Josh Warrington’s sole focus on gaining revenge over Mauricio Lara

HE has no problem admitting it publicly because Josh Warrington knows better than anybody that tonight’s rematch with Mauricio Lara is one of the most important of his career.
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The Leeds Warrior returns to his home city in front of 20,000 fans at Headingley, aiming to put himself back in title contention in the featherweight division.

Given the stage he is at in his career, tonight’s contest is a must-win. There are no two ways about it. A triumph over Lara leaves him hunting down world championships while defeat would see him fall further down the rankings and talk of future world title fights would soon stop.

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Having had more than six months to reflect on the first loss of his professional career, Warrington openly admits he was too busy looking down the road rather than the Lara-shaped obstacle in front of him. Now, his only focus is righting that wrong and re-establishing himself as one of the premier featherweights in world boxing.

Josh Warrington during the weigh-in at the New Dock Hall, Leeds. (Picture: Zac Goodwin/PA Wire)Josh Warrington during the weigh-in at the New Dock Hall, Leeds. (Picture: Zac Goodwin/PA Wire)
Josh Warrington during the weigh-in at the New Dock Hall, Leeds. (Picture: Zac Goodwin/PA Wire)

A few years down the line, the 30-year-old – who has delivered countless memorable nights for his adoring supporters – might be thankful for the lessons he took from his first professional loss, but only if he gets back in the winners’ enclosure this evening.

A second defeat to Lara, who has cut a calm and composed figure ahead of the rematch, would spell a long, long road back for Warrington.

It was only in February of 2020 that Warrington had announced alongside Matchroom boss Eddie Hearn that he had agreed a fight with WBA king Can Xu for a unification bout at Headingley later that year.

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The Covid-19 pandemic derailed those plans and meant Warrington was out of action for 15 months.

Head to head: Lara v Josh Warrington fight at Emerald Headingley  (Picture: Steve Riding)Head to head: Lara v Josh Warrington fight at Emerald Headingley  (Picture: Steve Riding)
Head to head: Lara v Josh Warrington fight at Emerald Headingley (Picture: Steve Riding)

Xu’s refusal to unify the division behind closed doors led to Warrington agreeing to a fight with Lara for his IBF title. However, the sanctioning body’s demands that he faced Kid Galahad again – who he had already defeated in June 2019 at the Leeds Arena – meant Warrington vacated his belt as he eyed other title-holding opponents.

Warrington has admitted in the build-up to his Leeds return that he did overlook Lara and acknowledged: “I paid the price for it.

“I never thought I would overlook anybody. I’ve always had the mindset that it doesn’t matter if I was fighting Mickey Mouse or whoever, they are dangerous.

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“You know what the boxing game is like, it’s like a game of snakes and ladders. You can land on a big snake and you’re back to the start.

Josh Warrington is focused only on Mauricio Lara (Picture: PA)Josh Warrington is focused only on Mauricio Lara (Picture: PA)
Josh Warrington is focused only on Mauricio Lara (Picture: PA)

“So I always treat every opponent as my biggest fight. But I think in that week in the bubble, my face was plastered all over, in the lift, on the walls, I maybe believed my own hype.

“I thought let’s blast this guy out, get back home and get ready for the Xu fight. Obviously my approach to the fight was just a hundred miles an hour, that would do the job, he won’t be there after six rounds. I never thought about what he could actually do and I paid the price for that.”

The all-or-nothing nature of tonight’s contest could prove beneficial for Warrington. Anytime his back has been against the wall, he has delivered.

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When he won his first world title, he did so in an enthralling clash with Lee Selby at Elland Road in 2018. He backed that up as the underdog in a stunning victory over former two-weight world champion Carl Frampton later that year. Wins over Kid Galahad and Sofiane Takoucht followed as he successfully defended his IBF crown three times before vacating earlier this year.

“There’s a few things I’ve had to polish up on. A few years ago, I was absolutely flying. I was walking on air, climbing mountains in seconds,” adds Warrington.

“I was absolutely flying with every performance and I got to a stage where I thought: I’m not going to get beat as a featherweight.

“I’ve gone through every single style – tall fighters, short fighters, come-forward boxers, awkward fighters, southpaw, orthodox. Whatever style, I’ve always found a way to win. Maybe I got a little bit complacent and when you look at fights from Selby, Frampton, I know Galahad was more of a technical chess match, but the way I just blasted out Takoucht – I know he was not as high as their level – but I thought: ‘I’m hitting harder than ever now, I’ve done 12 rounds more than a lot of the fighters in this country’.

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“I’m seasoned, I know how to see these fights for 12 rounds taking the same approach – fast start, loads of punches, I’ll just break them down, break them down.

“Maybe I just got a little bit complacent.

“It’s given me a little bit of a kick up the backside: don’t forget about your other attributes, your boxing, you can move, your defence… so we’ve gone back to the blackboard and polished ourselves up a bit.”

He continued: “We have done a few things differently. Obviously I’m always fit as they come, I always train very hard. The fitness and strength side is not a problem, I think if I wasn’t fit in the last one I wouldn’t have made it so far into the fight having been hurt and rocked so early on.

“It has been more technical this time around. We were thinking of Can Xu walking into the Lara fight and that I would just use my boxing ability to get past him. It has been more technical than anything and making sure I keep my bloody hands up!”

Warrington’s win over Selby was the culmination of decades worth of work and victory over Lara could be the start of another special story.