AFTER MARRYING his long-term girlfriend turned fiancée Natasha in August, Leeds boxer Josh Warrington has already fulfilled one dream in 2016.
Now the 26-year-old has two more wishes for the coming year – win a world title fight and see his beloved Leeds United earn promotion to the Premier League.
Garry Monk is starting to make the latter look possible – and now Warrington says a move to Frank Warren’s boxing stable means his much-vaunted world-title shot is finally on the cards too.
Multiple featherweight champion Warrington was always set for a spell away from the boxing ring this year given his quite literal engagement with his ‘better half’ but he had still desperately hoped to fight Wales’ IBF world champion Lee Selby in 2016.
The showdown was again discussed following Warrington’s defeat of Patrick Hyland at First Direct Arena in July – the Yorkshireman’s most recent bout – but a fight with Selby never materialised and Warrington next made the news when announcing a split with Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing stable in December.
Just two weeks later, the Leeds ace signed a new deal with Frank Warren, who hailed his new recruit as “the flag-bearer for boxing in Leeds.”
Ever since making his professional debut in October 2009, passionate Leeds United fan Warrington has attracted a unique and partisan support – uniting the city’s football fans and boxing as one for plenty of noisy nights at First Direct Arena.
A world-title fight remains the night that Warrington craves most and the featherweight believes Warren can get him one – as part of a 2017 which he also hopes will feature promotion for his beloved football team.
“If I had a dream for next year and a wish for next year it would be Leeds to get promoted and me win a world title,” Warrington told the YEP.
“And people who are thinking ‘so is the Selby fight not going to happen now?’, the Selby fight can still happen and, if anything, it may now be even easier.
“That fight could still happen and we have got other options to go down.
“I will sit down with Steve (Wood) – my manager – and my dad and Frank and see where we go from here.”
Selby versus Warrington remains the most appetising dish to Warrington’s supporters – especially given the needle between the duo on social media last summer.
But there are three other current featherweight world champions in the USA’s WBC king Gary Russell Junior, Northern Ireland’s WBA champion Carl Frampton and Mexico’s WBO belt holder Oscar Valdez.
“We are keeping our eyes open to all of those fighters and I think out of all of them Gary Russell Junior is by far the best fighter out of those four,” said Warrington.
“He is not just a world champion, he is elite level and he’s a pound-for-pound, top-rank kid.
“Carl Frampton is obviously a very good fighter and him, Oscar Valdez, Lee Selby, these are all fights that I feel like going there I would be able to win those fights.”
If Warrington has his way, after a reappearance fight in the spring, one of that star quartet will be next with the Leeds ace still hopeful of a world-title showdown taking place at Elland Road next summer.
Warrington admitted: “That’s one that we keep dreaming and keep hoping can happen and obviously it comes to timing and if we can get it right for those dates.
“It’s only a small window when dates are available for Elland Road but potentially it can happen and Frank is excited.”
Asked about the possibility of returning in January or February, Warrington reasoned: “I think it will probably be a bit later than that because I have had a few niggly little injuries and things like that and I think we are looking at more like March/April time. January is not really a very good month to sell a show – people are a little bit tight after Christmas and it’s the same in February as well so March/April time we will probably be back out.
“We’ll see what dates are available at the Arena and see which route we go down now.
“I’ve got a mandatory for the WBC International but we really want to put ourselves into final eliminators and maybe world-title shots now.
“I want to have one more before a world-title fight just because I have not boxed since July so if I don’t fight until March/April time it’s going to have been eight or nine months, and you want to be going regularly, you want to be fighting every few months before your next one is and nine months is a long time to wait.
“It’s like a footballer who goes out injured for a few games – when he comes back, his touch might be a little bit off so I want to make sure that I get another one in, and Frank is very good working with the WBO so we might go down that route.”
Whatever route is chosen, Warrington’s immediate boxing career will now be launched under a new banner following his December split with Matchroom. Hearn initially announced the news by saying that the two parties did not share the same plans.
Warrington explained: “It was getting to the stage where the actual contract was coming to an end and we were waiting on Eddie to come forward and deliver us something.
“But when someone is not showing as much interest in you and you have got another promoter who is showing a lot of interest then you have got to have your ears open and that’s what we have done.
“I want to thank Eddie and Matchroom and the team for the last couple of years but it was our chance to move on and Frank has just got the big deal with BT Sport and we are going to be a like a flag bearer of his promotions stable, so it’s good to have someone behind you who is enthusiastic, who is wanting to drive forward and who wants to get us that world-title fight.
“Eddie has got a lot of fighters – he’s got 60 fighters and he’s got 20 shows a year.
“We were told things that didn’t happen towards the back end of June; we were going to be on with the Selby fight.
“We didn’t know when we were going to be fighting next and then it was getting dropped on us at the last minute and between Steve and my dad, we wanted a clearer picture of where we were going.
“It was getting to that stage where we needed good direction and we needed to know when the fights were going to be and what the schedule was for fighting for a world title.
“They said ‘listen this is for the best Josh to be honest with you’.
“We had some good times over the years but it got to the stage where months were passing saying ‘we were going to do this, that and the other’ and where we were waiting for something to happen and nothing happened.
“They were not getting in contact with Steve and Steve didn’t know what to tell us because he couldn’t get through to Eddie.
“We sat about scratching our heads but we couldn’t wait that long.
“We want to be out regularly and we want to keep the momentum going.”
It means momentum is now gathering some pace on both the football pitch and in the boxing ring – with Warrington hugely excited about his new chapter with Warren.
“You only have to look at the times when Frank looked after Ricky Hatton,” said Warrington.
“He built Ricky Hatton up to be a top, massive superstar in Manchester and nationwide so he knows what he’s doing. It’s exciting to get the city buzzing again.”