Josh Warrington took years of hard work, plus help from his loyal fanbase and Leeds United, to become an ’overnight success’, explains Danny Flexen
Whatever happens between Josh Warrington and Kid Galahad on Saturday at Leeds’ First Direct Arena, it will be the 12th of the IBF featherweight champion’s last 16 contests to take place in his hometown. This stat tells you all you need to know about Warrington’s enviable status as local hero and his siginificant drawing power, a position that affords its inhabitant home advantage more often than not. But it hasn’t always been like this.
Before his English title defence against Jamie Speight back in March 2013, Warrington had fought on the road in all but one of his first 13 professional bouts, a perilous run that culminated in his beating Chris Male in Dudley, where the latter hails from, for the vacant national belt. Two fights at home followed before Josh stopped Hull’s Samir Mouniemne in his rival’s homwtown, for the vacant Commonwealth strap. Whatever perks Warrington enjoys now, he and father/trainer Sean O’Hagan certainly earned them the hard way.
Warrington made his pro debut aged just 18 and the future prolific ticket-seller attracted only around 70 mates from school. Given his amateur career passed by without wide coverage, Warrington combined the educational training sessions of his apprenticeship with regular visits to local pubs; not, as you might suspect, to take the edge off the struggle, but to sip soft drinks and build his profile, meeting new fans and potential sponsors while leaving flyers behind. All this while working as a dental technician and studying for qualifications in that field.
This significant hard graft was reflected in an intelligent yet attritional pressure-fighting style, and paid off as Warrington, managed by Steve Wood, was eventually able to quit the day job and enjoyed a raft of big hometown nights, buoyed by a mutually beneficial arrangement with his beloved Leeds United. He thrived, first under Matchroom then Frank Warren, becoming one of his first big signings after BT Sport significantly increased their involvement in boxing in 2017. Back-to-back wins as the underdog last year, first winning the IBF title from slick Lee Selby then retaining against the superb Carl Frampton, had many observers picking him as the Fighter of 2018.
Few observers will want to risk tipping against him again, especially not in fortress Leeds. Warrington is clearly a man who knows how to get what he wants.