Josh Warrington vies for redemption after year of heartbreak

Kiko Martinez and Josh Warrington fight this weekend

Josh Warrington had a very bad year in the boxing business in 2021.

Warrington started 2021 as the IBF featherweight champion, he relinquished the title to secure a massive fight and that collapsed when he lost his unbeaten record last February. It is cruel this boxing game.

Warrington was dropped, stopped and hurt by Mexico’s Mauricio Lara in nine awful rounds, behind closed doors last February; it was a shocking loss, a loss nobody was prepared for. And it hurt.

Last September, after Warrington had healed, 25,000 packed Headingley Rugby League Stadium to watch the rematch with Lara; it was a tense affair, it was personal and it finished in frustration when Lara was cut above the left eye and the fight stopped. It was called a technical draw after just two completed rounds and nobody left the ring happy.

Two fights, a bad year and then it improved with news in late December that he would get a chance to win back his old title. A third fight with Lara was put on hold and a fight against his old opponent, Kiko Martinez, in Leeds on Saturday was arranged. It was a brilliant move, a vintage piece of boxing promotion. The unfinished business with Lara can wait and if Warrington wins, that fight is enormous.

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Martinez had won the title with an equally shocking knock out of Kid Galahad in six rounds last November. There was no talk of a Galahad rematch and Warrington became the obvious and the best-paid fight available for the new champion. Martinez is a genuine marvel in the old game, a veteran now of 55 fights, a loser of ten and world champion again. He is, arguably, Spain’s greatest ever fighter.

He is also, even at 36, a risk – Galahad was coasting before a single punch left him out cold and flat on his back after just six seconds of the sixth round.

“I know exactly what Kiko is capable of,” said Warrington. “I shared the ring with him for 12 rounds – I know how hard he hits.”

Warrington narrowly beat Martinez in 2017, winning by four rounds on two scorecards and the third official scored it a draw. A few months later, Warrington defied the odds to beat Lee Selby for the IBF featherweight title outdoors at Elland Road on a magical night of drama and blood.

Warrington has now won 30 of his 32 fights, a 31-year-old veteran who started his boxing days on the forgotten circuit of small hall and dinner shows. He might just be the last of a breed, a world champion and fighter from the darkest of the sport’s shadows.

It will be another night of raw drama in his hometown for Warrington. He is a passionate Leeds United fan, the boy from the terraces with a fanatical following and they will be there. The Arena will be packed – it would have sold 35,000 outdoors if the weather was better. Still, a stadium fight is there if Warrington wins.

Kiko Martinez produced a stunning upset against Kid Galahad to clinch the world title

And Kiko, as Martinez is affectionately known, will not be bothered by 10,000 fans breathing down his neck as he walks to the ring.

“Kiko is fearless,” said Belfast’s Carl Frampton. “I think he gets motivation when the crowd is against him.” And the crowd has been against him, make no mistake.

Martinez lost his first world title to Frampton outdoors in Belfast in front of nearly 20,000 in 2014. It was a hard, hard twelve rounds and Frampton was brilliant, but it was never easy. Also, that was a rematch – Carl had stopped Martinez in their first fight.

“It’s never easy with Kiko – never,” added Frampton. And Frampton knows about hard fights; in late 2018, Warrington narrowly beat him in a world title defence.

On Saturday night, Warrington will need the best performance of his career and he knows it. He is older, he is smarter and he will need all his experience. He needs to be clever against a man who forces his opponents to make stupid mistakes.

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“It’s a tough fight – all fights at this level are tough fights,” said Warrington. “He needs just one punch and it could be all over. He can never be taken for granted. Never.”

It is a real fight with a lot of pressure and a lot of glory. Warrington can box clever and get his title back for the type of win that fans will tell their grandchildren about.

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