Josh Warrington reclaimed the IBF featherweight championship on Saturday night, stopping Kiko Martinez in seven rounds at a boisterous First Direct Arena in his native Leeds.
Roared on by legions of his home supporters, ‘The Leeds Warrior’ broke down the veteran Spaniard to put his professional career right back on track and open up a bevy of intriguing options for future fights as world champion. Below we break down three contenders for Warrington’s next opponent.
US Debut vs Leo Santa Cruz?
Speaking after last night’s win, Warrington suggested that his next fight could be a long-awaited debut Stateside.
“For a long time we’ve been wanting to go to the states. Many of these [fans] have got their passports at the ready, their credit cards at the ready,” the 31-year-old said.
“We want an away day next. 11 times we’ve been here (Leeds), we’ve done Headingley and we’ve done Elland Road. Let’s have an away day.”
It's a sentiment that’s echoed by his father and trainer Sean O’Hagan, who suggested that Warrington could take on WBA (Super) featherweight champion Leo Santa Cruz next before a showdown with fellow Brit Leigh Wood.
Speaking to PA News, O’Hagan said: “With a fighter like Josh, who’s put his heart and soul into his career over the last 12 or 13 years, we’ve got to acknowledge what he wants.
“I know that would be a unification in the States, so we can’t rule out Santa Cruz. If I was going to choose one I’d say let’s go take on Santa Cruz, then we’ll come back home for maybe his last one and unify against Leigh Wood. There will be some clamor for that, absolutely, but like I say, Josh has done everything that’s ever been asked of him.”
Whether Santa Cruz can be lured into the fight is another question entirely. Though the four-weight world champion is a featherweight title-holder, he hasn’t defended his belt at 126lbs since 2019.
Leigh Wood At The City Ground?
Perhaps the most exciting match-up available for Warrington right now. Following Wood’s stunning knockout win over Michael Conlan earlier in the month, ‘Leigh-thal’ and Warrington’s names have become inseparable with regards to a potentially huge unification fight.
Wood, a lifelong Nottingham Forest fan, said he would love to fight at the club's City Ground next and it’s certainly an option that the Leeds United-loving Warrington has been considering, too.
Speaking to the Lightweight Boxing Show before the Martinez fight, Warrington told Dom McGuinness and Anthony Crolla: “You’ve got [WBA title-holder] Leigh Wood who had that fantastic fight the week before. I’d love to go to the City Ground and take over there, but for so long I’ve been saying I want to go to the States, so we’ll see what happens.
When asked what a fight at the home of Forest would be like, Warrington responded:
“Carnage. Obviously Forest and their connection with Brian Clough and all that stuff.”
Mauricio Lara Trilogy Fight?
Originally considered a routine fight for Warrington back in 2021, Mexico’s Mauricio Lara stunned the boxing world by handing the Brit his first and only ever professional defeat, stopping him inside nine rounds.
Warrington then had the chance to avenge his knockout defeat at Headingley in front of 20,000 partisan fans in September. However, the fight looked to be going the same way, with Lara looking in control of the bout before a second round clash of heads ruled the fight a no contest.
It’s no secret that Lara seems to have Warrington’s number, so would the latter risk his new belt for a shot at redemption? It seems unlikely right now but ‘Bronco’ remains the only blemish on Warrington’s professional CV thus far, and he’ll no doubt be chomping at the bit to right that wrong at some point.