Josh Warrington aiming to put city of Leeds on world boxing map

Josh Warrington knocks down Dennis Ceylan during their Featherweight bout at the First Direct Arena, Leeds, last October. PIC: Danny Lawson/PA Wire

JOSH WARRINGTON has it all in front of him this year. His wife is due to give birth to twins next month and in May, after so much patient build up, a world title fight is finally waiting. “It’s been a long time coming,” the featherweight said, for him and his city.

Leeds, despite its large population, has never had a boxing world champion. Even allowing for the hard hitting of Carl Johanneson, it has not promised one since Crawford Ashley was at his peak in the 1990s.

“I grew up watching boxing shows on Sky and there was hardly ever any Leeds interest,” Warrington said. “Sheffield had Naz and Kell Brook and Manchester had Ricky Hatton. I’ve said this a million times but I’m trying to make history. I want to put Leeds on the map.”

The city has a long tradition of small-hall shows but Warrington’s success in drawing thousands to his fights at the First Direct Arena has shown the scale of the interest in him and the sport. His Leeds United connections help and while promoter Frank Warren has delayed the announcement of a venue for Warrington’s IBF featherweight bout with Lee Selby on May 19, Elland Road looks likely to stage it. Comedian Michael McIntyre has already booked the First Direct Arena that night.

Selby has held his version of the world title since 2015 and, of all the nine-stone champions out there, the Welshman would have been Warrington’s first pick. Warrington was the IBF’s mandatory challenger after stopping Denmark’s Dennis Ceylan in October but he and Selby have history. Selby accused the 27-year-old of ducking him when a meeting was first mooted in 2016. Warrington says he merely asked for a change of date to allow him to get married. The pair have been jousting verbally since then as Warrington waited for the chance to throw punches instead. Contracts for a May 19 bout were signed this month.

“For me it’s gone a bit beyond respecting him,” Warrington said. “I’ve always said he’s a good fighter. You have to be a good fighter to win a world title but with all that went on in 2016, he and his camp got personal with their criticism of me. I wanted the fight but I wanted a change of date. That was all.

Sheffield's Kelly Brook. PIC: Richard Sellers/PA Wire

“He’s tried to sweep it under the carpet since then but I haven’t forgotten. He’d have been my first pick to fight, most definitely. Obviously I’m mandatory challenger so that forced him into it anyway but he’d have been my pick because of the way it’s gone between us over the last couple of years.”

Selby has a near-perfect 27-fight record with only one blemish, a meaningless points defeat at the very start of his career. Warrington has won all 26 of his bouts and both boxers spoke on Tuesday about proving themselves to be the best featherweight in the UK, with due credit to Northern Ireland’s Carl Frampton.

Warrington said Selby had been “one step ahead of me for years” and admitted there were times, amid a run of eliminators and fights designed to bring on a world-title shot, where he wondered if he would get the chance.

“You do get to points where you think ‘if it doesn’t happen soon then maybe it never will’,” Warrington said. “Even this fight took months to sort out. I feel like it’s perfect timing for me because I’m 27 and I’m at my peak but at the same time, I won the European title in 2014. The next step from there should be a world title but three years have gone by. You start to get impatient. I couldn’t be more ready for this and the only thing I’ve got to make sure is that I don’t do too much too soon or peak too early. It was 17 weeks on Saturday until the fight. I’ve got to build up sensibly.”

He’d have been my first pick to fight, most definitely. Obviously I’m mandatory challenger so that forced him into it anyway but he’d have been my pick because of the way it’s gone between us over the last couple of years.

Josh Warrington

Warrington will prepare at his gym in Batley, happy that he has everything he needs. There are no plans for a foreign training camp or a change to his normal schedule.

“I’ve always have my camps at home,” he said. “It’s what I’m used to. I’ve got everything I want here and I’ve got Temple Newsam on my doorstep. It’s ideal and it’s always worked for me.”

Selby is no knockout artist, with nine stoppages in 26 wins, but the 30-year-old is no flash-in-the-plan either. His fight with Warrington will be the fifth defence of his IBF title and his slick style saw off Mexico’s Eduardo Ramirez and Argentina’s Jonathan Victor Barros on points last year. Warrington is a pressure fighter; high on intensity if low on knockouts. His energy has drawn big crowds and dealt with credible challenges, none bigger than that from Kike Martinez at the First Direct Arena last May. Warrington won by majority decision.

“People talk about Selby being a vicious puncher but if you look at the statistics, his record doesn’t back that up,” Warrington said. “I’m a 12-round fighter and I think I cope better over 12 rounds than he does. All the cards are in my favour. It’s time Leeds had a world champion and I’m going to make it happen.”

Manchester's Ricky Hatton.

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