There’s a popular routine for a new world title winner in modern boxing. Bask in glory, put on a few pounds, get back into training and make an easy defense.
“Fuck easy defenses,” barked IBF featherweight champion Josh Warrington in an interview with The Ring. “When I was a young lad, I got up in the middle of the night to watch the biggest fights. Now I’ve got the opportunity to be part of something like that.
“Of course you can made steady defenses and pad your record, but I don’t want to be in this game forever. When you’ve got momentum on your side, you should take the big fights and that’s what people want to see. The sport is in a healthy place because the biggest fights are being made. As champion, you should fight the best and have no regrets when your career is over.”
My God, how refreshing is that?
The unbeaten Warrington, who is rated No. 6 by The Ring at 126 pounds, is coming off a 12-round unanimous decision victory over Lee Selby in May. The fight was contested at Elland Road stadium, home of Warrington’s beloved soccer team Leeds United, and a life’s work was realized when the affable 28-year-old laid claim to the world title.
After a well-earned rest with his wife and twin girls, Warrington went back to work. With his new status as world champion and promoter Frank Warren in tow, a routine defense could easily have been arranged, but the affable Englishman pursued the polar opposite. On Saturday, Warrington will mix it up with formidable former two-weight world champion Carl Frampton at the Manchester Arena.
“Carl’s a good fighter,” acknowledged Warrington (27-0, 6 knockouts). “He’s got a good boxing brain, he moves well and he’s got good judgment of distance. I just don’t think he’s the same puncher at featherweight as he was at (junior featherweight). That’s not me being an arsehole, that’s just a fact. You can’t argue with the stats and Luke Jackson is the only stoppage he’s had (from four wins) at featherweight.
“Out of my last 10 fights, I have four stoppages and all of them are at featherweight. If you want to go on overall statistics, people will say I’m not a power-puncher, but in my earlier days I was in against much heavier guys. I was probably a natural bantamweight fighting experienced journeymen at featherweight. I’ve adapted and grown well into the weight when it matters most.”
In October 2014, I looked on from ringside as Warrington claimed the vacant European featherweight title with a 12-round unanimous decision over Davide Dieli in Leeds. I remember thinking to myself then that there was clear improvement in his game and, for the most part, I’ve been impressed ever since. His world title win over Selby did not come as a big surprise.
“Throughout the levels I’ve gone through over the years: English, British, Commonwealth, European, every time I’ve won a title, it’s given me another boost of confidence,” said Warrington. “I remember winning the English title and travelling back to Leeds feeling as though I’d won a world title.
“I’ve still not taken in what we’ve achieved and I probably won’t until I retire. We just keep on going and now I’ve announced myself at this level. You can’t say that I’m not a real world champion because I’ve done everything I’ve had to do. I still train like a challenger but winning a world championship definitely brings you up another level.”
According to the odds, Warrington will require another level. Frampton, who has been competing on the world scene for over four years, has been installed as a 2-1 favorite and most experts give the Belfast star the edge. However, Warrington has been written off throughout his professional career, and it’s worth remembering that he’s the natural featherweight, the unbeaten fighter and the world champion coming in.
Stylistically, the matchup could develop into a classic. Frampton is a rapid-fire boxer puncher who likes to use the ring and his shot selection is of the highest caliber. Warrington is a cerebral aggressor with a terrific work rate and underrated ring craft. Can Frampton hit hard enough to slow the pace and make his speed decisive? Can Warrington make his man miss, make him pay and sap his energy in the process?
Regardless of any tactical predictions, Warrington believes this fight might come down to desire.
“You’ve got two fighters who really want it,” said Warrington after a thoughtful pause. “I’ve won my world title and I want to keep a hold of it. Carl knows if this goes the wrong way for him, then this could be the last fight of his career. What you’ve got is two fighters that are gonna give everything they’ve got to win. I just want it a little more than he does.
“I’m probably more motivated for this than I was for Selby. I’ve worked hard to get to this level, but when you win a world title people are still saying, ‘Oh, you won’t beat him, or you’re still not at this level.’ The hunger now is to be number one, to be the best in the division, so nobody can take it away from me. I want to be unified champion, there’s talk of big fights against (WBO titleholder) Oscar Valdez and my fires are burning. That’s what I’m in this sport for.”
Warrington wants to prove he can reach the elite level. Frampton wants to prove that he still belongs there. On Saturday, only one man will get what they want.
Josh Warrington defends his IBF featherweight title against Carl Frampton exclusively live on BT Sport Box Office, Saturday December 22. Watch for just £19.95, for more info visit www.bt.com/sportboxoffice
Tom Gray is Associate Editor for Ring Magazine. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing
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