By Paul Mason
Elland Road, the home of Leeds United Football Club hosts World Championship Boxing this Saturday (19th May). BT Sport and Boxnation will televise in the UK, as the prodigal son, and Leeds United mad Josh Warrington challenges for his first World Title at the top of the bill. He will be taking on Barry, Wales’ slick IBF Featherweight Champion, Lee Selby. For Selby, this will be the fifth defence of a Title he ripped away from Evgeny Gradovich at the 02 Arena, London back in May 2015. It’s a big stadium main event fight Selby badly needed after a series of going through the motions fights. For Warrington, its reward for a series of solid wins for the former dentist. Here, I preview the big fight.
Lee Selby (26-1, KO9) v Josh Warrington (26-0, KO6) – 12 Rounds IBF Featherweight Title
Welshman Selby turned professional in 2008 to little fanfare, beating tough journeyman Sid Razak on points over four rounds. Four fights later, he suffered the only defeat on his slate when the awkward Samir Mouneimne outpointed him over six rounds at Fenton Manor in Stoke. This has since turned out to be the making of Selby. After six straight wins on the comeback trail, picking up both Welsh and Celtic Titles, he was catapulted into a challenge for the British and Commonwealth Title on a Matchroom promoted show. He wasn’t expected to win against the touted Stephen Smith at the Olympia, in Smith’s hometown of Liverpool. Selby turned in what remains one of his best performances in dazzling Smith, eventually finishing matters with a crunching counter left hand in the eighth round.
Selby followed this performance with stoppage wins over John Simpson and Patrick Okine, as well as soundly outpointing Martin Lindsay in Belfast. He then handed the unbeaten Viorel Simion his first defeat at Hull KR’s Craven Park Stadium. In a harder than expected battle, Selby learned a lot against the tough Romanian, winning on the cards in a ranking builder with the WBC. Ryan Walsh was beaten on points at the 02 Arena before Selby picked up the European crown by stopping former World Title challenger, Rendall Munroe in six rounds. Further wins against Romulo Koasicha (UD) and Joel Brunker (TKO) finally set up a shot at the World Title. This was to be against the respected IBF Featherweight Champion, Evgeny Gradovich on the Kell Brook v Frankie Gavin undercard at the 02. Selby produced a dazzling display, winning via a technical decision on the scorecards after eight completed rounds, due to a bad cut sustained by Gradovich.
He then aligned with Al Haymon as his advisor and made his US debut against the former Super Flyweight and Bantamweight World Champion, Fernando Montiel. Again this was a tougher than expected bout for Selby, and he eventually came through on the cards. His next assignment was back at the 02, defending against the American hope, Eric Hunter on the Joshua v Martin undercard. Selby was put down for the first time in his career, before negotiating his way to a unanimous points win. Then came the Barros initial disappointment. Selby was due to defend against Barros on the Frampton v Santa Cruz bill in Las Vegas in January 2017. But this opportunity was snatched away from him at the very last minute. The decision was announced on stage before Friday’s weigh-in in Las Vegas, just over 24 hours before the fight was meant to take place. The Nevada Athletic Commission did not give an explanation other than the Argentine had not met its requirements, leaving Selby distraught. This left Selby to serve Eddie Hearn his notice in a specially sanctioned by the IBF, none title stoppage win over Andoni Gago on the Haye v Bellew undercard in March 2017.
He would eventually meet Barros at Wembley Arena in September, just days after his mother passed away, putting on a measured performance in widely outpointing the Argentine, flooring Barros in the final round. Selby’s last fight saw his first contest under the Frank Warren banner. At the Copperbox Arena just before Christmas, he beat Eduardo Ramirez widely on the cards, with Ramirez coming in overweight at the weigh-in. He will come to Leeds starting as the favourite to retain his crown.
Josh Warrington has slowly but surely elevated himself to World level and built a big fan base in Leeds in the process. After thirteen fights in relative obscurity, Warrington picked up the English Featherweight Title, outscoring Chris Male over ten in Dudley. He followed this with a unanimous points win defence against Jamie Speight. This was at Elland Road, but in the banqueting suite, to give you a measure of how far he has come!
His big break came as an away fighter on an Eddie Hearn bill for Sky Sports in Hull in a challenge for the vacant Commonwealth Title against Lee Selby conqueror, Samir Mouneimne. After fifteen fights without a knockout to his name, he stopped Mouneimne in the twelfth and final round to claim the crown. He then forced Rendall Monroe into a seventh-round retirement, and a retirement from the sport, and widely outpointed Martin Lindsay in front of a raucous crowd at the First Direct Arena in Leeds. Davide Dieli was next, and he was stopped inside four rounds as Warrington claimed the European Featherweight Title in front of his adoring fans.
After a marking time fight in Germany, stopping Edwin Tellez in five, Warrington started the climb into World class. He picked up the ranking boosting WBC International Title by beating Dennis Tubieron, again in his new fortress in Leeds. He followed this up with impressive defences against Joel Brunker and Hisashi Amagasa, and a stoppage of Patrick Hyland, all in front of his adoring hometown crowd.
In May 2017 Warrington left Matchroom to join forces as one of the figureheads of the new BT Sport/Boxnation revolution. He stepped up again against former World Champion and danger man Kiko Martinez. Martinez wasn’t expected to put up much resistance after being in so many wars over the years. The Spaniard gave Warrington all he could handle, losing via majority decision in a spirited effort. Warren managed to negotiate his man an IBF eliminator in his last fight, and the Dane, Dennis Ceylan was the man standing in his way. Warrington performed brilliantly, stopping the previously unbeaten Ceylan in ten to book his shot at the Welshman Selby.
My prediction is that Selby will be too slick and slippery for Warrington, and will be hard to hold off. I can see Selby creating awkward angles, and frustrating Warrington for long periods of time. Warrington may start well with a partisan home support, but I feel Selby will take over and eventually stop Warrington late, or prevail on the cards. Even though neither man possesses a fantastic knockout ratio, I think that the speed will be the clincher in this one.
The Featherweight division is red hot right now, and the winner will certainly be thinking of unification in the near future.