Thursday, June 01, 2023  |


Josh Warrington targets dream fight with Leo Santa Cruz in America and reflects on Kiko Martinez win

Photo by Mark Robinson/ Matchroom Boxing
Fighters Network

Newly-minted IBF featherweight champion Josh Warrington is recovering after his stunning seventh round win over Spanish puncher Kiko Martinez last weekend.

The popular Leeds warrior caught up with Tris Dixon to reflect on a big night and look ahead to what and who might be next.

It’s the Friday after the fight and you’ve been to the hospital today for damage to your hand and not the broken jaw?

JW: Yes, I damaged it during the fight but it’s part and parcel of the sport.

How’s the pain with the jaw?

JW: It’s not great to be fair, it’s the first time I’ve suffered with anything like this and had a broken jaw so it’s never going to be comfortable but it will heal.

When did it happen, did you feel it go in the fight?

JW: Well, I didn’t really feel like I’d been caught that clean. He caught me in the first round after the bell, when [referee] Marcus McDonnell split us up, but I didn’t really notice it but he threw that big right hand over the top in round seven and it caught me round the side of the guard. It didn’t really shake me to my boots, but I felt when it landed it did some damage – so probably then. I had a feeling on my face that I’d never felt before and I thought I was going to get instant swelling. It felt different and then I got a surge of adrenaline and after that I managed to catch him with a good right hook and that’s when I went for the finish.

We’ve started talking about the negatives, what a night for you… You came flying out of the gates

JW: A lot of people said it was like the Josh Warrington of old, the same kind of start I had against Carl Frampton. When I fight these little guys, I start at a rapid pace! I think that’s what I needed. I was very confident with how the build-up went, with our back against the wall. A lot of people thought I might have had my day, too many tough fights and how much the Lara fight had taken out of me and I think I proved them all wrong. I seem to thrive when my back is against the wall.

You started at a fast pace and after three or four you were motoring. You clearly had faith in your engine to go hard for 12 rounds…

JW: I had a feeling that it wasn’t going to go 12. I was prepared to go 12 and I’d prepared in the gym for 12 and my mindset was prepared for 12 but I also had a feeling it wasn’t going to go 12. I think people could see from how I was punching in the first few rounds… Even myself, after the first round or so I thought, ‘There’s no way he’s going to be able to take these for 12.’ I’ve trained at a hard intensity since the Lara rematch and I’m strong, I’m reaching the peak years of my career and I couldn’t seem to miss him in the first few rounds so I knew it wasn’t going to go the full 12 and it was only a matter of time.

How much confidence did you get from your early success, including putting him down in the first round?

JW: It was one of them where after round one or two I thought it was going to be a matter of time. I thought he might show more signs of wear and tear because some of those shots were landing hard and I was expecting to see bumps on his head right away but they didn’t come out until the end. I just had to adjust in round five because I started to cuff the shots rather than landing with the knuckle part but once I got back to that the shots were clean again and no way was he able to take 12 rounds of that. I’m not being cocky but I know I can punch and I was landing clean as well and it doesn’t matter how tough you are, you can’t keep getting beat like that.

You also had to be mindful of what he did to Kid Galahad. He was losing that and one shot changed everything…

JW: Most definitely. In round seven, when I watched it back, I thought I didn’t have my hands low but he managed to get round the side and he is very good at how he brings that shot over. He makes the room and gets full momentum and power into it. He’s got a lot of weight behind his punches so I’ve got to be switched on and I kept telling myself as I got up for each round, ‘Don’t let him knock you out. Don’t let him get you with that big shot.’ Someone like him is dangerous from the first round to the last.

You’ve obviously had some magical nights now, where does that one rank, the fans, the atmosphere, and being back on top?

JW: It’s certainly up there. It’s hard to put it in comparison to like the Selby fight at Elland Road, it was a different kind of scenario with being written off and being a massive underdog, but again it’s kind of similar, I was written off in a different way… ‘Is he finished? Is he done?’ It was my 11th time at the Arena, the atmosphere was absolutely bouncing, people were so excited to be back there so it’s up there with the best nights of my career. It was a little diluted afterwards, having to go to hospital, with my phone blowing up at 2.30-3am and people messaging to meet them for a drink and asking where I was, but it was me, my manager Steve Wood and wife Natasha waiting at Leeds infirmary to go in and be operated on. I was asking, ‘Did I win tonight? How come I’m here?’ But when I’m healed and the new belt is here it’ll probably hit home again.

So what happens next?

JW: Initially, after the fight I thought I’d be out again in June and maybe Christmas-time but it might be only two times this year. We’ll see. I wouldn’t mind being busy. Over the last two years with the pandemic and then the gaps between the Lara fights it’s taken it’s time but momentum is a powerful tool. If you look at my stablemate Maxi Hughes, he’s out regularly and I feel if I can get out sooner rather than later, that’s fantastic. We have to wait for the injuries to heal and then we’ll go from there.

How long until you can spar again?

JW: They say minimum six weeks, so I’d probably say two months. Normally I’d be in the gym, maintaining myself and keeping myself sharp but I’m going to have to rest and recuperate.

Are you still on a liquid diet until the jaw works properly again?

JW: I’m actually in a café now and my wife is explaining to the staff that I need things blended up. On Saturday, after I weighed in and left for the venue I left the hotel just under 10st and I got weighed yesterday and I was 9st 8, so I’ve lost half a stone in five days of a liquid diet. Normally I’d put on a stone or stone and half (14-20lbs) eating out and having four or five meals a day and having snacks when I want. I start to be a bit of a disgrace but I’ve not had the opportunity to do that! Everything’s been water and three or four meals of blended food.

Who is next?

JW: Obviously there’s options. There’s Lara, there’s Leigh Wood but someone I want more than anybody is Santa Cruz. He’s announced he’s staying at featherweight. I know Leigh Wood wants that fight but I was here first. I know I lost my belt but I vacated it to facilitate these fights and Santa Cruz was a champion when I was champion four years ago, so I’d like to think I could push in front and go to the States. How long have I been saying I want to do that? How long have my supporters wanted to go to the States? I’d love to do that. I’d love to go and fight Santa Cruz over there. I think it’s a fantastic fight, our styles would gel well and beat him and I’d promise Leigh Wood the first defense of the title.

You have always wanted your fans to have that trip to the Las Vegas Strip…

JW: Most definitely. I was over there five years ago when Santa Cruz boxed Carl [Frampton] in the rematch and I people would have laughed at me but I thought, ‘This could be me. It could be me eventually.’ Eddie Hearn has massive power in America, Santa Cruz is at a stage where he wants big names and big fights, why don’t we make it happen? No disrespect to Leigh Wood, but when I became world champion, he was just looking for opportunities and he took the opportunity when it came with Xu Can but I think I’ve earned the chance of a big fight over there.

And as you mentioned, your stablemate Maxi Hughes is riding the crest of a wave…

JW: Yes, it’s inspiring. A few years ago, he was done and dusted and all he wanted to do was win a British title but he’s gone above and beyond that and it’s fantastic to see.