Josh Warrington’s ‘statement’ IBF featherweight defence against Sofiane Takoucht “a night to remember” for debutant sports writer

JOSH WARRINGTON has given the city of Leeds plenty to shout about during his time as a professional boxer.

NUMBER ONE: Josh Warrington celebrates his statement-of-intent IBF featherweight world-title win over Sofiane Takoutch in October last year. Picture: Richard Sellers/PA Wire.

The most memorable event will undoubtedly be the night he became IBF featherweight champion of the world, dethroning Lee Selby at Elland Road in a scintillating display from the aptly nicknamed Leeds Warrior.

Warrington ended a three-year reign by Selby, to become the first world champion from Leeds.

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It says a lot about Warrington’s character that his first defence of the long-awaited world title was against a Carl Frampton, a former two-weight world champion in his own right, who had lost only one fight throughout his whole career.

Josh Warrington puts down Sofiane Takoucht for the second time at Leeds Arena. Picture: Steve Riding

However, another stunning display followed from the Leeds boxer at the Manchester Arena to win the bout via a unanimous decision.

I was not lucky enough to witness those fights live, having only worked at The Yorkshire Post and its accompanying sister titles since July 2018.

As great as Warrington’s victories were over Frampton and Selby, his knockout win over Sofiane Takoucht in October 2019 was another special night for the Leeds Warrior and his loyal legion of supporters.

It was my first experience of covering a world-title fight at ringside and one I will not forget given the raucous atmosphere inside the Leeds Arena, which was only ramped up by Warrington’s dominant display.

DEFINING MOMENT: Josh Warrington on his way to dethroning Lee Selby in May 2018. Picture: Dave Thompson/PA Wire.

Prior to his win over the Frenchman, the 29-year-old beat Yorkshire rival Kid Galahad via a split decision in June, in a fight that failed to capture the imagination, largely owing to Galahad’s spoiling tactics.

Warrington promised a show against Takoucht and more than delivered with the referee waving off the fight in the second round as the challenger was simply unable to cope.

I had not calculated to be home until 3am prior to the bout but Warrington made sure every reporter there was able to get an earlier night than expected.

Witnessing the celebrations in the changing room afterwards, as we conducted post-fight interviews, was a special moment.

Warrington was understandably delighted while his promoter at the time, Frank Warren, was already looking to what was up next for the Leeds fighter.

His class also shone through, as Takoucht came into the dressing room to shake his hand with Warrington commanding the whole room to clap the Frenchmen on his way out.

Leeds United star Pablo Hernandez accompanied Warrington during his ringwalk and was there as Warrington basked in his victory.

The IBF world champion even threw an arm around the shoulder of Hernandez, asking elatedly: “Did you enjoy that then, Pablo?”

The Spaniard is used to producing top displays on the pitch and just smiled and answered with simple “yes” to express his delight at watching Warrington successfully defend his crown successfully for a third time. Warrington had hoped the October bout would be a unification fight with the likes of Leo Santa Cruz or Oscar Valdez but both men had vacated their featherweight titles to move up to super featherweight.

Takoucht was his highest-available contender for his IBF belt, and still a dangerous prospect.

The French fighter had never been knocked out and had lost just three of his 39 previous bouts. Reporting on the fight, I prepared meticulously for any eventuality. I expected Warrington to win by a knockout, given his confidence in the press conferences leading up to the fight.

However, watching him be so dominant meant I was typing as quickly as he was punching to get my report online as soon as possible.

National reporters were present and, as they needed to hit deadlines for Sunday papers, were probably under a little bit more stress than me. Writing my report for Monday’s Yorkshire Post and Evening Post was done in the early hours of Sunday morning as I reflected on Warrington’s win on my short journey home from Leeds to Huddersfield.

Covering the fight was more than just fight night itself.

All of the events, pre-fight press conference, weigh-in and open workout were a stone’s throw from The Yorkshire Post’s offices.

The press conference had not been as spicy as the one leading into Warrington’s fight with Galahad or Selby.

The most colourful trash-talking had been between the men on the undercard, with those bouts living up to their pre-fight billing on the night.

Takoucht had a translator, meaning any pre-fight needle was literally lost in translation, if there was any.

I moved to Yorkshire from Northern Ireland in 2015 to study sports journalism and could never have imaged four years later to be ringside for a world-title fight.

I attended Warrington’s open workout and the weigh-in and face off, which were both held at the Leeds Corn Exchange.

Warrington is always someone who has had time for his fans, and, after his open workout, he took the time to greet, sign autographs and take pictures with everyone who had stood to meet him.

I became a sports journalist because I love sport.

Top athletes get a bad wrap sometimes, but Warrington’s actions highlight that there are more genuine top stars in the industry than ones who make the headlines for the wrong reasons.

Both fighters made the weight at the weigh-in without any issues before Warrington had his world-title thrown over his shoulder before going face to face with Takoucht, who did seem to have a quiet confidence about himself.

On fight night, I arrived at Leeds Arena and headed to the box office to pick up my press accreditation before taking my seat at ringside.

I ended up sitting beside a reporter from The Daily Mirror who was also from Northern Ireland, which put my nerves at ease.

Covering events for The Yorkshire Post are always made more enjoyable when the ‘home’ competitor or team win.

Warrington made sure my job was straight-forward as he delivered the statement he promised to send out to the rest of the featherweight division.

The victory might not have been as special as the nights he defeated Frampton and Selby but it was still another decent victory to add to his CV and a night I will not forget in a hurry.

The win was his 30th as a professional, taking his record to 30-0 and the first time he had claimed a knockout success since becoming a world champion.

His next bout will be a unification battle with Can Xu but it could be that Warrington delivers another special night behind closed doors.

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