Fighting talk: Josh Warrington is a dental technician by day and a champion boxer by night. Feature writer Chris Bond caught up with one of Yorkshire’s rising sporting stars
JOSH Warrington realised his life had changed when he stopped at a drive-in McDonald’s in Leeds in the small hours of a Sunday morning - part of his post-fight ritual.
This was back in October and he’d just won the European Featherweight title in front of a partisan crowd at the First Direct Arena. “I drove up to the window and someone recognised me and said, ‘you’re Josh Warrington, you were fighting tonight.’ As he said that someone who was getting served said, ‘is that Josh Warrington?’ The next thing I know a load of lads and lasses run round to get a selfie. So I’m sat there in the car and they’re all saying ‘smile Josh,’” he says, shaking his head in amusement.
Josh Warrington is one of England’s most promising boxers who just so happens to come from Leeds. Many boxing insiders believe he’s destined for the very top and if his highly-impressive fourth-round win over Davide Dieli is anything to go by then it’s surely only a matter of time before he gets a shot at the world featherweight title.
His small, wiry frame belies his astonishing stamina and strength and while Dieli was a formidable opponent he had no answer to Josh’s speed and relentless work rate. The Italian also had to deal with a crowd that sent decibel levels at the arena through the roof. “I can’t put it into words what it was like to walk out into that. There were 6,000 people cheering me on, but it felt like there were 20,000.”
Some people freeze when faced with such a white hot atmosphere, but Josh thrives on it. “There was a lot of pressure on me with that fight.
I was stepping up a level and a lot of people were questioning whether I could do it,” he says. “I can see why some fighters would get overwhelmed by that but I use the crowd’s energy to my advantage because it can be intimidating for an opponent.”
His latest victory was the biggest of his career and he remains undefeated in 19 fights. Not only that but he can add the European crown to the English, British and Commonwealth titles that he already has to his name.
At 24, he still has his best years ahead of him. “I couldn’t have predicted any of this would happen but these opportunities came up and we’ve just taken them.” He uses the word “we” a lot, referring to his father Sean O’Hagan, who also happens to be his coach, and his girlfriend, Natasha, who doubles as his dietician.
“It’s a close knit team and it seems to be working so far.” Even so, doesn’t having your dad as your coach cause a bit of friction? “We’ve had a few ups and downs as you can imagine,” he says, smiling bashfully. “When I used to live at home the arguments would go from the gym and continue in the house.” But when the chips are down he knows he can count on him. “Even though he doesn’t blow smoke up my backside I know he’ll go that extra mile to help me. He got me into boxing in the first place so I owe a lot to my dad.”
Josh grew up in a tough, working class part of east Leeds. Like many youngsters he loved playing sport but found he was too small for rugby and not quite good enough at football. But then at the age of eight he went to the East Leeds Amateur Boxing Club, on York Road. It’s where Olympic champion Nicola Adams started off and as a youngster Josh sparred with her on a couple of occasions. “She’s a few years older than me and as a younger lad it was great for me to spar with her. It was funny because you’d tell people you’d been sparring with this girl and they’d look at you and say something funny. But if they’d seen her they’d have realised what an unbelievable boxer she is.”
Today, he’s on the cusp of becoming a major sporting star but unlike most top young footballers who get paid silly money, boxers – even those at the top – usually have to wait until later in their careers before the big pay days come rolling in. However, it might still surprise some people to learn that Josh has a day job outside of boxing. It will surprise them even more to learn that he works as a dental technician. Beever Dental Laboratory, a dentistry firm based in Adel, does everything from bridge work to implants and dentures, and Josh works as a ceramist putting the finishing touches on crowns. It’s detailed, intricate work and an unlikely choice of career for a pugilist.
“With boxing it’s all a hundred miles an hour, it’s hard and aggressive and then I come here and I’m sat on my bench working on something very delicate and I can take my time over it.” But the irony isn’t lost on him. “No one would put the two together. When people find out they say ‘so you make teeth by day and try to knock them out on an evening?’ Yeah that’s me - the boxing tooth fairy,” he says, laughing.
He’s been working there since he was 17 having dropped out of the sixth form at John Smeaton High School. By this time he’d already established himself as a talented amateur boxer and had set his heart on becoming a professional. But he knew he needed to have a job to fall back on.
He spotted a job advertisement and was offered a couple of months work experience. He did well but in order to continue he needed proper qualifications, so he went to the University of Leeds to study dental technology. This meant juggling his day job, boxing career as well as studying. “I would get up in the morning and do some training and then go to work and then I’d go to the gym in the evening.” This was just during the week meaning he had to use his weekend s to catch up with his coursework.
Nevertheless he persevered to finish his studies and is now a qualified dental technician It shows not only an impressive work ethic but also that he understood the sacrifices needed if we was going to make it in boxing. “A lot of youngsters these days are fame obsessed and they want to be on the telly or in the papers. Whereas myself, even though I know my boxing career could take me to a high level, I’m not bothered by all that.”
He’s aware of the importance of having a career to fall back on should his career in the ring be curtailed. “I’m not a negative person but it only takes one injury and you need something else. Even if I keep doing well boxing won’t last me forever and only a very small percentage earn enough so they don’t have to work again.”
But there’s no doubting his passion and commitment to boxing. “It’s a skill and there’s a science behind it. People think you’re just knocking seven bells out of one another. But it teaches you discipline and it can actually help straighten out some young lads who are going off the rails.”
Josh is an impressive young man who now has his eyes on the ultimate prize – the world title. And you wouldn’t bet against him. His next fight will probably be a defence of his European title, but he will be watching closely when fellow Brit Lee Selby faces Russian Evgeny Gradovich in a world title fight early next year.
There’s no doubt Josh is a rising star and you sense he could become a talismanic figure in Leeds, in the same way that Ricky Hatton was in Manchester.
“I want to put Leeds on the map for boxing. Bringing these big shows to Leeds gives the younger generation something to look up to. They can look at me and say, ‘he’s just a local lad from east Leeds and he’s not doing so bad - maybe I can be like him.’”