HARD as it might be to fathom, Josh Warrington had hoped the 29th fight of his boxing career would capture the imagination even more than the two that preceded it.
Fight number 27 led to crazy scenes of jubilation at Elland Road as Warrington defeated defending champion Lee Selby to become IBF featherweight champion of the world.
Not interested in an easy defence, the Leeds Warrior then took matters to an even higher level by retaining the belt with a stunning defeat of former two-weight world champion Carl Frampton at Manchester Arena.
Selby, then Frampton, and if Warrington had his way, Oscar Valdez, Leo Santa Cruz or Gary Russell JR – the featherweight division’s three other belt holders – would have been next, possibly in Las Vegas.
Instead, Warrington has been somewhat forced to lock horns with the lesser-known Sheffield fighter Kid Galahad for a mandatory defence of his title, which brings him back to the First Direct Arena.
While it may not be the fight Warrington wanted, it is very much what the unbeaten Galahad has been desperate for. The obvious needle at yesterday’s public weigh-in made Warrington’s next bout feel almost as big as his last two.
Away from the public glare of Warrington first becoming world champion and then defending his belt, Galahad – real name Abdul Barry Awad – had worked his way into the position of mandatory challenger even before Warrington and Frampton prepared to scrap it out at Manchester Arena.
Whatever thoughts Warrington had about taking on Valdez, Santa Cruz or Russell JR, the Leeds featherweight was left with a simple decision to make following his stunning defeat of Frampton – fight mandatory challenger Galahad or vacate the belt that he had dreamt of since pulling on the gloves in the Rookwood estate of Leeds in which he grew up.
Clearly, there was no chance of that, with Warrington targeting not one but four belts and unifying the division before his career is done.
Valdez’s WBO belt, Santa Cruz’s WBA version and Russell Jr’s WBC crown remain targets for another day after confirmation came on February 6 that Galahad would indeed be his next opponent.
And so began the war of words, although Galahad had rather lit the fuse by attempting to enter the ring in the aftermath of Warrington’s defeat of Frampton.
Warrington was not a happy man, furious that the Qatar-born fighter had attempted to take the gloss off a proud moment for the Leeds puncher and his team and his young family.
The scene was set and the two have been at war on just about every platform since with Warrington continually labelling his challenger a “cheat” after his doping ban.
Galahad tested positive for the banned substance stanozolol after beating Adeilson Dos Santos in September 2014 and later received a backdated two-year suspension.
The 29-year-old argued his drink had been spiked and after a subsequent appeal saw his ban reduced by six months.
But Warrington has refused to let the issue fade.
As promoter Frank Warren and their team no doubt deliberated about whether to hold yesterday’s weigh-in outside in Millennium Square or away from the threat of rain inside Leeds City Museum, Warrington again added some extra spice on Instagram.
“Lets f****** go, bring the noise,” wrote the IBF featherweight world champion. “A drug cheat, in our city, trying to take our title...We ain’t having it.”
Adored and followed to the hilt by his huge legion of followers, Warrington’s fans fulfilled the request and brought the noise and decibels to Leeds City Museum with around 500 present for the 1pm weigh-in.
Ironically, for perhaps the first time this summer, outside the weather remained dry meaning the initial plan to stage the weigh-in on Millennium Square would have been ideal.
That would naturally have attracted even more footfall but 500 or so was enough to greet Galahad with the most hostile of receptions to chants of “cheat, cheat, cheat.” An object, what appeared to be a plastic bottle, was even thrown on stage.
Galahad looked decidedly unimpressed as the fighter fulfilled the formalities of weighing in at 8st 13lbs and 12oz.
Then came what the crowd had been waiting for, the appearance on stage of their world champion, a man for the big occasion who again milked the audience to the full after entering the weigh-in area with his Leeds United scarf wrapped around his face looking rather like someone who was about to commit a bank raid.
Instead, it is Galahad aiming to steal the big prize and the duo quickly had to be separated from the face-to-face shots for the cameras as the pair locked heads once Warrington had weighed in at 8st 13lbs 8oz.
Warrington’s dad and trainer Sean O’Hagan then kept the crowd excited by giving them a Leeds United salute as Warrington left the stage.
Even then the mayhem continued with the crowd clearly featuring fans of both fighters and the odd shout of “and the new”.
As a large, pumped-up crowd all descended on mass towards a narrow entrance, a huge scuffle broke out with pushing and shoving though thankfully matters soon seemed to settle down.
Heaven knows what the atmosphere inside First Direct Arena will be like tomorrow night.
It may indeed not be the fight Warrington initially anticipated after defeating Frampton, but there is no denying the needle, the hostility and the bad blood between the two fighters ahead of a contest in which the IBF featherweight world title is once again on the line.