Josh Warrington focused on Sofiane Takoucht, refuses to overlook unheralded underdog
You can still hear the dissatisfaction in his voice.
On June 15, the unbeaten Josh Warrington retained his IBF featherweight title for the second time by posting a 12-round split decision over Kid Galahad in his home city of Leeds, England. Unlike his two prior points wins – the title triumph over Lee Selby and a brilliant first defense against Carl Frampton – the Galahad bout was far from entertaining and, for many fans, too close for comfort.
“I’ve only watched it back once and once was enough,” Warrington (29-0, 6 knockouts) told The Ring. “I actually watched the majority of the fight with the sound off because your average fan can be swayed by commentary when rounds are close. For example, in the first round I’m landing a number of shots and nothing is being mentioned – all the focus is on what Galahad was doing.
“Watching it back confirmed my impression at the time. The fight was close until the championship rounds and that’s when I increased my work rate. Actually, it was from Round 9 onwards, when my dad gave me a hard time in the corner. I felt that I’d done enough by the end, and while hindsight is a wonderful thing, there was some things I could have done better.”
Warrington, who is rated No. 2 by The Ring at 126 pounds, is as ambitious as he is competitive. The 28-year-old titleholder was actually hoping for a unification bout last time out, but Galahad was nailed on as mandatory challenger. With that job complete, the expectations were for Warrington to face off against a rival titleholder, but it was not to be.
Patience is a necessity in boxing, inside and outside the ring, and Warrington will now make the third defense of his title against unheralded Frenchman Sofiane Takoucht (35-3-1, 13 KOs) at the First Direct Arena in Leeds on Saturday.
“I’m not going to build him up like he’s the next Floyd Mayweather or say that he’s the toughest man I’ve faced, but he’s the next man in line,” said Warrington, who is an overwhelming favorite to retain his title.
“I can’t take him lightly whatsoever, he’s a former European champion and a tough European fighter. If you wanted to know what a European fighter fights like, Takoucht would be your man. He’s southpaw, comes forward plodding, he knows the basics, throws singles and doubles and he’s bringing the pressure. He’s never been stopped, and he’s got more knockouts than me. He stepped up to the plate and took the fight as soon as it was offered.”
The schedule Warrington has been on over the last 18 months has been insane and no other featherweight titleholder can match it. Wins over Selby, Frampton and the perpetually underrated Galahad were career-defining and Warrington has the world at his feet.
How has he been able to motivate himself for an opponent who is being given almost no chance of victory?
“In the lead up to Selby, I fought Joel Brunker, Hisashi Amagasa, Patrick Hyland, Kiko Martinez and Dennis Ceylan and I was always odds on favorite,” recalled Warrington. “People would actually say, ‘Fuckin’ hell, this’ll be an easy fight for Josh!’ I would say, ‘Listen, it’s not a given, I’ve still got a man in the opposite corner.’
“Look at the Martinez fight. Everyone said he was finished, but he came tough that night. He had 10 to 11 weeks to prepare and I’d been out the ring for 11 months. I’d switched promoters and a bit of ring rust had kicked in. We got Martinez, which was a great fight for me at the time, and after I beat him (UD 12), he went on to win another European title and fight for a world title [Lost TKO 5 against Gary Russell Jr.].
If, as expected, Warrington does come through against Takoucht, then attention will inevitably turn to the unification fights that he so desperately craves. Will luck be on his side? The landscape has changed slightly, but “The Leeds Warrior” doesn’t sound too convinced.
“(Oscar) Valdez’s manager was saying that Valdez wanted to fight me or Frampton, then he decided to move up,” said Warrington with a sigh. “I was speaking to Richard Schaefer down in London, and he said (Leo) Santa Cruz has already got one foot in the super featherweight door. That left Gary Russell and he only comes out in springtime; he’s like daffodils. Russell has been talking on Twitter quite a bit and I’d throw my hand up for that one straight away.
“Shakur Stevenson is fighting (Joet) Gonzalez [for the vacant WBO title] and I think that one will go all the way. I think Shakur will use cute boxing, keep it at distance and try not to get drawn into a fight. He’ll just look to win the title, but does he defend that title straight away against me? That’s another question. I think they’ll want to build him into a big star in the States, so I don’t see that one coming anytime soon.”
If Warrington keeps winning, the big fights will come eventually, but staying focused on the job at hand is key. On Saturday, the amiable Englishman seeks an early and impressive victory that will give his loyal fan base something to cheer about.
The 12-round bout plus undercard will be broadcast live by BT Sport in the U.K. and ESPN+ in the U.S.
Tom Gray is Associate Editor for The Ring. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing