Josh Warrington reflects on Lee Selby triumph: ‘It will be hard to top that’
Never underestimate the element of surprise.
On Saturday night, at Elland Road stadium (home of English soccer team Leeds United), local hero Josh Warrington surprised Lee Selby by scoring a 12-round split decision to claim his IBF featherweight title. The oddsmakers were surprised. The majority of the media were surprised. Fight fans around the world were surprised.
However, Warrington, who was rated No. 9 at 126 pounds coming in, expected to win the biggest fight of his life. He was not surprised in the slightest. For years, the 27-year-old pressure-fighter and his team have studied Selby and meticulously devised a battle plan. They noticed flaws they could exploit. They noticed Selby was struggling to make weight. They noticed a dip in the Welshman’s form. No, there were no surprises when Warrington heard the immortal words – “and the new!”
But were there any surprises during the fight itself?
“I thought Lee would be a lot sharper with his punches and a bit more difficult to read,” offered Warrington, who improved to 27-0 (6 knockouts) following his first world title bout.
“At no point was I hurt in that fight. After the first round, I told my (dad) that there was nothing there to trouble me. I didn’t rate Lee as a big puncher anyway. Even in the late rounds, when he was putting everything into his work and catching me clean, I never felt that I had to respect his power.
“But there was a point where I thought I was going to knock him out. I thought, one more good right hand and a barrage of punches might finish it. But I got carried away; overreached or put too much into a punch and he managed to escape. I think Lee was surprised with the shots that I got through with.”
Yes, Selby, who suffered lacerations around both eyes from head clashes, was very surprised with how this fight played out. However, when the bell rang to end the contest, there was another surprise. Most onlookers had Warrington comfortably in front and the result looked like a formality, then the ring announcer informed the crowd that it was a split decision.
“How did you have it?” Warrington asked. I informed the new titleholder that my score was 116-112 in his favor. “Yeah, I thought I won pretty comfortably, by about four or five rounds,” he replied. “I’ll watch it again and try and see the fight from Lee’s side and look for the good work he did. When the bell rang, I raised my hands because I believed I won the fight. My team got in and we were celebrating before the decision. They told me I’d won by a country mile.
“But when you hear the words split decision, you instantly think of all the fighters who have been ripped off down the years. You think, maybe this is going to happen to me and it’ll spoil the whole night. You ask yourself, ‘How am I going to respond to this?’ When they read the second card, I thought I’ve got it or it’s a draw. I said to myself, ‘Surely, they can’t give this to Lee’”
They didn’t and Warrington collapsed to his knees in ecstasy when he was officially declared champion. The Leeds man may have expected to win, but this victory was the culmination of an eight-year professional journey – and that’s just the paid part. Warrington has worked extremely hard, winning British, Commonwealth and European titles before securing his place as No. 1 challenger. There were no shortcuts and he was granted no favors.
“It was a lifetime’s work – blood, sweat and tears,” said Warrington with a mixture of excitement and pride in his voice. “There was sacrifice, dedication, setbacks and a lot of doubters – but we did it.
“To win a world title is one thing, but to do it at Elland Road was special. I went down to watch Leeds United for so many years as a young lad and dreamed of playing there. I wasn’t good enough, but to be able to fight there in front of thousands of fans was incredible. To see everyone chanting my name and wearing fight poster t-shirts – it was just surreal. It was a hell of an experience and it will be hard to top that.”
As always, fans and media want more – and they want it now. Former two-weight world champion Carl Frampton is eager to establish his own soccer-based fortress at Windsor Park (home of the Northern Ireland team) in Belfast, and he would love nothing more than for Warrington to be his dance partner. The super-popular Frampton is locked in to fight at Windsor Park on August 18, but scheduling will probably remove the new IBF titleholder from the equation.
“To be honest, I just want to enjoy the victory,” said Warrington following a short pause. “The big fights are attractive; the likes of Carl Frampton and the other great fighters in this division. I said in interviews that I wanted to beat Lee, move on to other big fights and potentially go to America. People just laughed at me and said I was being stupid.”
There’s nothing stupid about Josh Warrington, who should be applauded for overcoming the odds, the majority of so-called experts and a world-class opponent.
Tom Gray is Associate Editor for THE RING. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing
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