be too big for him, too clever for the man from Leeds. Frampton would have too much technical skills for him and would overcome a fighter whose power had been questioned. Kid Galahad would prove too tricky. Each time Warrington has come through, confounded the critics and catapulted his way to boxing’s top table. Who is to say this won’t be one more in that vein?
It would be a brave man to bet against Warrington in a packed Headingley, pushed on by the support of some of boxing’s most vociferous fans. But it is valid to question to ask where would defeat leave Josh Warrington? For the featherweight who became Leeds’ first world champion it doesn’t bare thinking about. He will always be a marketable fighter but those Vegas nights he always dreamed of, just how distant would they be? What do the Emmanuel Navarrete and Gary Russell Jr‘s of this world gain from fighting Warrington in a voluntary defense?
Warrington must beat Lara on September 3rd or fade out of featherweight super fight contention. A simple equation but one that means this non-title bout is one you daren’t miss.