Josh Warrington: ‘Everything we’ve worked on will be good enough to beat Lee Selby’
Normally Elland Road in Leeds, England, stages soccer matches, but this weekend it will function as a battleground of a different type.
On Saturday, in an all-British affair, local hero Josh Warrington will challenge Welshman Lee Selby for the latter’s IBF featherweight title in front of approximately 20,000 fans. It’s a matchup which has been brewing for several years and, like most soccer stadium events, promises to be an electric occasion.
Warrington, who is rated No. 9 by THE RING at 126 pounds, is a talented pressure-fighter who has been growing impatient. The former British, Commonwealth and European champion has crossed every “t” and dotted every “i” during his rise, and there are no more dragons left to slay – unless of course there’s a world title at stake.
“It’s been a long journey, but it’s been a great journey,” Warrington (26-0, 6 knockouts) told THE RING. “As a fighter, I’ve developed over the years, stepping up the levels and biding my time. Timing is everything in boxing and this is the right time for me. I’m ready to step up to the next level and become world champion.
“After my last fight (TKO 10 Dennis Ceylan in October), it was like, how many hurdles do I have to cross before someone gives me the opportunity to fight for the big one? I’ve beat Hasashi Amagasa (UD12), Patrick Hyland (TKO 9) and Kiko Martinez (MD 12), who was a former world champion, so I’ve been knocking on the door for about two years now.”
The bout is being contested at Elland Road because Warrington is a huge supporter of home team Leeds United and brings a large crossover fanbase. The experienced Selby, who is rated No. 5 by THE RING, insists that he is unfazed by what will undoubtedly be a very hostile atmosphere.
Warrington, however, was eager to point out that his support should not be linked to the crowd trouble that has raised it’s head in U.K. soccer down the years – his fans are also boxing fans.
“I understand the cliché because football is the dominant sport in this country,” said Warrington matter-of-factly. “But with a sport like boxing, if someone is local and they make a bit of noise, then 99 percent of the time fans get behind them. Sure my fans will have been down to Elland Road and supported Leeds, but does that mean they can’t follow boxing?
“I love my fanbase – they’re notoriously crazy and they make lots of noise (laughs). A lot of them have been there since day one when I made my debut. I’ve boxed all over the country now and some of them have been to every single fight. They’re so loyal and I’ll be forever indebted to them because without fans we’re nobody. The people make you and you’re never too big to interact with them or take a picture.”
As polite and professional as Warrington is, there is more than one side to him. The challenger is articulate, witty and personable, but Selby (26-1, 9 KOs) has lit a fire under him with constant barbs about his skill level and the name-calling he has aimed at his beloved fans.
“The animosity was genuine, but I’m in the zone now,” Warrington acknowledged. “Throughout my career, whenever Lee’s been asked about me as a fighter, he’s discredited me. I’ve always said he’s a good fighter, but he can’t say anything positive. He mocks my fans, calling them monkeys and saying they’re just football plans. I take that personally because those fans have supported me for a long time. If you disrespect them, you disrespect me.
“I don’t understand this approach of building yourself up by tearing other people down. I believe, whoever gets in the ring deserves credit because I know how much sacrifice is involved and we’re putting our lives on the line. To downplay other fighter’s achievements is wrong, but we have 12 rounds to sort this out old-school style. In the old days, if my Dad had a bicker with friends of his, they’d get on the cobbles and sort it out. That’s the way to do it.”
Well, we don’t have cobbles on Saturday night, but canvas is a solid substitute. The oddsmakers have Warrington installed as a 3-1 underdog, favoring Selby’s slickness and maturity at top level. It must be said, however, that this fight elicits a broad spectrum of opinion among experts. I’ve encountered those who think Warrington is completely out of his depth and others who give him an excellent chance of victory.
During our conversation, the unbeaten challenger came across as relaxed, but there was a quiet and visceral confidence whenever fight night was discussed.
“There’s certain things that we’ve seen over the years from studying Lee,” Warrington said. “Taking nothing away from him, he’s a world champion who’s made plenty of defenses, but he hasn’t looked the best in his last couple of performances. There’s also rumors that he struggles with weight and there’s been some inactivity. Add all that together with me in my prime and fitter than I’ve ever been.
“Lee’s cute if you give him time and distance and let him dictate the pace. That’s not to say that I’m going to run in there wailing my arms – you’ve got to be clever. If you jump in on straight lines, he’s going to make you pay. You’ve got to have a couple of different game plans in case something doesn’t work and we’ve accounted for that. I believe that everything we’ve worked on will be good enough to beat him.”
The fight and undercard will be aired live on BT Sport/ BoxNation from 7:30 p.m. local time.
Tom Gray is Associate Editor for THE RING. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing
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