Warrington v Galahad: Road to unification starts with Galahad – says IBF world champion Josh Warrington

IBF world featherweight champion Josh Warrington with his father and trainer Sean O'Hagan.
IBF world featherweight champion Josh Warrington with his father and trainer Sean O'Hagan.
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Kid Galahad’s first world title shot is the product of a chance conversation with Naseem Hamed and the night of his boxing career. Josh Warrington has seen two of those already and Galahad, for him, is a necessary evil; a low-key fight which the politics of boxing are compelling him to take.

Their IBF featherweight contest is a new level for Galahad – an experience which will ask the Sheffield fighter to “step up quite a few bars” as promoter Frank Warren put it yesterday – but Warrington is guarding against the temptation to go through the motions. Lee Selby and Carl Frampton, the cream of Britain’s nine-stone division, channelled his focus and ambition last year. “Now we’ve got Barry from Sheffield,” Warrington said. “It doesn’t have the same ring to it.”

Kid Galahad and Dominic Ingle

Kid Galahad and Dominic Ingle

Galahad goes by his fighting moniker but those in the business know him by his real name, Barry Awad. Born in Qatar but brought up in Liverpool and latterly South Yorkshire, the story goes that he and Hamed, himself the IBF’s champion in his time, crossed paths in a mosque in Sheffield and talked about the Wincobank gym run by the late Brendan Ingle. “If you want to be a world champion,” Hamed told him, “it’s the only place to go.”

There is a romantic tone to that tale but Galahad’s story has been more chequered since he tested positive for a banned steroid in 2015. The 29-year-old still protests his innocence, saying his brother spiked his drink, but it was the theme of his and Warrington’s first press conference yesterday and promises to be the backdrop for their fight on June 15.

Warrington is used to sparring before big fights but Galahad, despite winning British, Commonwealth and European titles at super-bantamweight, has no experience to compare with the epic bouts Warrington shared with Selby and Frampton in 2018. Before Galahad could reply to his first question yesterday, a shout of ‘drugs cheat’ came from the audience, and much of the talking was done by his trainer Dominic Ingle, one of Brendan’s sons.

Other boxers with doping offences on their records have had their reputations rehabilitated in the past. Tyson Fury is a recent example. “A big performance and a big win could change everything,” Galahad said. “I haven’t been in a high-profile fight yet but most of these people here could end up being my fans when I win.”

Josh Warrington and Frank Warren

Josh Warrington and Frank Warren

Warren hyped it as an all-Yorkshire fight “that’s very, very special” but Galahad reminded him that when Warrington beat Frampton so emphatically in December, Warren described this particular match-up as “bottom of the list”. Warrington felt the same but with unification fights still to materialise in the USA, a tear-up with the unbeaten Galahad, his mandatory challenger, was necessary to stop the IBF stripping him of his belt.

“I’ve made it clear,” Warrington said. “At the start of the year I was with Frank in London in a little restaurant. He was swirling the wine around his glass and saying ‘what does Josh Warrington want?’ I said I want to go to the States, make memories and do things that people will talk about for years to come

“It’s gone beyond making history for the city of Leeds now. It’s about making a legacy for the country. I could go down as one of the greatest fighters to come out of the country. If I went onto beat one of the other champions, I’d go down as a great featherweight.

“He (Galahad) isn’t one of them but I’ve got to deal with this mandatory, then I’ve got some breathing space to push hard to negotiate a big unification fight. Selby and Frampton were champions and they had the names. The road to unification, it starts here. I can’t beat Selby and Frampton and then fall at this hurdle.”

Warren first scheduled Warrington-Galahad for May 4, on the same weekend as the final day of Leeds United’s Championship season. The First Direct Arena – the venue where Warrington gained his widespread appeal – will stage it instead on June 15 after Warrington was given extra time to recover from the broken hand he suffered in the 10th round against Frampton.

The Leeds fighter was asked if the injury, or the fear of a repeat of it, would be on his mind. “I can’t dwell on that or go in there thinking ‘how’s it going to be?’” he said. “Then you’re reluctant to throw it as much. I’ve just got to let it go and see how it is. It’s boxing. You don’t go swimming without getting wet.”

Dominic Ingle tried to play on that by questioning whether the injury was genuine and saying he and Galahad “don’t want to be beating a kid who’s not properly prepared.”

“You wanted to avoid this fight, you made every move to fight someone else,” Ingle told Warrington.

“It’s easy to lose against a world champion but to get beat by this kid, you’ll not be able to hold your head up in Leeds again.”

The underdog card is no longer Warrington’s to play and Galahad – beaten twice by Warrington as an amateur – promised to invoke the spirit of Hamed’s first world title win, in Steve Robinson’s back yard in 1995.

“It’s destiny and I’m going to rip the title away from him in his hometown,” Galahad said.

“Remember when Naz boxed Steve Robinson? There were 34,000 there. It’s going to be the same.”

“B******s to your destiny,” Warrington replied. And so the battle lines were drawn.