Josh Warrington became a two-time featherweight world champion in Leeds last night.
The 31-year-old was in a win or bust fight against Kiko Martinez who walked in as title holder after a stunning knockout win over Kid Galahad last November.
A loss for Warrington was unthinkable in front of his home fans at the First Direct Arena. The same venue that saw ‘The Leeds Warrior’ and Martinez battle it out over 12 rounds in 2017. On that night it was a points win for Warrington but last night, inside a 10,000 strong bearpit he produced something memorable.
The atmosphere was at fever pitch following the ring walks and national anthems. A fire was lit inside Warrington, and he came out in round 1 as if it was round 12 and needed a knockout to win.
Just as he did against Carl Frampton in 2018, he dragged his opponent into a war early on.
Warrington decided to put the foot down and go from 0-100mph in seconds as he let his hands go at will. And he gained a result for his efforts. An overhand right dropped the Spaniard and having got to his feet Warrington went for the throat, but time ran out. It was an unforgettable 180 seconds.
A head clash in the opening session had infuriated Martinez who let referee Marcus McDonnell known in no uncertain terms. The fight was rough, tough and the rules were being tested at times by Warrington which may have turned out to be a smart ploy. Martinez was crimson over the left eye, and it worsened. He was uncomfortable but fought fire with fire when he had to.
The first three rounds belonged to Warrington whose intensity and work rate was just too much for the champion at times. Martinez gave a better account in the fourth. He continually walked the challenger down and was beginning to target the body. His trusted right hand got to Warrington with 60 seconds to go and began unleashing uppercuts on the ropes. The worry now was had the Brit got carried away and went for broke too soon.
Warrington’s high guard served him well and acted as a reminder in round 5 that the last session was uncomfortable. The hands got to work again though; the combinations were growing in numbers.
The tank of Warrington was refilling again, and his own right hand was clipping Martinez time after time. Short hooks were chopping away at the 36-year-old who had to rally because he had been relegated to a puncher’s chance of winning. But as many can testify what a punch it can prove to be.
Brains put brawn to one side in the 6 th as Warrington sought to win this round with ring smarts.
Referee McDonnell did however have to warn him for use of the head once again.
The seventh brought Warrington back to the top table at 130lbs. A burst of shots in the opening minute had Martinez firing back with the heart and spirit we have come to know. A body shot appeared to trouble his old foe, but Warrington’s response was magnificent. He brought back the fire and the fury of the opening few rounds to unload everything on Kiko Martinez.
The referee was getting closer and closer to the action. Martinez was hurt, beaten and looked every inch his 36 years.
The shots to the head became unanswered, and the fight was over with under a minute left in the round.
Josh Warrington, who had been written off by many after his heavy loss to Mauricio Lara one year ago, had just won back the IBF title which he vacated before facing the Mexican. That decision was made to allow him to chase bigger fights which never materialised. Now, after tonight’s performance in Leeds, the local hero that has packed out the First Direct Arena for years can look forward to some more memorable nights.
Speaking to DAZN afterwards with an injured jaw, the new champion said: “I’ve got my belt back. It weren’t just for me or my family it was for all these (fans). I had seven bells knocked out of me by Mauricio Lara and they were there supporting me to get revenge. Come back for the world title and they’re there again.
“We might not do the same numbers as the big boys, AJ’s and Fury’s, but I’d rather have an arena of these lot than 100,000 tourists any day of the week.”