In a massive upset on Matchroom’s first show of 2021, Josh Warrington loses for the first time after 3o straight wins, as unsung Mauricio Lara stops him at Wembley
Eddie Hearn and Matchroom Boxing staged their first show of 2021, at Wembley Arena, and, in the main event, undefeated former IBF featherweight champion Josh Warrington fought for the first time since October 2019. His opposite number, game but seemingly average Mexican Mauricio Lara, was a disappointment for a Sky Sports main event, something selected observers justified by citing Warrington’s inactivity and a hopeful marquee fight for the Leeds hero in April or May. As it turned out, this was anything but a walk in the park for Warrington, 30-0 going in, who shockingly suffered the first defeat of his career at the devastating fists of his unsung opponent.
Lara was aggressive and strong but open and the more cultured, sensible Warrington took his time, connecting upstairs and down without getting greedy. Warrington took his opponent’s measure, presumably taking off his own ring rust at the same time, but was uncharacteristically reticent early on. By his usual high-intensity standards, the Leeds man was laboured, able to land seemingly at will, yet boxing within himself at times.
Things got much worse for the home favourite in the fourth as Warrington was heavily dumped to the canvas, thanks to a left hook bang on the chin, rose on unsteady legs and was nearly stopped during the follow-up assault. If the situations had been reversed, Lara would likely have been ‘rescued’, in my view. The fifth saw Lara pour it on as Warrington tried to clear the cobwebs and get his boxing back together.
Josh came back into the contest but still looked fragile and tentative against a confident and heavy-handed adversary who was determined to rip up the script. In the eighth Warrington broke through with a stinging combination but walked right into a brutal left hook that had him retreating once again. He could not afford to take the usual risks. In the ninth yet another potent left hook caused Warrington to stumble, before Lara landed several more of the same punch to floor the Brit and referee Howard Foster, this time, waved off proceedings immediately. Warrington was attended to by medics in the ring and was soon able to sit up.
The vacant British featherweight title fight between Nottingham’s more experienced Commonwealth king Leigh Wood and unbeaten but largely untested Reece Mould of Doncaster always looked the fight of the night on paper, and it turned out to be first or second. Wood had been outscored by eventual MTK Golden Contract champion Jazza Dickens in that tournament’s semi-final almost a year ago and subsequently linked up with new trainer Ben Davison, while Mould, trained alongside Warrington by the latter’s father Sean O’Hagan, entered as English champ but hadn’t fought for 16 months.
Mould came forward behind a compact guard, employing a stiff jab and good head movement. Wood took his time, probing with a long left. Leigh increased his workrate from round two, giving ground but whipping in sharp shots from both hands. Mould endured a nightmare fourth as a Wood combination stiffened his legs along the ropes and bloodied his nose then another, topped off by a right uppercut, dropped the younger man. Reece recovered well in the next, re-establishing his jab, and I had Wood only a point up at the halfway point.
Mould was depleted however and Wood, more measured, picked his shots well as the Yorkshireman faded, moving his head less and advancing more recklessly. A huge left hook, over his opponent’s straight right to the chest, decked Mould in the ninth and a fast follow-up barraged quite rightly triggered the stoppage.
There appeared to be intelligent matchmaking at play as Manchester’s rising super-featherweight Zelfa Barrett took on faded and much smaller former world champion Kiko Martinez. The Spanish veteran had experience and name value, having been a regular visitor to these shores for around a decade, but looked under-sized at 126lbs, never mind this division. Barrett is fresh, fast and rangy, with genuine power, particularly in the left hand. At this stage of their respective careers, Martinez looked ‘a good name to get on the record’ of Barrett, but this was the pleasant surprise of the night, and the best action.
Martinez certainly came out swinging despite the 34-year-old being significantly shorter and carrying a noticeable paunch. He even stunned Barrett with a right hand in the second session and landed a nice barrage in the following stanza. Early on, looks were deceiving as Kiko harried the younger man around the ring, letting both fists fly and having Barrett in discomfort. Martinez appeared to boast a handy lead at midway. He cut the space down quickly, unloaded with volume and managed to avoid Barrett’s hardest counters, some of which were telegraphed. Barrett closed the deficit down the stretch as the older fighter tired, landing snappy shots when he was afforded some breathing space, but Martinez appeared to have done enough. The scores were 118-111 (twice) and 116-113, all in favour of… Barrett. Oh dear.
Piping-hot super-lightweight prospect Dalton Smith ‘stepped up’ to 10 rounds for the first time in his seventh fight, but the match with late-notice sub Ishmael Ellis, a natural lightweight who replaced Lee Appleyard, never looked like going the full course. Sheffield’s Smith, a former GB amateur, is good enough to be fast-tracked and proved ruthlessly efficient against the Birmingham man, who looked apprehensive from the opening bell. Dalton was controlled but explosive when necessary, using smart footwork to manoeuvre his overmatched rival into range for his big shots. The corner retired Ellis after three one-sided and, for the vanquished party, painful sessions.