Exclusive Q&A: Josh Warrington reflects on his defeat to Mauricio Lara, discusses the future
It might already be the Upset of 2021 and Leeds warrior Josh Warrington is facing up to a very different future than he was expecting this time last week.
The previously undefeated former IBF featherweight titleholder was upset by unheralded Mexican Mauricio Lara in Wembley Arena on Saturday night and after a hospital visit for scans and checks he travelled home to be with his wife and twin daughters.
Nursing a battered shoulder, a perforated ear drum and a jaw fracture, Warrington was all class as he looked back on the night it all went wrong.
The Ring: People said you didn’t look yourself from the off, did you feel ‘normal’ on the night?
Josh Warrington: “I don’t know. It was different circumstances to be in the ring. The changing room was in a dampener with Reece Mould and his fight going the way it did (Warrington sparring partner Mould lost to Leigh Wood). Obviously people like to do things a certain way and I’ve got a set routine I like to follow up on prior to fight week and on fight week. We were there in the bubble… Matchroom did a very, very good job. They were welcoming, hospitality was fantastic, but I like to do my own thing. I like to be around my family and have home comforts. It meant I was thinking about the fight a lot more than I normally would. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve said in the past that people shouldn’t switch off, but maybe it’s one of them where you distract yourself with other things and the fight is always sat there subconsciously rather than you just [being] sat there in the room constantly working yourself up for four days solid. By the time it came to fight day, it felt like it was fight day, but I didn’t feel as pumped up as I normally do. Now, that could have been because of the opponent that was in front of me, but I still knew I had a job to do. Just walking to the ring I was relaxed, probably the most relaxed I’ve ever been, but I think I was missing that bit of adrenaline rush that normally comes.”
The Ring: When you tried to get yourself up for it, it looked more forced. When you have that Leeds crowd there it seems so organic. It looked like you were really trying to get into that same mindset while in foreign circumstances.
JW: “You’re probably right, Tris. Like you say, with a crowd you probably can’t help but get worked up and have a bit of an adrenaline rush because you’ve got people who are there who’ve paid their hard-earned money and you know they’re there to support, but with the crowd not being there it was a little bit more difficult to do so. But I thought that might be to my advantage, I thought I might box a little bit smarter and not rush in because of the crowd and the adrenaline but maybe that adrenaline gives you that bit of sharpness. I think it does. In the first round I was looking and taking my time, but then I got drawn in. That could have been because I’d had 15 or 16 months out, I don’t know, but I got drawn into it. He caught me quite early on with a couple of good shots and it seemed to have a bit of an effect on me, so I was wary from then on. I don’t think I ever recovered from that first round.”
The Ring: When did you first feel that you were in trouble?
JW: “The first round I knew, I knew I’d mixed it up too much with him. I’m not saying I was cold because I had a good warm up, but there was a good length of time between me warming up and walking to the ring. I’m not saying it’s down to that, but I could say missing the adrenaline normally coursing through your veins in that first round [cost me]. I was a little bit relaxed – should I say, I can’t find the word that would put a bracket over it – but when I got tagged in that first round I thought, ‘Fucking hell. This geezer’s got a bit about him.’ Let me be more clever and a bit smarter, but every time from then onwards when he came forward with his attack, I felt he had weight in his punches and I obviously thought that in the fourth round as well. I didn’t feel genuinely hurt, I just felt that if he catches me I’m going to know about it. I never went back to the corner and thought, ‘Bloody hell, what round is it? I’ve got a mountain to climb.’ I never thought anything like that. I take every round as it comes and take every three minutes as it is. That’s what my thinking was. Even going to the round when he knocked me out, I thought, “I’m going to come on strong, really go through the gears now and go for it.’ Maybe I should have done that sooner, but I thought, foot on the gas, look for an opportunity, if it’s there I’ll take it, and really take these last four rounds on the scorecards.”
The Ring: Have you watched it back?
JW: “Yes, I’ve seen it back. I was just flat. Flat. Normally I’m sharper. My awareness is there. It’s like I’m sparring a kid who’s a level below me and I know it.”
The Ring: I suppose that’s the word, more flat than relaxed?
JW: “Probably so. It’s like I’m sparring a kid who I know is a level below me and it’s like I’m cautious that I could get hit but I’m not bothered. Normally I’d think, ‘I’m not letting this guy tag me,’ but [with] this kid it was like if I moved off punches… normally I punch and I get out straight away. I was coming out half-arsed, slow, there was no head movement whatsoever, no little dipping, slips. If he tagged me it was [going to be] alright, but it wasn’t okay. It wasn’t okay to be tagged like that. Normally I’m edgy and there are little dips, feints, everything’s [moving at once], but it just wasn’t there.”
The Ring: Do you think the fight should have been stopped in the fourth round or after the fourth round?
JW: “Where I was, Tris, in my shoes, I felt okay. I’d probably say that when I got put down in the ninth I was worse than I was in the fourth. I looked at Howard and said, ‘Howard, I’m getting up’ and he said, ‘You’re not getting up, I’m stopping it.’ When I got back on my feet in the fourth, I was still on shaky legs, but I had my awareness about me. I knew where I was. I knew that if I’d got hit clean I’d have gone over. This is world-level boxing and you’ve got to be allowed the opportunity to keep on going and I got given that opportunity, I got through that round. I felt like I recovered in between rounds. I would say from the end of Round 4 my head was a little cloudy, but by the start of Round 5 I was back into it. And that’s how I was able to go on.”
The Ring: Do you remember it, from Round 4 onwards?
JW: “Yes, I remember five, six, seven, eight… Yes. I remember all of them, pretty much, and I thought I was coming back into it, I thought I was having some good success. I knew if he got me again I’d probably feel a bit dizzy because it was as though my punch resistance had gone after the fourth. So I knew that if he catches me clean then I’m going to know about it. His punch power is such that he never seems to dip, he just seems to get stronger. That’s probably down to my punch resistance going, but when he hit me in the ninth, it didn’t hurt me physically. That’s probably testament to my fitness and my chin. He didn’t hurt me. It was a case of I wanted to get up and Howard said no more.”
The Ring: Do you think you’ll fight at featherweight again?
JW: “We will see. My dad [trainer Sean O’Hagan] thinks I should look to potentially move up. I don’t think I had a real problem making the weight. All through camp I’ve sparred heavier lads. I’ve been sparring welters and there’ve been times when I’ve shipped some punches. There are a few things, maybe I’ll go back to the gym and work on my defense, but if he thinks the weight is something as well, then I’ll step up.”
The Ring: Lara seems to be one of those guys with an unusual style, it’s so wrong that it’s right. What are your thoughts?
JW: “Definitely. I shouldn’t say it but I’d been laughing and joking with Eddie [Hearn] about how simple the fight was going to be before the fight. It was one of those that was unorthodox, coming forward in that motion that he does, that’s what was catching me. I was stepping out of range and the only person who’s really got me like that was [Hisashi] Amagasa and that’s because he was freakishly tall. Lara was the same height as me and when he was jumping forward with those hooks, he was catching me right on the end of those punches. I thought I was out of range but I was walking onto the end of his punches every single time and that doubled his punch power.”
The Ring: In your career, you’d been unbeaten, Ring No. 1, packed crowds, looking for these big fights, unification… Now you’ve relinquished the title, got your first loss, you’ve been on the deck and it was in an empty arena. Are you thinking about what might have been?
JW: “It’s life. There’s nothing else I can do about it. It might hit me in a week’s time when I have a real comedown, I don’t know. I knew over the last few weeks that my belt had gone. I knew that the purse should have been for Headingly [Stadium], in front of 25,000, would have been a lot greater than fighting Mauricio Lara behind closed doors. I knew the dangling carrot was that if I got through that one, they’d probably announce a [Can] Xu fight for later in the year. I knew all this stuff, but I haven’t had time to reflect on what happens now. It’s the way the sport goes. I’ve had it hard but the pandemic has made life harder for a lot of people. I can complain about it in a selfish way and say I should have been fighting for a Ring Magazine belt instead of fighting this guy. I’d done everything I’d needed to do to get my opportunity, I should have been fighting for big money as well, but in the same breath I’ve been able to box, things got moved and I’m still healthy and living.”
The Ring: Do you want to fight Lara again? There’s been talk of rematch clauses.
JW: “I’d like to. I’d like to for my own peace of mind because I feel like there’s no point going forwards if I can’t deal with that guy. Put it down to an off night, whatever, then come back in. This guy had an opportunity. He boxed four times last year. I didn’t box once. Alright, we had the same amount of time building up to it, I understand that, but he was always coming forwards with his style. I was coming into the fight more or less focused on Can Xu, we tried our best to change it round to what we had to go through, but I was still kind of set in my ways for a fight with Can Xu. There were times I should have been boxing and I was just standing and trading which is probably not the right thing to do with someone as wild as that. Listen, I’d love to have the rematch to close that chapter for me, put it down as a bad night and move forward. I think that’s what a real champion would do, but we’ll have to see what happens.”
The Ring: A minority of people have suggested retirement. Is that an option?
JW: “No, not so far. At one point this week I thought, ‘I’ll probably set my stall out for winning that Ring Magazine belt, because I’m so close to it, get that fight with Gary Russell…’ And these are fights, I’m not saying they’re a given, but when my back is against the wall, like it was against Selby and Frampton, it brings something out of me. I was saying it all last week, ‘I hate fights like this.’ I hate fights where people say you just have to turn up and do the business. You don’t have that same pressure it gives you. It’s a pressure in a different way, that it’s a given. I would rather have a 50-50 fight against a Xu, against Gary Russell, and I set my stall out thinking four fights and then I’d consider retirement if a big fight’s not out there, because I have done so much. It has been a long career. Even though it’s not been a long career at the very top, I’ve gone through it on a long, hard road; from British, Commonwealth, European, International and now three world title fights. It has been a long career, so retirement’s not there immediately but I know it could be only another two years before I call it a day.”
The Ring: Are you in pain today?
JW: “My shoulder’s in agony. I’ve got a bit of a slur because my lips fat and my mouth’s so swollen, but I’m not slurring [for any other reason]. Apart from aches and pains I’m okay. I’m okay.”