Fabio Wardley has described his fight this Saturday night against Richard Lartey as something of a litmus test.

Wardley, the current unbeaten English heavyweight champion, will be having his ninth professional contest against the Ghanaian who will be fighting his third British opponent in as many fights since April last year. Nineteen months ago, Lartey had a bit of a rumble with rising star Daniel Dubois (LKO4) before returning six weeks ago to fight Nathan Gorman (L10). 

Last time out, we saw Wardley confidently brush aside Simon Vallily in three rounds and he says the Lartey fight is possibly a higher step up than he needed to take right now.

“I want to keep pushing and keep testing myself and making sure that I’m always improving, always getting better and putting myself in with new challenges and that’s exactly what Richard Lartey will bring,” he said.

Wardley was talking to Boxing Social while getting ready for life in the Matchroom bubble. The new environment and restrictions that the Covid-19 pandemic has placed around boxing enabling the sport to continue.

The Ipswich heavy’s career is being moulded and shaped by manager Dillian Whyte and Eddie Hearn. What it will look like at the end remains to be seen but given his lack of amateur experience and his exploits in white-collar boxing things have been progressing smoothly for the former office worker.

Beating Lartey will raise the profile of Wardley somewhat and, depending on the manner he does it in, there will be a comparison to the results achieved by experienced amateurs and professionals Dubois and Gorman. Wardley knows that will be inevitable but says the comparison doesn’t really matter given the stages the three men are at in their careers.

“Those guys took that [fight against Lartey] at a later stage of their pro career, they didn’t take it this early on. And then add to that as well they’ve both been part of the GB squad and are good amateurs and have had a long amateur career. Their boxing careers as a whole are double if not longer than mine. The comparison will come but it’s not a fair comparison because regardless of how I do I’m taking this fight technically much earlier than either of them have.

“So, it’s not about whether I look good against Lartey and if you can compare it to how good Daniel or Gorman looked and did. It’s ultimately about how I perform on the night and, if at this point of my career, I’m happy with that performance. If I’m happy and the team is happy then it’s good. If I feel like I did well and answered some questions and I stood up to some tests, then it doesn’t matter whether it goes 10 rounds or whether I finish him in one.”

Wardley has so far negotiated every step up in class with aplomb.
Photo: Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing.

We may get some questions answered about Wardley’s abilities this weekend. Against Vallily, he barely had to break a sweat to end the fight but Lartey should ensure Wardley gets some rounds, takes some shots, is made to feel uncomfortable at times and is placed in situations that he hasn’t yet faced yet as a professional. 

“He’s not there to roll over,” said Wardley. “He comes to win every time, which we’ve seen both times he’s came here. It’s not an easy night’s work in the slightest. It’ll be good to see that and see how I do because, as good as the Simon Valilly fight was, it still didn’t answer a lot of questions about me. People got to see me box and they got to see me finish someone and look good doing it which is great and all but there’s still a lot of questions around me. Questions about my chin and me in there with a big heavyweight and how I’ll go when we go toe-to-toe. So, hopefully these are questions that I’m going to be able to answer in this fight but it’s about Lartey bringing that test and that game to me.”

Should Wardley get the job done early, emphatically and more impressively than Dubois or Gorman then he knows his promoter Eddie Hearn is going to be shouting from the rooftops about it.

“Of course, but the game’s the game and that’s his job at the end of the day. His job is to hype up the shows and the things that happen and whatever goes on,” said Wardley. “That’s just Ed being Ed and credit to him for it. Don’t get me wrong it’ll be good, and people will run with it and there will be stories about it that Fabio did this and that and this means that and two plus two equals four. It’s not that simple when you really break it down, but all good publicity is good publicity. I wouldn’t grumble at it but it’s not as black and white as it may seem.”

Wardley will be having his second fight of the year on Saturday. That is an achievement given what has happened in the lives of everyone since March. Some fighters are still waiting for a date and some may not get to fight until the fans can return. The humble Wardley knows he is in a fortunate position given the backing he has from Whyte and Matchroom. If he keeps winning, he will keep fighting on Sky shows. 

He hopes, of course, to be fighting for more titles in 2021. His first and only to date came back on August 1 against Vallily in the first of Matchroom’s Fight Camp shows. The English title, a steppingstone for some, yet for others it is their world title. Wardley is massively proud of winning the belt and knows that fighting for it during Covid-19 gives him an incredibly unique memory to look back on when he’s older and eventually hangs up his gloves.

“Regardless of anything, it’s a belt at the end of the day and it’s a trophy I’ve won,” he said. “It’ll be something marked down in history that I’ve done and there forever that Fabio Wardley won the English heavyweight title. Regardless of how menial the belt may be in the grand scheme of things to me and just my journey and my career it is that first big real milestone that I’m real, I’m genuine and I can really do something here in this division. It will always be important to me but, of course I want to keep moving and push on to bigger stuff.”

Wardley (left) impressed against Vallily.
Photo: Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing/

He continued: “In ideal circumstances, I would have loved to have won my first title in front of my supporters and family. With the circumstances of what was going on in the world and everything that was happening it just makes that so unique and still in its own right so important. It’s a really big thing to me and will always be treasured. I’ll always feel so fortunate that not only did I get to fight during the pandemic but that the biggest fight of my career was in the pandemic. If had the fight in a normal kind of setting in the world where there wasn’t a pandemic going on it probably would have gone a bit more under the radar. I would have been on a massive headline possible pay-per-view show with Dillian or something like that and I wouldn’t have got as much exposure as I did through Fight Camp and all the content they were doing through the bubble. It almost became a blessing that it did happen the way that it did.

“And to say that you got to fight in the middle of a pandemic is a special thing to be a part of. Only me and the boxers that were a part of fight camp will only be able to say that we did. In years and years to come when we look back on this period of life, I can say that I was a part of that and a part of bringing boxing back after everything went quiet for so long.”

When he does look back on this career he will likely be reminded of or recall the career of another Eddie Hearn heavyweight. ‘The White Rhino’, Dave Allen. The 28-year-old was a bit of a marmite character in boxing where the casual market loved him and being part of the Cinderella story. While the hardcore element could sometimes feel short-changed that Allen continued to get opportunities on Sky Sports.

Whatever your opinion there can be no doubt that Allen took on massive opportunities and was around at the right time where social media and video journalism can play a massive part in carrying the career of a fighter to heights that might not have been possible before the internet existed. Allen recently announced his retirement and, to put that into context, the BBC Sport website had that as their main boxing story on their homepage last Sunday rather than pound-for-pound star Terence Crawford’s win over Kell Brook. 

“I think it’s good for Dave ultimately and I think that’s all that matters,” said Wardley reacting to Allen’s retirement. “If Dave feels like the fire, the burn or something is missing and it’s not there anymore then it is 100% the time to go because at no point do you want to be in the ring and there’s a voice at the back of your head saying I don’t really want to be here. Credit to Dave as well for recognising it and knowing it is time to hang them up because there’s a lot of fighters that probably should have as well but then ego won’t let them.”

Wardley, as laid back and relaxed a fighter as you will likely ever speak to, knows he will not be one to stay on too long at the last chance saloon.

“As funny as it sounds, I think when the time comes, I will be more than happy to say I’m done. As much as I love boxing with all of my heart, it’s hard to drag yourself to the gym every day, to push yourself to exertion with your runs and with your boxing and sparring. It’s a difficult task to push yourself through. Even though deep down there is that part of you that still loves it and want to do it as soon as that leaves you it is definitely time to go. I won’t fight that at all. I won’t have any issues with hanging them up.”

Main image: Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing.