Steve Wood, manager of IBF featherweight champion Josh Warrington, explains why they will not be defending against Shakur Stevenson, even if kept waiting for a unification bout
Josh Warrington has been there himself, on both sides of the equation. The IBF featherweight titlist was once desperate to become a world champion and had to work his way into the mandatory position, before securing his shot against Lee Selby. More recently, last month in fact, he was forced to defend against mandatory challenger Kid Galahad in what transpired as a messy, contentious scrap in which the Leeds hero had little to gain and everything to lose. So when unbeaten American contender Shakur Stevenson, via Twitter, suggested he face Josh in England in December, Warrington gave short shrift to a man who has yet to do as he and Galahad both did, and place himself as an avoidable obstacle.
“It was like anything else,” Warrington’s manager Steve Wood reflects. “Josh is a world champion like Lee Selby was a world champion. Josh was chasing him and this kid’s doing the same, he’s seen that Josh is a world champion and he’d like to be one.
“He doesn’t bring anything to the table for us apart from a hard fight and nothing to gain. Josh is right [to say] if he’s a world champion it changes things, but as just a defence it doesn’t make any sense. I think Stevenson will be a world champion soon. He’s a threat and we’ve nothing to gain.”
Warrington’s focus remains, as it was before outscoring Galahad over 12 drab rounds, on unification fights with rival champions Leo Santa Cruz (WBA), Gary Russell Jr (WBC) and Oscar Valdez (WBO). Wood and promoter Frank Warren are doing all they can to make those potential battles a reality but, as the weeks pass and fight dates get taken, it looks decreasingly likely one of these will happen next. As Wood points out, however, if a unification showdown is going to be in two fights’ time, it would not be judicious to present Warrington with an arduous task in the interim.
“It is frustrating and I know Frank Warren is doing his best, but we’re getting blocked at each port,” Wood conceded. “We’ve not give up but it’s proving very difficult. It’s frustrating for me and annoying for Josh, as he’s cleaned up over here, beating Selby, Carl Frampton and Galahad. His big fight is a unification fight so whatever we do while waiting would be a marking-time fight from our point of view. Josh is getting to the latter stages of his career now and while we’ve got the momentum we want the unification fights now. If we are gonna have a unification fight in the next-but-one, we’ve got to prepare and I don’t want him in a world war immediately before that.
“Our first choice is Santa Cruz as he’s rated No. 1 in The Ring and we’re number 2; they’ve said that if they meet, it would be for the Ring belt. It’s something Warren’s tried to make: Al Haymon is his advisor, Richard Schaefer his promoter. I spoke to Schaefer myself on Saturday and the interest is just not there. With Top Rank, we’re trying to get Valdez and it doesn’t seem like he wants it; he’s targeting Frampton who Josh has beaten.”
Outside of his homeland, in which he is a notable draw, Warrington needs to retain the IBF belt for leverage. With that in mind, do not expect him to accommodate as accomplished a challenger as Stevenson unless he absolutely has to.