Gray Matter: An apology to Josh Warrington and his father-trainer Sean O’Hagan

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You don’t need to be a writer to know that deadlines are stressful.

Once a month the editorial board are scrambling to complete a magazine that retains quality, looks the part and is devoid of errors. That process takes a lot of man hours, and if we don’t get it right there are plenty of knowledgeable boxing people waiting to pounce.

After a long slog, our year-end awards issue was put to bed last week and I was nervous. The unbeaten Josh Warrington was defending his IBF featherweight title against Carl Frampton the following Saturday and I had the feeling it was going to be special. The showdown was taking place after our deadline and if Warrington won convincingly he would potentially have made my Fighter of the Year shortlist, and his father, Sean O’Hagan, could easily be up for Trainer of the Year.

But that’s ok, I was picking Frampton.

On Saturday morning, I made the 200-mile drive from Stonehouse, Scotland, to Manchester, England. That is not something I particularly look forward to and my tolerance for the three-hour trip is solely dependent on event quality. On this particular day, I had no complaints.

As is often the case when I visit Manchester, I met up with John Evans who would also be ringside for Warrington-Frampton. John is a very knowledgeable boxing guy who has worked for BoxNation, Boxing Monthly, 32 Red and Boxing News. He has spent loads of time in gyms around the Manchester area, he’s travelled to boxing Meccas all over the world and I value his opinion.

He was picking Warrington.

Shortly after I arrived, John and I were joined by Billy Graham, the former trainer of two-weight world champion Ricky Hatton. Billy is a former professional fighter and a brilliant teacher. His knowledge is beyond reproach and despite being retired, he had served as an unofficial advisor to the Warrington camp.

“I take it you’re picking Warrington, Billy?” was my rhetorical opening question.

“Yeah, absolutely!”

“I’m going for Frampton, but with trepidation,” I said.

“How do you think he does it? Tell me what he does to win?”

The question felt like a test. Graham doesn’t suffer fools gladly and he wanted to see if I could build a case.

“I think Frampton will use his feet to locate space and he’ll time Warrington with power shots on the way in. If those punches register, then he’ll slow the pace and his speed could be decisive.”

“That’s the only way he can win, but Josh is going to surprise him,” said Graham confidently.

The surprise was that Warrington could match Frampton on the outside. The jab worked wonders and whenever the champion committed himself to those rapid-fire raids, Frampton struggled to match his speed and intensity on the inside. Warrington’s tactics were absolutely brilliant.

I make no apologies for picking Frampton beforehand; the Belfast man is a former two-weight world champion and a terrific professional. The 12-round unanimous decision in Warrington’s favor was just further evidence of the champion’s strength, speed, skill, intelligence and overall ability. The Leeds man is pure world-class and if you’re still not convinced of that, it’s time to find another sport.

The reason I’m apologizing to Warrington and his father Sean is because they would definitely have made my shortlist for Fighter and Trainer of the Year honors. Would they have made it on to the overall Ring magazine shortlist and ultimately won? Maybe, maybe not, but I felt strongly that their accomplishments should be recognized.

Warrington entered 2018 as an underdog to lift a world championship. In May he outpointed Lee Selby to claim the IBF featherweight title (I got that one right), then immediately targeted one of the world’s finest 126-pound fighters in Carl Frampton. Once again Warrington triumphed and “The Leeds Warrior” now closes out the year as The Ring No. 2 rated featherweight behind WBA counterpart Leo Santa Cruz.

At the post-fight press conference, I introduced myself to Sean O’Hagan. “Did you like that?” he asked. “I loved it, but I picked the wrong man,” was my honest retort. Wearing a look of sympathy, O’Hagan looked me dead in the eye and said, “We’re always being written off, Tom.”

Not anymore.

Note: The heavyweight rematch between Dillian Whyte and Dereck Chisora could easily have been nominated for Knockout of the Year (Whyte KO 11). And Charlie Edwards dethroning WBC flyweight titleholder Cristofer Rosales by 12-round unanimous decision might very well have been included in the Upset of the Year category.

Official nominees for our year-end awards will be posted imminently.

 

Tom Gray is Associate Editor for Ring Magazine. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing

 

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