Josh Warrington eyeing featherweight unification fight in United States after stunning victory over Kiko Martinez

Josh Warrington described his meeting with Kiko Martinez as the most important fight of his life and he certainly boxed like it on Saturday night as he put the featherweight division back on notice with a sensational knockout victory to reclaim the IBF title.
WINNING MOMENT: The referee stopped the fight in round seven. Picture: Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing.WINNING MOMENT: The referee stopped the fight in round seven. Picture: Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing.
WINNING MOMENT: The referee stopped the fight in round seven. Picture: Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing.

After a thrilling first round, in which the Leeds Warrior came forward extremely aggressively, Martinez looked visibly shaken as he had been sent to the canvas by a fierce right hand as Warrington was roared on home by the crowd at the Leeds Arena.

From that point, it looked like only a matter of when, not if, Warrington would become a world champion again as the fight was stopped in the seventh round as the Leeds Warrior unloaded on Martinez with the Spaniard up against the ropes.

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Now the question on everyone’s lips is - what next? For Warrington the possibilities are exciting. He admitted that his career at the top would be all but over if he was beaten but instead he is looking at potential unification bouts.

PURE JOY: Josh Warrington celebrates with Eddie Hearn. Picture: Dave Thompson/Matchroom Boxing.PURE JOY: Josh Warrington celebrates with Eddie Hearn. Picture: Dave Thompson/Matchroom Boxing.
PURE JOY: Josh Warrington celebrates with Eddie Hearn. Picture: Dave Thompson/Matchroom Boxing.

It is likely the Leeds Warriors’s next contest will be outside of his home city. Saturday’s fight was his 11th at the Leeds Arena while he has also fought inside the city’s two biggest sporting stadiums in Elland Road and Headingley.

Warrington is eager to fight in America and his promoter Eddie Hearn is confident he could take 10,000 fans with him for a fight in New York or Las Vegas.

If the Leeds Warrior heads across the Atlantic, unification bouts with WBO king Emanuel Navarette and WBA super champion Leo Santa Cruz could await.

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With Warrington’s promoters, Matchroom Boxing, having a TV deal in America, Hearn says that agreeing a fight in the USA is realistic.

If Warrington does not decide to go stateside, there is the lure of a mouth-watering all-British contest with WBA regular champion Leigh Wood, which would be held at Nottingham Forest’s City Ground Stadium.

These kind of fights were what Warrington wanted when he returned to Matchroom but the Covid-19 pandemic saw his planned unification fight with Can Xu cancelled before he was surprisingly beaten by Mauricio Lara to set his ambitions back.

The Leeds Warrior got his surprise title shot on Saturday night as Martinez demanded to fight him - and the Yorkshireman did not waste his opportunity.

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“With what happened - I talked him into signing back with us and we got the Can Xu unification fight, it was signed and then the pandemic came and we couldn’t do it at Headingley,” said Hearn.

“We tried to renegotiate behind closed doors with Can Xu but we couldn’t do it.

“Then the IBF said you have to fight Kid Galahad again, but he didn’t want to fight him again so he asked me to just get him the biggest fight I could.

"We set that aside for last summer and said let’s have a run out fight first. We sent them some opponents and they chose Mauricio Lara who it now turns out is the most dangerous featherweight in the world.

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“He got knocked out, he took the rematch which ended in a draw because of a cut but then Kiko Martinez said ‘I want to fight Josh Warrington.’

“He is now exactly where he was when he signed with us, waiting for all these big fights.”

Hearn feels Saturday night was the most important contest in Warrington’s career.

The Leeds Warrior left little to chance as he came forward strongly all night against Martinez who just didn’t seem to have an answer for his challenger.

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Warrington did not leave the ring unscathed as he left the Arena with a suspected dislocated jaw and broken hand with x-rays later confirming a “clean break” of his jaw.

“It is not the biggest night of his career, that was the Lee Selby fight at Elland Road but it was the most important night of his career,” continued Hearn.

“Someone asked him would he have retired if he lost and he said he didn’t know but when you are going back and offering someone a quarter of the money to have a rebuild fight, do you really want to do that?

“I think he put a lot of pressure on himself in the build-up to the fight and I think he trained really well. It was probably one of the best performances of his career, which is good at this stage as there were people who were probably questioning what he had left.

“So, he is over the moon.”

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He added: “I knew he was razor sharp because I think he trained with the fear of losing.

“He always starts fast but in the third round it looked like he needed a round off.”

Warrington had hoped to fight in America after defending his IBF belt against Carl Frampton and Kid Galahad but instead had to settle for a third defence against Frenchman Sofiane Takoucht in Leeds.

Now with the belt back around his waist, Hearn admits it will take a lot to convince Warrington to take a fight away from the USA.

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“It is going to take a lot to deter Josh from the American fight because you have got to ask how many fights has he got left?,” he continued.

“If you don’t take it now, you may never get it. I think he would bring 20,000 to the City Ground and Leigh Wood would bring the same from Nottingham.

“You don’t normally get that. Rarely would you get a 35,000-seater stadium that is half and half so it would be pretty special.”

Whatever is next for Warrington the options are exciting again. The Leeds Warrior knew the big nights would be over if he had been beaten but after a fine performance he has shown that he still has a few more memorable performances left in him.