It’s taken a while for Josh Warrington’s demeanor to change. The lovable rogue, the likeable Leeds ticket-seller, the world class featherweight known as one of the sport’s easy-going good guys now has cause to lace his words with malice.
An old rival says they have personal business to address. Three years on, Josh is still waiting for the unification fights he wanted and the big US glamour date his legions of supporters craved. Perhaps more than that, he wants respect. Warrington wants respect for the big wins he’s had, old and new, and not to be judged by the one performance that marks the only blemish of his 31-1-1 (8) record, a loss to Mauricio Lara in February 2021.
Lara has gone on to become a force at world level, Warrington feels like he has gone to the back of the queue, despite recapturing the IBF featherweight title and even though he tried to settle the score with Lara in a fight that ended unsatisfactorily, following a second round headclash that saw the Mexican unable to continue.
Warrington then defeated Kiko Martinez for the IBF crown and on December 10 meets Mexican Luis Alberto Lopez at the First Direct Arena in Leeds.
“It’s good to have a fight coming up,” Warrington admitted. “Without a fight coming up, we’re a bit all over the place, so it’s good to have a focus.”
What does he know about the 26-2 29-year-old Lopez?
“It’s always a bit in the dark when you’re fighting someone people don’t know much about,” the Leeds warrior continued. “He’s a hungry young fighter, confident and full of himself thinking he’s going to come along, spoil the party and take the belt and I’ve got to make sure I’m switched on for the job. I’m confident in myself. I don’t think he’s mixed in the same calibre I’ve done, but then again, I’ve said that before when I fought Lara, so…”
After the Lara upset in their first outing, Warrington admitted he had overlooked his unheralded challenger. There had been talk of superfights, unifications, his fans taking over Las Vegas, but when the pandemic hit, he fought Lara behind closed doors following press week in a bubble.
“A hundred percent,” Warrington agreed, of his failure to get himself properly motivated for that fight. “Maybe I’ve been guilty of looking passed Lara, but in my argument and my defense so many plans were laid out for bigger fights with Xu [Can] and the Ring magazine belt and I just took my eye off the ball, and it’s the first time in 12, 13 years as a pro I’ve done that. I’ve never switched off, [but] sub-consciously I did, without even realizing it. Just being in the bubble, being blasé about him and my attitude towards him and I paid the price for it. It was a hard lesson learned, but in the rematch, I tried to bounce back. That didn’t happen, and for whatever reason with the cut and whatnot, but I feel like I’ve come out with a win over Kiko [Martinez] and my momentum is back.”
Martinez rebounded with a recent win over Jordan Gill for the European title and the ageless Spaniard looked superb; a sentiment Warrington agrees with.
“Give respect to Kiko, what a great fighter he is, but give some respect to my name as well,” Warrington explained. “No disrespect to Jordan Gill, but I thought he was getting a bit giddy on a few interviews I’d seen, with his chum Leigh Wood. People forget what level I got to back in 2018-2019. It’s like I beat everyone who was put in front of me comfortably, Selby, Frampton, Galahad and Takoucht and I was calling out the likes of Shakur Stevenson and Gary Russell Jr and I had everyone on my back. Then the pandemic hit and I’ve had one off night and that’s it. People all of a sudden forget my level.”
There’s plenty of speculation that Warrington could meet the aforementioned Wood, but Warrington is looking at bigger fights on grander stages.
Is Wood, however, a logical next step?
“Yeah and no, because in my argument how many times am I going to be here,” Warrington considered. “I get through Leigh Wood, and then there’s another domestic fighter. ‘Oh, here’s Nick Ball, he’s had a good win, maybe he [Warrington] needs to fight him before he goes to the States.’ How many fights do I have to go through before I get my chance to fight another champion? There’s a lot of fighters who have done a lot less than me and had the opportunity to go to America, or fight another one of the world champions and have a unification fight. How many times have I got to do it?”
Wood-Warrington is a big UK contest, though, but Warrington’s ambition shines through. He wants his opportunity in Vegas and he still talks Navarrete and Santa Cruz.
“Alright, I vacated the belt and I lost to Lara, that didn’t do me any favours, but I’ve won it back,” Josh went on. “In the meantime, Leigh Wood beat Xu, credit there, but he had a life or death against Michael Conlan and all of a sudden that’s the next logical fight for me when I think and I still believe there are other options available. I know Navarrete is talking about moving up, but if he doesn’t he’s there… Rey Vargas… if Santa Cruz is up for fighting Leigh Wood, why can’t he fight me? When I was champion in 2018 he was one of the champions alongside Gary Russell and Oscar Valdez and he’s still there now, so let me have a go with one of these guys and if I’m not good enough to become a unified champion I’ll stay on the domestic scene and fight whoever, but I don’t know what else I need to do.”
Warrington’s frustration is also on show when discussing old rival Lara. The Mexican puncher recently said their beef was personal, and while Warrington is not averse to settling their score once and forever, he feels the language barrier has caused issues between the teams.
“I’d love to put it to bed,” the Leeds man said of their feud. “He keeps saying I disrespected his dad or whatever and I think he’s got crossed wires in that department because he thinks I said something bad about his dad when I was referring to my own dad [in jest, who also trains Josh] but if he’s making something out of it…. He’s obviously the only man who’s beaten me and took me to a draw and I’d like to put that to bed. He keeps going on about it, that he knocked me out, but being switched on [as opposed to how Warrington was when they first fought], it doesn’t some close. I think in the second fight he was happy to get out of there. Lee Selby had a cut twice the size of Lara’s and he was able to go 12 rounds. Lara got a little cut and he couldn’t complain enough to the referee about wanting to get out of there. I’m sick of people saying, ‘He’s got your number’ or ‘You don’t have to fight these Mexicans’ like because you come from Mexico you automatically have the beating of a British fighter, I don’t believe that whatsoever. I’d love to fight him again to put that one to bed for myself and those that watch me.”