Josh Warrington has endured a trying few years, losing valuable ring time to the pandemic, his IBF featherweight title belt to boxing politics and his unbeaten record to Mauricio Lara. His attempt at revenge against the Mexican was curtailed when the bout was stopped after two rounds due to an accidental head clash. Warrington now aims to reclaim his throne, as he challenges IBF featherweight champion Kiko Martinez on home turf. The First Direct Arena in Leeds will host the featherweight star’s attempt to become a two-time world champion.
You can arguably cite 2018 as the last time Warrington put on a complete performance against a world class opponent. His Fight of the Year win over Carl Frampton was followed by an untidy but gutsy victory over Kid Galahad. Next came soft touch Sofiane Takoucht, who was blitzed in two rounds. The pandemic threw boxing, as well as the wider world, into disarray and it would be over a year before ‘The Leeds Warrior’ fought again.
Warrington was stripped of his IBF featherweight championship for ridiculous reasons. The governing body objected to the Yorkshireman negotiating to meet WBA counterpart Xu Can. It was short-sighted political meddling from the IBF, and completely unjustified. While Josh did not deserve to lose this outside-the-ring battle, he was well beaten the next time he stepped through the ropes.
22-year-old Mauricio Lara was expected to present Warrington with a straightforward night’s work. Twice-beaten, and having only fought outside his native Mexico once, the young fighter was thought to be no match for the experienced Warrington. Lara surprised everyone, not least his opponent, by scoring a ninth-round TKO. The bout was one of the upsets of 2021, and derailed plans for Warrington to pursue Can and then-WBC champion Gary Russell Jr.
The truncated rematch frustrated Warrington further, and he comes into the Martinez clash needing a performance. At 31 years of age, Josh cannot allow his prime to slip away. The quickest route to the biggest fights is strapping that IBF featherweight title back around his waist. In order to do that, he must defeat a man few expected to be defending a world title again.
Kiko Martinez was employed as a former world champion with some residual name value, expected to give Kid Galahad something to punch in his first defence of Warrington’s old IBF title. The Spaniard’s glory days were thought to be well behind him, having won just six of his last ten fights. Like Lara before him, Martinez pulled off a spectacular upset. The veteran spectacularly stopped Galahad in the sixth round to capture a second world title eight years after losing his first. It was an outcome nobody saw coming, and it set the stage for Warrington’s shot at redemption.
Martinez and Warrington have met before. The pair clashed in a nip-and-tuck affair back in 2017, where Josh strengthened his world class credentials with a majority decision victory. At the time felt like a passing of the torch, with the former world champion testing, but ultimately losing to, the hungry up-and-comer. Five years later, the two meet again with a world title on the line.
The form guide favours Martinez, who is coming off perhaps the finest win of his two-decade career. Meanwhile, Warrington has been without meaningful action for over a year. However, at 36, it seems doubtful Martinez has another miracle in him. In the lead-up to vanquishing Galahad, ‘La Sensacion’ was outpointed by Zelfa Barrett and suffered defeat to Gary Russell Jr. Before Galahad, his last win over a meaningful name was a third-round stoppage of under-sized former flyweight champion Lorenzo Parra in 2017.
If Warrington can come close to his best form, he should leave the First Direct Arena as the IBF champion. Even failing that, the sort of attritional display that saw off Galahad would probably be enough against the ageing Martinez. The Spaniard showed us all that dreams come true back in November. But facing Josh Warrington when he has a point to prove is likely to be a nightmare for Martinez.
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