As Josh Warrington sat slumped on the Matchroom Boxing canvas, referee Howard Foster cradled the former featherweight king in his arms with compassion. He had just allowed the “Leeds Warrior” to bow out on his sword, sustaining 13 minutes of additional punishment from the heavy-handed, unheralded Mauricio Lara inside The SSE Arena, Wembley.
Warrington’s reputation and Lara’s lack of had facilitated this decision by Foster. The former titlist was uncharacteristically flat from the opening bell, getting caught constantly by a steady flow of attacks from the challenger, culminating in a fourth-round knockdown that left the 30-year-old on rubber legs.
Warrington bit down, stiffened his torso and went to the well initiating survival mode — as is his right as a fighter — but when the offer was made to his corner and the referee to save him from his own bravery, both declined.
It was only going to go downhill from that point. Lara pushed home the advantage despite glimmers of instinctual riposte from the home fighter. The rounds ticked by and in the ninth a left hook sealed the deal; Lara had taken the tough decision of the fight’s outcome into his own hands. As the Mexican victor signalled for medical attention rather than celebrating the unlikeliest of knockouts, the collective gulp at ringside was audible.
Promoter Eddie Hearn and his team of matchmakers had played BoxRec roulette. After a vicious spin, they witnessed the ball tumble onto green zero leaving severe question marks hanging over the career of their charge. This was not the marquee event that Warrington had envisaged in 2021. Following his decision to vacate his IBF world title three weeks ago, this was merely intended as a tune-up fight. What he was handed was a turn-up from Lara in an old school tear-up.
The inquisition into Warrington’s performance will follow in the coming weeks. It may be a little reductionist to place too much importance on the absence of his passionate Leeds following inside the arena, but this certainly seemed to have a bearing on the sharpness of the Yorkshire man. Replicating the form of his beloved football team, Warrington was careless in defence, willing to concede five in an attempt to score a sixth.
The Xu Can, Gary Russell Jr, and Leo Santa Cruz fights have been put on ice for now. A rematch with Lara is the only possible route back onto the featherweight ladder for Warrington, but whether the desire to return burns as bright as it once did remains to be seen.
Boxing is a cruel sport. Take one hand off the wheel and you can find your career veering into the side of a cliff within a blink. Warrington joked in his pre-fight press conference how 30 years have crept up on him and how he always considered himself as one of the new generation of fighters. 30 years in the lower divisions over the course of hundreds of rounds may well have taken its toll after a year of inactivity.
As for Mauricio Lara, the future looks bright, or brighter than previously. Similarities in the stories of previous no-hopers Emanuel Navarrete and Julio Cesar Martinez are obvious: three small-statured, lion-hearted Mexicans using their power to register big upsets as away fighters. His ceiling still looks a little lower than the aforementioned, but with the golden ticket of another fight on a Matchroom show secured, the 22-year-old’s life has changed overnight.
But on Saturday night Josh Warrington found out the hard way that you can’t skip a turn in boxing. His corner and referee Howard Foster should have realised that bravery can and should know an end.