When IBF World featherweight champion Lee Selby (26-1-0, 9 KO’s) steps through the ropes on Saturday night, he will not only have to contend with unbeaten challenger Josh Warrington (26-0-0, 6 KO’s), but also the vociferous roars of the partisan Elland Road crowd.
With a raucous home support spurring him on, Warrington is adamant that it his destiny to be crowned as the city’s first World champion at the home of his beloved Leeds United.
However, fighting on the road is not something new to the Barry-born champion. Throughout his career, Selby was shown a willingness to exist outside of his comfort zone. With two of his most impressive performances coming on enemy territory, including an eighth round TKO of Stephen Smith in his home city of Liverpool, before dominating Ulsterman Martin Lindsay over twelve rounds in Belfast.
Following a stop-start transition to life across the Atlantic – which saw him miss out on a series of high-profile clashes – Selby has now set his sights on reaffirming his status atop of the plethora of British featherweight contenders. He begins on Saturday evening against the teak-tough Warrington, intent on overcoming his mandatory challenger with a view to a mammoth potential showdown with former two-weight World champion Carl Frampton in August.
Warrington, though, has plans of his own.
After garnering a significant fanbase with his down-to-earth, everyman demeanour, the Yorkshireman will attempt to prove that he is more than just a ticket-seller when tackling Selby in his first shot at World honours. While Selby has poked holes in his opponent’s resume – even going so far as to say that former promoter Eddie Hearn “paid me to give up my belts for you to win” – the fact remains that Warrington has worked himself into a mandatory slot and has proved himself to be a worthy challenger.
With wins over former IBF World super bantamweight champion Kiko Martinez and former European titleholder Denis Ceylan in his previous two fights, some may argue that the momentum is with the challenger. Selby, however, has yet to recapture the form that saw him demolish former unbeaten champion Evgeny Gradovich in May of 2015, and looked somewhat flat in his last outing against Eduardo Ramirez – a bout that Warrington watched from ringside.
The bout itself represents an interesting clash of styles between the pair, with the slick, crafty boxing skills of the champion seeking to keep the on-rushing challenger at bay. While many view Selby as the overwhelming favourite on Saturday evening, some will point to his apparent lack of stamina in his last few outings and see that as the key to victory for the underdog.
Despite the improvements of Warrington and – in the opinion of some – the stagnation of Selby, it is the champion that will begin the contest as the heavy betting favourite. Boasting the more impressive resume and significant experience at World level, Selby will attempt to put himself firmly in the shop window for the “big fight” he so desperately craves with one of the divisional elite.