The idea that Josh Warrington peaked by overwhelming Lee Selby in May is not shared by him or his camp.
It was, by any measure, the performance of his life but Warrington regrets the fact that he failed to knock Selby out. His father and trainer, Sean O’Hagan, thinks the featherweight spent 12 rounds “in second gear”, holding something back.
That will come as news to Selby, who finished the fight covered in his own blood with cuts around both eyes, and boxing is nothing if not a game of bravado but the suggestion that Warrington will have to jump a level to beat Carl Frampton tomorrow night is met by a guarantee that he can.
O’Hagan, a straight-talking Yorkshireman, sees the Frampton fight – Warrington’s first defence of his IBF title – as a different contest rather than a more difficult one. To prepare for Selby, a tall and rangy puncher, Warrington spent time sparring with a super-welterweight to mimic the Welshman’s size. Frampton stands at 5’5”.
“We’ve altered the strategy for this one,” O’Hagan said. “You prepare for the fighter in front of you and we’ve prepared for Carl. This camp’s gone even better than the Selby one. We’ve got it down to a ‘t’. We’ve found our groove where we don’t have bad sessions anymore, no injuries and no concerns. I’m very happy with how it’s gone and I’ll tell you this: Carl’s having a hard night.”
Selby had a horrendous night at Elland Road, outclassed by Warrington as he attempted to defend the IBF belt for the fifth time. Warrington has since confessed to missing an opportunity to inflict a first stoppage on Selby.
I’m very happy with how it’s gone and I’ll tell you this: Carl’s having a hard night.Sean O’Hagan
“Maybe,” O’Hagan said, “but if you go over the top you take risks. “We came away with no cuts, no scar tissue or anything like that. In the sixth round, the referee basically called the fight off anyway (when the worst of Selby’s cuts was checked by a doctor). Any other referee would have stopped it. The one thing I was really happy about is that we were ready to go through the gears but we never got out of second gear, simply because we didn’t need to.”
Appraisals of Frampton – a two-weight world champion who last held a major belt in January 2017 – are almost damning with faint praise from Warrington and O’Hagan.
Frampton accused Warrington of classing him as “over the hill” on Wednesday, a remark Warrington denied, but both the Leeds fighter and his father have openly questioned Frampton’s motivation.
Now 31, Frampton’s original plan many years ago was to retire at the age of 32.
“We’re prepared for the very best Carl Frampton but I think Carl’s trying to convince himself that he’s going to do it,” O’Hagan said. “That’s what it looks like – like he’s not really sure about it. It seems to me that he fell out of love with the game and now he’s back in love with it. That creates uncertainty in your mind.
“I really don’t think he knows what he’s chasing. He wants the pay days, he wants the lifetime security the same as all of us, but I don’t think he wants the boxing.
“A lot of people get up in the morning to grind out work and that’s what he’s doing but when that’s your reason you don’t have that little bit extra. Once you get into the eighth, ninth, 10th round where it f******* hurts, do you want it? Do you really want it? You’ve got to have every reason to be in there.”
Both Frampton and Warrington know that they are in for 12 brutal, close-up rounds in Manchester, barring a knockout which neither boxer is predicting.
Warrington, unbeaten in 27 fights, enters the ring as defending champion but Frampton holds the status of the UK’s number-one ranked featherweight, despite the absence of a title to his name. It reflects the long-held view that Frampton’s ability and record is a level above Warrington’s.
“Levels this, levels that,” O’Hagan said. “You get people on about levels but they must be bricklayers or lift engineers. It’s boxing. People can talk about levels all they want but you need to get in there and do it. Josh has no intention of letting this title go. What he wants to do now is unify them. That’s a challenge and if we have to go to America then we’ll go to America but there’ll still be somebody saying ‘it’s about levels’.
“I don’t know what they’ll say when we unify them.”
So, is Frampton the best featherweight in the country?
“He’s trying to tell himself that he is but I don’t think so,” O’Hagan said. “I’m not being over-confident but I think Selby was a better fighter. Selby would have boxed Carl’s head off because Carl can’t maintain the pace, and pace is his problem. That’s where we’ll win.
“There’s nothing that concerns me about the way he fights. My concerns are only for Carl. This rubbish he’s saying that we go to bed hoping and praying he’s over the hill, it’s not the case. But this is a fact: he’s not the fighter he was.”
Josh Warrington defends his IBF World Featherweight title against Carl Frampton exclusively live on BT Sport Box Office, tomorrow. Watch for just £19.95, for more info visit www.bt.com/sportboxoffice