Boxer Josh Warrington aims to become a two-weight world champion

Josh Warrington: After victory over Sofiane Takoucht at Leeds Arena. Picture: Steve Riding
Josh Warrington: After victory over Sofiane Takoucht at Leeds Arena. Picture: Steve Riding
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JOSH WARRINGTON will have one overriding thought when reminiscing about 2019 as the clock nears twelve on New Year’s Eve.

“I’m still world champion,” says the Leeds featherweight, who has hit many a milestone in the final year of the Noughties.

Josh Warrington knocks down Sofiane 'Takoucht for a second time earlier this year.

Josh Warrington knocks down Sofiane 'Takoucht for a second time earlier this year.

A 30th fight in his 10th year as a professional, a 30th victory and a 10th bout at First Direct Arena – all ending with the IBF featherweight belt still around his waist.

Plenty to smile about for the 29-year-old husband to Natasha and young dad to twin girls who will also make the most of some precious family time over this festive period.

After all, there was scant time for Christmas 2018 with the featherweight making a first defence of his title against the renowened Carl Frampton on December 22.

“Christmas didn’t really exist in the Warrington household last year,” admits the Frank Warren fighter. “I came out of the ring on the Saturday and the following Tuesday it was Christmas.”

I would be disappointed if I ended my career without going over Stateside and having a few fights over there.

Josh Warrington

This year, having not fought since October, things have been different. Yet Warrington will not sit still for long with the Yorkshireman determined to unify the featherweight division in his next fight and even setting his sights on becoming a two-weight world champion in the longer term.

Just over 10 years after his first fight, Warrington admits he has already exceeded all of his initial expectations by not just becoming IBF featherweight world champion in defeating Lee Selby at Elland Road in May, 2018 but also in making three successful defences of that belt.

Some going, yet if Warrington had had his way he would already have either the WBA, WBC or WBO featherweight belt added to his collection, too.

After being forced to take on mandatory challenger Kid Galahad six months after his first successful defence of his belt against Frampton, Warrington wanted another title fight against then WBA king Leo Santa Cruz, WBO holder Oscar Valdez or WBC supremo Gary Russell Jr.

Instead, with any of those fights proving difficult to sort, Warrington found himself taking on lesser known Sofiane Takoucht at First Direct Arena on October 12.

Two rounds later, via a stunning knockout, it was job done and, all in all, leaving plenty for Warrington to be satisfied with approaching the end of a brilliant decade.

Ffor Warrington, though, one belt is not enough with the Leeds fighter admitting patience is wearing thin and being determined to quickly get moving in the bid for even more stunning glories in 2020 and beyond. Valdez and Santa Cruz have recently moved up to the super featherweight division – but Warrington is still coming to get them. He tells The Yorkshire Post: “I never thought I would be a world champion but I am and I feel like I can build on it even more. So why not test yourself against the best and write a legacy for yourself?

“I’m the IBF champion and in the IBF rankings the highest possible opponent we could have got was Takoucht. I took care of him in two rounds.

“I need the big fights, it’s not a long career, I want the big fights now and I believe I would beat any one of those other featherweight champions.

“After the Galahad fight, I was thinking to myself ‘it’s done now, I’ve finished my mandatory challenge, all that’s left is to go and fight one of the other world champions.’

“But trying to get a champion to fight another champion proves a little bit harder then you think. When the pound notes talk and there’s a lot of people around a fighter, they all want to try and milk it as much as possible and they try and avoid those big fights.”

As far as the featherweight division is concerned, Warrington now has two new names to aim at since Valdez and Santa Cruz have moved up a weight. Chinese fighter Xu Can holds the WBA belt with the USA’s Shakur Stevenson possessing the WBO title but Warrington would be happy to face either though his main focus is set on WBC holder Russell Jr.

“Frank put it to me, ‘what road do you want to go down? Who do you want to fight?’ And they were pointing towards Can Xu,” said Warrington.

“But I want Garry Russell. He has got the highest profile out of all three of them, Shakur Stevenson has only just won the belt and Gary Russell is the second longest reigning world champion at this moment in time. I think he is there for the taking and I would love that fight so I have asked Frank to try and sort that one but if we can’t get that one then the other two would definitely suit.”

Quite where that would take place remains to be seen – or indeed if Warren’s team can make it happen – but there is no denying the venues that Warrington would like to grace the most.

“I’d love to go back to Elland Road again and have a unification fight,” said Warrington. “To win another world title there would be a dream scenario. But I keep saying about going to Vegas and going to Madison Square Gardens and making memories with the fans and I would be disappointed if I ended my career without going over Stateside and having a few fights over there.”

The American dream lives on but one way or the other, Warrington expects to be back in the ring by next Spring admitting he cannot just stay inactive waiting for another belt holder to fight him.

“I should imagine March/April time we will be looking to get back into the ring,” said Warrington.

“But you can’t just sit about. You have got to keep busy. Parts of my career I have been sidelined and it’s not healthy. You get ring rust and everything else. I would like to think no later than March/April and if it has to be any longer than that then I would probably have to fight someone else.”

Warrington, though, is fast running out of opponents willing to take him on and, in any case, he has long-term designs on more than just the featherweight division.

“If you win another title it cements a legacy then,” said Warrington. “No-one can argue with it and then after that you can look at any options.

“My name has been mentioned about possibly having a rematch with Carl Frampton but he’s moved up to super feather now and he’s probably likely to fight for a world title.

“If he was to come though and win that and I had unified the division then I would potentially look at that. Santa Cruz is up there, Oscar Valdez has moved up there. I think I can unify the division and then you look at other fights that can add to your legacy and make more history. A two-weight world champion and unified champion of a division is definitely one way to do that.”