Unheralded Mexican Mauricio Lara produced one of the most stunning upsets seen in a British boxing ring in recent times with a barely believable ninth-round win over a listless Josh Warrington at the SSE Arena in Wembley on Saturday night.
It was meant to be a tune-up fight for former IBF king Warrington before a projected clash with WBA ‘Regular’ champion Can Xu yet became a turn-up for the books as an inspired Lara tore those plans to shreds.
“The reason I performed so well is because of the support of my family,” said Lara after his epic triumph. “I think Josh Warrington needed to know that this fight wasn’t going to be easy. He shouldn’t have been making plans for future fights. I am extremely happy at the moment.
“We just had to take our time and wait. He was a great champion, that’s why he continued to fight on and be strong and have good heart. I didn’t want to tire myself out too much. I had to take it round by round and wait for that final blow when it came in the ninth.
“We were very confident in our team in what we could do. Of course, there is a surprise when it actually comes off. We’re happy with our performance. I know I am heavy-handed and that’s what showed during the fight. I’m really really happy. I’m crazy happy.
“I’m looking forward to going back home to see my daughter and my wife. I’m looking forward to spending time with them. There is a tinge of sadness that I can’t take the belt home. At least Mexicans know that they have a new number one going home with that victory. I will have a massive pizza and I’m looking forward to it!”
Lara (22-2, 15 KOs) ruffled Warrington from the first round and never allowed him to settle or find his usual early rhythm. The Mexican was an awkward but deceptively hard-hitting campaigner. What he lacked in finesse, he made up for in grit and power.
He suffered a damaged right eye in the second but took advantage of a sluggish start by Warrington (30-1, 7 KOs) to steal an early march. The Leeds man was off the boil, lacking his usual industry and tenacity. A left hook made Lara blink in the fourth, but no-one could have imagined what would happen later in the session as the Mexican stunned the Leeds man with a left hook, harried him around the ring then dropped him with the same shot soon afterwards.
A shaky Warrington was in desperate trouble and his fight looked done, but somehow fellow Yorkshireman Howard Foster gave him every opportunity to survive. Staggering on bent legs for what seemed an eternity under a relentless assault, Warrington was still wobbling when the bell rang to end the round.
He didn’t look quite right thereafter but showed extraordinary resolve to withstand a brutal beating when he should have been saved from his own bravery. Warrington looked like he was punching through water. He swivelled Lara’s head with a left hook in the fifth. A brief glimmer of hope, but nothing more.
Lara kept threshing away with Warrington a shadow of his usual self. The Leeds man was surviving on sheer bravery and fumes. The Mexican buzzed him again in the eighth with a left-hand wallop and the writing was on the wall. In the following round, Lara dropped Warrington heavily on his back with another left hook and referee Foster finally waved it off.
The Mexican looks a legitimate threat at 126lbs whereas Warrington’s future at the weight is now clouded in uncertainty. It was an unimaginable upset.
Another overseas fighter was left feeling short-changed by British boxing officials as Kiko Martinez was somehow judged a wide loser to Zelfa Barrett on the cards in a fight many observers felt the Spaniard had won with his perpetual aggression. Scores of 118-111 (twice) and 116-113 bore no resemblance to the fight in yet another scorecard stinker in favour of the house fighter on a Matchroom promotion.
The size disparity was almost comical, but the ceaseless Spaniard made a mockery of those disadvantages. Veteran Martinez, 34, still carried that hunger and brought waves of pressure against his taller, skilful foe. Barrett’s work was slicker, but he was forced onto the backfoot by the marauding Spaniard.
Martinez’s one-shot power was undiminished and he stunned Barrett with a right hand in the second to show the Mancunian he could take nothing for granted. A below-par Barrett seemed caught unawares by the early whirlwind of pressure.
Barrett (25-1, 15 KOs) was hurt by a left hook in fifth and the Spaniard pounced again. The Mancunian just couldn’t get going despite numerous advantages. He was cut by the right eye in the seventh and seemingly bang up against it.
It felt like Barrett needed knockdowns by this point as he was being bullied by the smaller man from Alicante. The Mancunian was constantly on the move, but Martinez had no trouble catching him with thudding shots. Yet in the ninth, Barrett finally backed up Martinez and stung him with a series of solid hooks and uppercuts. Martinez lost some snap and looked vulnerable for the first time.
There was more poise in Barrett’s work from the 10th with his jab bloodying Martinez’s nose and mouth, but he needed greater urgency. He was finishing smarter with Martinez (41-10-2, 29 KOs) still applying route one pressure, but a strong finish down the home stretch seemed too late to change the narrative. But the three British judges sat at ringside were watching a different fight altogether. Again.
The experience and firepower of Leigh Wood proved the key as the Gedling man halted Doncaster’s Reece Mould with an impressive burst of power in the ninth round to clinch the vacant British featherweight title.
It was Wood’s first fight with trainer Ben Davison and the Gedling fighter started brightly enough, but by the second Mould was holding centre-ring and pumping out a stiff jab. Mould was roughing Wood up on the inside, not always legally. A left hook from Mould steadied Wood in the third and the Doncaster man seemed to have significant momentum.
Yet the heavy-handed Wood (24-2, 14 KOs) impressively turned the tables in the fourth, battering Mould on the ropes with a volley of blows before dropping his co-challenger with a sweet right uppercut. With a bloodied nose, Mould (13-1, 6 KOs) steadily regrouped and was back firing on all cylinders in the sixth.
Wood dabbed at a cut left eye in the seventh and Mould sensed blood literally. The Doncaster man continued to apply a steady drip of pressure as Wood switched stances to ruffle the rhythm of Mould’s jab.
In the ninth, Wood uncorked a wicked left hook and dropped Mould face first on to the canvas. He rose but was sent back into the ropes by a hail of punches and down again when referee Bob Williams stepped in. A lovely finish by Wood.
Hopes are sky high for Sheffield 140-pounder Dalton Smith (7-0, 6 KOs) who looked razor sharp overwhelming Birmingham late-sub Ishmael Ellis (11-4, 0 KOs) in the third of an optimistically scheduled 10-rounder.
Smith softened Ellis up with some adroit punching in the second, wobbling the Brummie with a right hand and hurting him with impunity. The former Team GB star battered Ellis with a patient and measured assault in the third and it was a relief when Jon Pegg pulled his outgunned man out at the end of the round. Compassionate cornerwork.
Lanky Leeds southpaw Hopey Price (4-0, 1 KO) had a good learning fight against awkward, Spanish-based Nicaraguan Daniel Mendoza (11-12, 4 KOs and 1 NC), prevailing 60-54 on the card of referee Bob Williams. A late substitute opponent, the squat but durable Mendoza presented a limited target and the kind of mental test talented super-bantam Price needs at this stage of his career. It was a decent six rounds in the bank.
In the show opener, Keighley super-bantam Ibrahim Nadim (3-0, 0 KO) cantered to a six-round points verdict over the capable Jonny ‘The Matador’ Phillips (5-6, 2 KOs). Referee Bob Williams scored 60-55.
Main image and all photos: Dave Thompson/Matchroom Boxing.