As Josh Warrington prepares for his big fight tonight, he’s already looking ahead to a possible world title bout at Elland Road. Lee Sobot reports.
Leeds boxer Josh Warrington had one main ambition upon turning professional in 2009; to become British champion.
Just five years later it was mission accomplished – leaving Warrington to set himself a new goal; to headline Leeds Arena.
Now that ambition has been fulfilled as well.
Warrington, it seems, is a man for the big stage – perfect considering his new ultimate ambition to be crowned featherweight champion of the world at Elland Road.
Unbeaten multiple champion Warrington has made enormous strides since making his professional debut in October 2009 when defeating Delroy Spencer at Huddersfield Leisure Centre.
Six years on, the European featherweight champion will pack out First Direct Arena tonight for the defence of his Commonwealth and WBC International titles against Australian Joel Brunker.
Yet a measure of the Garforth-based boxer’s progress and potential is indicated by the fact that tonight’s bout is likely to be merely an aperitif for what’s to come.
Brunker, tonight’s opponent, has lost just once in a 29-fight career, yet Warrington is a general 1-5 favourite to land the 22nd victory of his pro career tonight in a fight that is being televised on Sky.
It’s likely that the sky’s also the limit for the main focus of their attentions tonight with Warrington ultimately plotting a 2016 world title shot at IBF champion Lee Selby – the only man to have beaten Brunker – with the bout potentially taking place at Elland Road.
With Warrington being an ardent Leeds United fan, victory there really would fulfil his wildest dreams.
Warrington told the YEP: “When I turned pro, for me, the dream was to be a British champion.
“Then when I saw the Arena get built I thought ‘I’d love to headline a show there one day.’
“I’ve done both already in my career so now I have set my sights on winning a world title and winning a world title at Elland Road would be something even more special.
“Because it keeps getting mentioned, I have visualised myself doing it now – on more than one occasion.
“I was down there on the pitch against Sheffield Wednesday and I could just see a ring there and the stands all filled up and everyone chanting Marching On Together. It would be brilliant.
“That gives me a little bit more incentive to win these fights and if I keep on winning then we get one step closer to that dream.”
Warrington also says last weekend’s Leeds sporting success story has given him an even bigger motivation to succeed.
The 24-year-old was delighted to see Leeds United end a 14-year wait by winning at Derby County on Saturday – a performance followed by Leeds Rhinos’ 50-0 thrashing of Hull KR in the Challenge Cup final at Wembley.
Now Warrington is hoping to land a quickfire Leeds treble.
“I’m going to use that momentum,” said Warrington, a dental technician in his day job.
“Watching Leeds do well does give you a massive boost and I dived off the sofa when Chris Wood scored that corker.
“I was screaming and shouting so that gave me a good boost and I was happy when we won against Derby because I went down to Derby last season and we got drubbed – 2-0 I think it was.
“It was good to get a win against them and then watching Rhinos – they were just outstanding. It was a first class performance which gave me a proper high. It’s inspiring and it makes me want to go on and get a win and achieve a Leeds treble.”
It would take a brave man to bet against it, especially with Warrington guaranteed to be roared on by another partisan home support. Eddie Hearn, group managing director of Warrington’s Matchroom Boxing stable, admitted back in April that he’d never witnessed an atmosphere like the one Warrington was creating at first direct Arena – with the popular Yorkshireman’s latest fight against Denis Tubieron featuring the usual noise accompanied by plastic cups of beer soaring through the air like fireworks.
Even a beach ball made its way on to the canvas.
Warrington laughed: “The pints seem to have been coming for a long time now – I’m kind of used to them.
“But beach balls are a bit of a new one and I hope that one doesn’t stick around too long – I’m not encouraging beach balls whatsoever!
“We can expect another noisy atmosphere and I think it always will be now – it just gets bigger and bigger every time and sometimes I have to pinch myself. But I think last time I did get a little bit carried away with the crowd and I tried to please the crowd a little bit too much. This time around it’s all about the fight, it’s all about getting this win and putting in a good performance.”
Do that and Warrington could be two or three bouts away from a world title shot.
The boxer must first pass tonight’s assignment – and another likely bout before Christmas – but Warrington versus Selby at Elland Road could take place as soon as next summer.
Assessing when he might get his chance to fulfil his latest dream at Elland Road, Warrington reasoned: “I don’t know yet and I leave all that in the hands of Eddie Hearn and Stevie Wood – my manager. It’s all down to them really.
“They are in no rush to rush me onto that world stage and I’m a boxer – I just want to fight whoever.
“They want me to be steadily progressing and I know that Lee will want to defend his title a couple of times. He’s already spoken about wanting to fight in America before anything concerning me so I think between the promoters they would want to let the fight build a little bit more. That could possibly be something like next summer time but you never know what happens in the sport of boxing.”
With Warrington, though, so far, you do know what will happen in the sport of boxing. The night will end with another victory. The former John Smeaton Academy pupil became English champion in 2012 before adding the Commonwealth title in 2013 and both the British and European belts as part of a stellar 2014.
The boxer then never looked in any danger in adding the WBC International Featherweight title to his collection when beating Denis Tubieron at the Arena back in April as he celebrated the 21st success of his career.
Then, just one month later, there was another celebration in the Warrington household as he and long-term girlfriend Natasha Lynch got engaged.
After several years of facing questions about not just boxing rings but also wedding rings, Warrington finally popped the question in Cancun, Mexico, explaining: “It was something that was on my mind for a bit of a long time.
“I’ve been with Natasha for six years now and she has been with me through thick and thin and through my whole career.
“We’ve been through so much together since a young age so after the Tubieron fight it was something I definitely needed to do. We had a little holiday booked in Mexico and I waited until the last day when I took her out on a surprise – a bit of a cruise looking over the Mexican coast.
“There seemed to be about another 30 odd American couples on the same cruise and I jumped up on the deck of the ship and got down on one knee and got all gushy on the microphone! I’d organised it with the captain so he knew – there was a trumpet player and a saxophone player playing along but he said ‘hang on minute, we’ve got someone here who wants to say something to his special lady’ and handed me the microphone. I never thought I would ever get nervous doing something like that but I tell you what, I had a few butterflies going on.
“I knew she was going to say yes but I wanted to do everything right as you only get to do it once don’t you?”
Natasha did indeed say yes, and as well as having a likely monumental date in the ring next year, Warrington now has an even more important outside it.
The boxer laughed: “I wanted to string it out for a couple of years but as soon as we got back to England Tasha was already planning it and looking at venues and stuff.
“I thought ‘go on, let’s get it done, we might as well.’ So we’re probably looking at next year... I didn’t think last year could be topped – but these years just keep getting bigger and bigger.”