At times this week Lee Selby has been made to look like the IBF’s mandatory challenger. He scoffed at talk of tomorrow’s fight against Josh Warrington being the equivalent of “entering the lion’s den” but it is rare to see a world champion so firmly entrenched in someone else’s back yard.
In Selby’s eyes Warrington has every advantage he could ask for: a bout in his home city, at the stadium of the football club he supports, and with the crowd, musicians and a famous footballer supporting him. Selby claimed plans were afoot to appoint a Yorkshire judge and a Yorkshire referee, though he expected the latter to hail from elsewhere.
Warrington is counting on the atmosphere working for him. “If I could write down the perfect scenario of fighting for the world title, I’d have pictured it like this,” he said earlier this week. Selby, who grew up in Barry, is more of a traveller. He won his IBF featherweight title in the O2 Arena in London in 2015 and has made all four of his defences in the capital. He last fought in his native Wales four years ago.
Since the fight with Warrington was made by Frank Warren, Selby has given the prospect of a 20,000 crowd at Elland Road this weekend short-shrift, nonplussed by the suggestion that it could make a difference. Even the thought of bursting the bubble growing around Warrington – a fighter with whom he has traded choice words over the years – failed to rouse him.
“The crowd’s irrelevant,” Selby said. “I don’t know why they keep going on about the crowd. I’ll be more satisfied when I take my belt home. The crowd’s nothing. I’ll be happy to take the crowd’s money, that’s about it.
“Not once have I heard anybody say ‘he’s going to come out and outbox you or knock you out.’ It’s about how the crowd’s going to shout. Come on.”
This is his home, 10 minutes away from his house, his beloved football team. You’ve got a band singing him out, you’ve got a footballer walking him on. There was a Yorkshire ref, a Yorkshire judge. What more does he want?Lee Selby on his fight with Josh Warrington at Elland Road
Warrington and Selby conducted separate public work-outs at Leeds Trinity on Wednesday evening and will come together outside the ring for the last time when they weigh in later today. Selby, despite his tall frame, has fought at nine stone throughout his career and insisted at Tuesday’s press conference that he would make the featherweight limit comfortably. Warrington has also had little problem coming in on weight.
Selby will find little in the way of support for him at the weigh-in and has found little in the way of respect since arriving in Leeds at the start of the week. Antipathy between him and Warrington is long-standing and the pair exchanged words as they faced off after Tuesday’s press conference. Warrington’s father and trainer, Sean O’Hagan, was compelled to ask his son’s supporters to keep their “banter” in check and above board.
The event in its entirety has been built around the challenger.
“It is set up for him,” Selby said. “What more advantage could he want? This is his home, 10 minutes away from his house, his beloved football team.
“You’ve got a band singing him out, you’ve got a footballer walking him on. There was a Yorkshire ref, a Yorkshire judge. What more does he want?
“I’ve come to the guy’s backyard. I expect nothing to be respectful. There’d be something wrong if they were showing me a lot of respect. It is what it is, I’m in his hometown. On the night all that becomes irrelevant.”
Selby said he and Warrington were fortunate to be in a division which was “booming”. “It’s probably one of the best divisions in boxing,” he said. Carl Frampton, Belfast’s former two-weight world champion, will be ringside tomorrow with a view to fighting the winner. Mexico’s Leo Santa Cruz defends his WBA belt in America in three weeks’ time. There are lucrative bouts out there for whoever emerges unscathed.
“I don’t see it (tomorrow’s fight) as a stepping stone,” Selby said. “It’s just another world title defence. It’s my fifth defence, my third mandatory challenger. I don’t really look into the opponents. I just get myself right and perform as well as I can on the night.”
The Welshman reached his 31st birthday in February and is 10 years into his professional career. He and Warrington have been in the game for much the same time, always one step apart until now, but Warrington has the incentive of a first world title tilt.
Selby, though, said his motivation was high, driven by a “fear of losing”. “It’s something I’ve done from such a young age,” he said.
“I don’t know a lot more. It’s something I’ve always done and I like that fear of losing. I don’t want to lose.”