Warrington v Selby: Father and son team full of confidence for title tilt

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Sean O’Hagan is the father and trainer who Josh Warrington once described as a “pain in the a***”. Their affection gives way to inter-family bickering when each fight and each training camp comes around. “Normally we’re at each other constantly,” O’Hagan said.

This camp, with Lee Selby’s IBF featherweight title on the line, has been different; no arguing, no fall-outs and none of the old routine. “This time we haven’t had any of that,” O’Hagan said. “We’ve not even had a bad spar.

“He’s had nearly 200 rounds of sparring and only one session where he took about four or five shots. That was getting caught clean by an 11-stoner who’s good on his feet. He couldn’t move Josh so I don’t think nine-stone Lee Selby is going to move him.”

Warrington’s father has been with him from the start and Saturday’s world-title fight in Leeds, in O’Hagan’s words, is the culmination of “something we’ve built together”. In February Warrington’s partner gave birth to twins and O’Hagan put the relative serenity of his training camp down to the new arrivals.

“It gives him something outside of boxing to think about,” O’Hagan said. “Normally he’s 100 per cent boxing, boxing, boxing. This time he’s not. He’s boxing, finished, home, twins.” Could that not affect his focus negatively? “No. He’s a professional. What he does is switch on when it’s time for training. Then, when he walks out the gym, he switches off for family time.

“Don’t get me wrong, I was concerned at first. ‘I’m having twins in February’ he tells me and I’m like ‘pick your moment kid!’ But it’s had the opposite effect to what I thought. As far as I’m concerned this is our best-ever preparation.”

Josh Warrington and his dad Sean O'Hagan.

Josh Warrington and his dad Sean O'Hagan.

Warrington took 26 fights to establish himself as mandatory challenger for a world belt, winning the British, Commonwealth, European and WBC International titles in the process. At 27 this will feel to him like the start of the big time but O’Hagan, with his father’s hat on, said Warrington would retire before he turned 30.

“I don’t think so, I know so,” O’Hagan said. “He’ll be told. Make your moment of glory and then go out while you’ve got your health. Don’t forget I’m his dad. I’ve got to look after him for the rest of his life. I can’t walk away.

“The way I see it, we’ll beat Selby, we’ll maybe have a voluntary defence and then a last big one in America, or maybe at Windsor Park in Belfast (Carl Frampton’s home city). That would do.”

O’Hagan earned a round of applause at Tuesday’s press conference in Leeds, the last before Warrington and Selby exchange punches this weekend, by attempting to calm a crowd who were openly hostile towards Selby. “I’ve never rubbished him and I’ve never knocked him,” O’Hagan said. “I think he’s a very good fighter.

The way I see it, we’ll beat Selby, we’ll maybe have a voluntary defence and then a last big one in America, or maybe at Windsor Park in Belfast (Carl Frampton’s home city). That would do.

Sean O’Hagan

“Whether I agree with how he got his title and who he’s defended it against I don’t know but he’s fought whoever’s put in front of him. He’s done the job.”

O’Hagan, though, can lay claim to a previous victory over Selby. In 2009 he spent three weeks preparing Samir Mouneimne, a Hull-based featherweight who outpointed Selby in Stoke-on-Trent. It is, nine years on, the Welshman’s only defeat.

“I had Samir for three weeks,” O’Hagan said. “His amateur trainer brought him to me and I did all his sparring technique. So I’m 1-0 up.”

O’Hagan is as confident as his son that the score will be 2-0 by Sunday morning, and confident that the intensity of Elland Road, with a crowd of 20,000, will not consume Warrington. “It could be a distraction,” O’Hagan conceded, “but what I’m grateful for is we’re the challenger. We’ve got to walk in first.

“Selby will keep us waiting, as they do, but we’ll use that time to settle Josh down. If we’ve been there 15 or 20 minutes, Josh will have come to terms with the crowd. It’ll be pure boxing. It’ll be Selby with the disadvantage by coming second.

“We’re confident. Too right we’re confident. There’s no way we’re leaving here without that belt in that case. That’s it.”

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Josh Warrington spars in the ring at Trinity Leeds as he warms up for Saturday's world title challenge at Elland Road. Pictures by Steve Riding.

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