Josh Warrington challenges Spaniard Kiko Martinez for the IBF featherweight crown on Saturday night in Leeds in a somewhat surreal world title fight. Luke G. Williams previews the action…
On 13 February last year, Josh Warrington was shockingly relieved of his unbeaten record by the blurring and vicious fists of hitherto unheralded Mexican upstart Mauricio Lara.
The same night, on the same bill, Spaniard Kiko Martinez fell to a points loss against Zelfa Barrett via scorecards that were – even by recent British ring standards – truly dreadful.
Few would have bet that a little over a year later the two losers from that strange night behind closed doors at Wembley Arena would be meeting in a world title contest.
Yet here we are preparing for Josh Warrington versus Kiko Martinez, a world title fight and rematch that is surreal as it is intriguing.
These two hardy warriors first met back in May 2017 – less than five years ago in simple terms, but a date that feels – amid the end of days atmosphere of Coronavirus and spiralling economic and political chaos – that it may well have taken place in another universe altogether.
On that night, Warrington was a 24-0 prospect and Martinez – then 36-7-1 – a stepping stone to an eventual world title shot that – truth be told – few felt the Leeds warrior had the ability, class or punch to win.
Martinez disputed the fairness of the majority points decision Warrington eked out that night, although to this observer the Leeds man did enough to win. One thing is for sure though – using this fight as an indicator for what might happen on Saturday night is a strategy fraught with danger.
Both men have deteriorated since – indeed in 2017 Martinez was a fighter who already looked in steep and terminal decline, more than three years on from losing his IBF super-bantamweight world title to Carl Frampton and having been stopped in two and five rounds apiece by Scott Quigg and Leo Santa Cruz in 2015 and 2016.
Post-Warrington, the Spaniard would lose twice more, to Gary Russell Jr as well as the aforementioned Barrett, and appeared to have entered gatekeeper territory.
When Martinez was granted an unwarranted – and, lest we forget, much mocked – shot at Kid Galahad’s IBF featherweight title in November last year, he looked every inch a fighter nearing the end of his career for nearly five rounds.
Then, however, he floored the Sheffield stylist with a sensational and career changing right hand, finishing the job in the following round with an even bigger right-handed blow.
Warrington’s decline is harder to measure than Martinez’s. However, it is surely impossible – after the sustained beating he suffered against Lara – for him to to be able to replicate the peak performances he produced against Lee Selby and Carl Frampton in 2018.
Nevertheless, although Martinez is to be commended for his determination, bravery and longevity, as well as his ability to stay in fighting shape, this is a fight that Warrington is rightly favourite to win, particularly given the advantage of hometown support (this is his eleventh fight at the First Direct Arena).
The seeming in-built bias towards house and home fighters in the British ring in recent times lends this the look of a fight that Martinez can only win if he scores a KO, and I fancy a more cautious than usual Warrington to jab and box his way to victory.