Back in February, a routine fight finished at 4am in hospital for Josh Warrington at the start of the road to recovery and redemption that will end on Saturday night outdoors in Leeds.
In February, behind closed doors where echoes chimed, Warrington was meant to easily beat a Mexican called Mauricio Lara, a kid of 22 with some form but no fear, when they met in an empty Wembley that terrible night. It went wrong from the opening round and finished in the ninth with Warrington bloodied, dazed, badly hurt and sitting on the canvas looking at the referee.
Warrington arrived back in his beloved Leeds as dawn broke and he had some hard, hard decisions to make. His unbeaten record was gone, he had relinquished his world title a few weeks earlier, a massive fight in the early summer was also gone. He sat that morning, nursing his shame and injuries and in the darkest of hours any boxer can face, he looked for a sign. He was desolate that morning.
“It was a terrible time,” he recalled this week. “I had to get on with it, put it all behind me, get back in the gym, get healed and fight again.” The injured shoulder, fractured jaw, damaged eardrum, cuts, elbow and ribs all started to heal. And the heart, that was also hurt; he will try to heal that when he gets right back in with Lara, who is now 23, at Headingley, the rugby league ground, in front of 20,000 on Saturday night.
Now Lara looks and sounds like the favourite and Warrington like the challenger. There are no belts on Saturday night, none needed in a fight like this. It is all about Warrington’s future and that depends on a win. “I can do the same thing again, I will do the same thing again,” said Lara. The bookies narrowly fancy Warrington, the people on the ground in Leeds, the men and women who have seen Lara in private sessions, favour the Mexican to repeat the pain. There is close to a siege mentality in the city as the fight approaches.
In the first fight, Warrington was hurt early, too bold, careless, confident and was dropped heavily and awkwardly in round four. He was stunned and looked scared on the canvas – his eyes betrayed his desire, trust me. He was also badly hurt. He came out on unsteady legs for the fifth and carried on with his plan to walk through Lara. It never worked and in the ninth he was dropped again and this time the horror show was over. It was, and too many people forget this, a great fight and I had it 4-4 in rounds before the bell for the ninth sounded.
In the rematch he will be smarter in all aspects of the game. He will be smarter and use the basics; he can jab and he will, he can move and he will, and he can block shots with his gloves and shoulder and not with his head and chin. Lara, remember, was young, keen and hungry when he arrived in February for the first fight, but he was not an avoided boxer, not a man with a damaging reputation. Warrington made Lara that night, it is that simple. That might sound harsh, sorry.
It is, in many ways, the perfect rematch. The winner from the first fight was a heavy, heavy underdog and the loser from the first fight is now in a classic must-win fight. Throw in about 20,000 of Warrington’s Leeds faithful and you have a perfect storm of a boxing night.
At some point in his lowest moments, Warrington took a call from Anthony Joshua. “I’ve been there,” big Josh assured him and he has. In 2019, in New York, Joshua lost his world titles to another massive underdog, Andy Ruiz. It was sensational that night at the Garden and the obits for Joshua’s boxing life were scribbled in disbelief. Joshua came back, immediate rematch, slaughtered the demons and boxed Ruiz into a tubby oblivion. The call helped Warrington.
This fight is not about titles, statistics or even the odds, it’s about survival and redemption and boxing at its purest and cruellest. Warrington has to be sharp, focused, avoid the tears as he walks to his fate. He also needs Lara to be a bit cocky and from what I have seen in Leeds this week, that is possible. Lara did get lucky at Wembley in the first fight, but he made his luck.
It’s simply a brilliant fight and if Warrington can control his emotions and the demons, he will do what he should have done in the first fight. Warrington can box his way to a win with the glorious basics of a business that has not changed in over 120 years of fights. A good fighter, with his head in the right place, wins boxing matches like this.
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