In what is expected to be one of the standout British domestic duels of 2019, Josh Warrington puts his IBF featherweight crown on the line this Saturday against a polarising contender in Kid Galahad. It’s Leeds vs Sheffield in a bout which is laced with undercurrents of Yorkshire bragging rights.
After end-of-season disappointment for Warrington’s beloved Leeds United Football Club in failure to gain promotion to the Premier League, a city’s pride rests firmly on the 5’7” shoulders of the “Leeds Warrior,” with a hostile environment expected for Galahad inside the First Direct Arena, as Warrington looks to adapt to life as the favourite following a remarkable year as the underdog.
Josh Warrington’s 2018 was as exceptional as it was unexpected. Having wrestled the IBF featherweight crown from former titlist Lee Selby last May, the 28-year-old continued to upset the odds in the first defence of his 126-pound world title. In a 12-round war against the seasoned former pound-for-pound contender Carl Frampton, Warrington sprung another surprise inside the ring, bringing fire and fury to the Northern Irishman in a Fight of the Year contender.
In an all-action unanimous decision win over “The Jackal,” Warrington’s heavy hands came as a surprise to Frampton.
“Josh is a very good fighter and a harder puncher than anyone has given him credit for, a much harder puncher than his record suggests. I was hurt a number of times in the fight,” Frampton explained in the painful aftermath of their Christmas blockbuster.
Next up for Warrington is the mandatory challenge of Kid Galahad, a fight that the IBF titlist seemed reluctant to accept having had eyes firmly set on “breaking America” this year. Discussions contemplating dropping the IBF title were held with promoter Frank Warren, with a shot at WBO champion Oscar Valdez considered a worthy alternative.
Stateside plans have since been put on hold as Warrington prepares to face the third Briton in a row for world honours: Abdul-Bari Awad, aka Kid Galahad, becomes the 29th opponent looking to take the “0” of the IBF champion. Galahad’s reputation in the sport has been under the spotlight ever since failing a drug test in 2014. The steroid stanozolol was found in Galahad’s system following a bout with Adeilson Dos Santos, with an excuse surfacing that his brother had spiked his drink. He was sentenced to a two-year ban from the sport, which was subsequently reduced to 18 months following an appeal to UK Anti-Doping.
Since then, Galahad has been faultless inside the ring. Eight wins, with six inside the distance, has seen the 29-year-old rise to No. 1 in the IBF rankings, scooping the IBF Intercontinental title in the process. The challenger is looking to avenge two losses he suffered to Warrington in the amateurs, and is fully aware of the pressure on him to grab this opportunity with both hands. Galahad has already used up his second chance in the sport, knowing that a flat performance on Saturday will see the challenger back to the first square of boxing’s version of Snakes and Ladders.
Warrington’s position of strength coming into this fight shouldn’t distract him from the job at hand. The champion has made it clear that he is far from achieving his potential in the sport.
“If Galahad is approaching the fight thinking I’ve shown my best then it’s music to my ears — there’s plenty for me to bring. I’m far from my actual peak and what I’m capable of doing. I had to do what I had to do to win those fights against Selby and Frampton,” Warrington expressed to The Mirror as we approach his first fight week of 2019.
“It’s funny when people say, ‘Oh, well, he has shown his best and blah, blah, blah.’ I’m unbeaten and I won the last two fights against world-level opponents in quite a fashion, I’ve not just pinched them. The Selby fight was a split decision but everyone who was there knew I won the fight convincingly, and the same with Carl as well. So for Galahad to say stuff like that, I just find it ridiculous, but I’m not surprised because everything he seems to say is ridiculous.”
Warrington added: “I wouldn’t say that has sharpened my senses. It’s a reminder, but I’m wise enough to know how this sport works. I still feel like I’m climbing, though, I’m not where I want to be and I can’t afford to have that slip-up. I want to keep the momentum going. I’d love to go Santa Cruz, Russell — that green and gold belt is lovely — then finish off with Valdez and just have a right old tear-up.”
There is a fine line between overlooking an opponent and planning for the future. Warrington’s confidence has blossomed in the featherweight division, with his style suited to mixing it with the best at the weight.
Galahad, however, is a tricky prospect to negate. The switch-hitting style born out of the famous Wincobank gym has been crafted over the past 15 years. An adoration of Prince Naseem Hamed can be seen in the intricate footwork of the challenger, with the opening of impossible angles being forged by fluid movement inside the ring. If Galahad can box and move, refraining from engaging in a fire-fight with the champion, then we may have ourselves a closer fight than many are envisaging.
It’s easier said than done. It’s a huge step up for Galahad who will need to battle against the adrenaline coursing through his veins, straining to hear the first bell ring over the explosion of noise created by the partisan Warrington following.
Warrington will need to harness the underdog mentality once again this Saturday. Galahad’s story may not be for everyone, but the position he has forged for himself has been born out of desperation; the desperation to succeed in a sport he has described as being “married” to. A desperate man is a dangerous man: Warrington knows all too well what the role of an underdog can inspire.