CHRISTMAS CAN WAIT
Josh Warrington tells Ben Dirs he’s getting slightly irked with not being taken seriously
JOSH WARRINGTON doesn’t get upset, he gets nonplussed. Here he is – *sigh* – the underdog again. Not enough firepower, not enough guile. A tough, honest grafter, about to get drowned in the briny. Merry Christmas! Just not for him.
According to bookies, punters and pundits, it will be a joyful and triumphant Yuletide in the Carl Frampton household. But Warrington and his faithful have a habit of trashing parties. And the Leeds man won’t mind if he’s sipping turkey through a straw, as long as Frampton is off his food completely.
“Before I fought Joel Brunker [in 2015], people were saying, ‘Brunker will have him out of there in five’,” says Warrington, who defends his IBF featherweight title against Frampton at the Manchester Arena on December 22.
“Then they said Hisashi Amagasa was going to blast me out. Then they said Kiko Martinez was going to blast me out. It didn’t make me angry, but I sometimes asked why. I just didn’t understand why I never got a look-in.
“I’d sometimes be in the ring after eight or nine rounds thinking, ‘I was supposed to have been knocked out by now, what’s happening’?”
When I tell Warrington that in Fighting For A City, the recent film which charts the last few years of Warrington’s career, I am the journalist informing the viewer, in the form of a voiceover, that “Lee Selby will box his head off”, he is mercifully gracious. Then again, it’s not like he hadn’t heard it before.
“I appreciate your honesty,” says an amused Warrington, who deservedly beat Selby on a split decision at Elland Road in May to claim the IBF belt.
“Some people just don’t appreciate what I do, even after beating Selby. Prior to the Selby fight, people were saying Selbyframpton was a 50-50 contest. Some people were arguing that Selby would wipe the floor with him. Now, all of a sudden, people are saying Frampton is on another level from me completely.”
Fighting For A City is an excellent study of a tight-knit family negotiating the murky world of boxing, with its many pitfalls, tripwires and rascals, not to mention opponents trying to knock your head off. It is a reminder that no boxer is an island, and that any boxer who tries to be one will fall into ruin.
One line, delivered by Warrington’s father and trainer Sean O’hagan, is particularly telling. As Warrington makes his way to the ring for his fight against Amagasa, O’hagan reminds him, “We’ve re-mortgaged our houses to be here”. As any boxer will tell you, it is imperative that they are the centre of their universe, but without the planets in their orbit, they’ll soon burn up.
“In the film, I think I represent a lot of boxers out there. Nothing is ever inevitable in boxing. Injuries happen, fights fall through, there are disagreements between promoters and managers and pretty much everyone.
“And, just like any boxer, I fight for my family and friends. It’s not just me on the journey, people around me have had to make as many
sacrifices as me.
“When I got together with my missus, we were 18, and I used to tell her all the time, ‘I can’t go to this party, I can’t go to that meal, I’ve just got to sit in. But stick by me, stay on this journey, and it will be worth it in the end’. You’ve got to have a partner who shares your vision, because it doesn’t happen instantly.
“Natasha had her own career planned out. She was a chef under Raymond Blanc and worked as a teacher in hospitality. She took a backward step from that so that she could back me, my career and my dreams. That’s loyalty. And what it means is, I don’t have any choice but to give every fight my best shot.”
The Warrington clan has increased to four, with the birth of twin girls two weeks before the Selby fight. ³
I LOVE BEING A DAD, SEEING THEM CHANGE. I’D LIKE ANOTHER 10. OR AT LEAST ENOUGH FOR A FIVE-A-SIDE TEAM”
In the film, his wife Natasha concedes that he would be willing to die in the ring. While Warrington agrees that Natasha’s words were accurate at the time, fatherhood has altered his outlook.
“That’s how I felt before the Amagasa fight. But having the babies has changed things. I don’t want them growing up without a dad. And I don’t want to stay in boxing too long, so they’re pushing me to the park rather than the other way around. It does make me think, ‘Make sure you keep those bloody hands up.’
“It’s not just the fights that take their toll, it’s the camps. Any hungry fighter will put their body through hell, and I’m no exception. I’ll spar anything between 125 and 160 rounds. That’s a lot of toll on the body and the head. And I don’t want to be that boxer saying, when I’m 40, ‘Just one more pay-day.’
“I want to be in big fights and big events for a few years yet. But I love being a dad. When you’ve got two babies screaming at 3.30 in the morning and only one pair of hands, it’s difficult. But seeing them change every day is brilliant. I think I’ll have another 10. Or maybe just enough for a five-aside team.”
If Frampton happens to be reading this and thinks his rival has gone soft, he hasn’t considered the O’hagan factor. O’hagan loves his son every bit as much as Warrington loves his daughters, but they have a different way of showing it.
O’hagan is the wise-cracking father and trainer who steals plenty of scenes in his own son’s film. But the laid-back exterior, as well as his previous lack of coaching experience, belies a trainer who knows his fighter insideout and keeps creating the blueprints that ensure his son keeps upsetting the odds. “My dad was massively questioned, even more so than me. Four or five fights into my pro career, one of my mate’s dads said to me, ‘Have you not thought about getting another trainer?’ I couldn’t figure it out. I was winning my fights comfortably, so as far as I was concerned, he hadn’t done anything wrong. Later on, Frank Maloney told my manager [Steve Wood] that I should get a new trainer, and Steve relayed his opinion to me. But I wouldn’t listen to anyone. I was comfortable, and that’s all that mattered
“I was young, but still wise enough to see that what other trainers were saying to their fighters wasn’t for me. What my dad was saying made more sense, so I never saw any
WHAT MY DAD WAS SAYING MADE MORE SENSE THAN OTHER TRAINERS”
WHEN I BEAT FRAMPTON, I THINK HE’LL CALL IT A DAY. I’LL BUY HIM A PINT”
reason to change things. Over the years, I’ve seen him asking for advice from more experienced people, picking up lessons to improve himself.
“He has my best interests at heart and has always said, ‘If I ever think I’m not up to the job, I’ll step aside’. But he knows me as a fighter better than anybody – my strengths and weaknesses, what he needs to do to get me into fighting condition, when I’ve overtrained or under-trained. You can’t buy that.
“The Selby fight was satisfying for him, because finally people realised his abilities and skill at designing a gameplan and tactics.”
Warrington is tightlipped about what the game-plan and tactics might be when he does battle with Frampton, Belfast’s former two-weight world champion. But, as is his wont, he has visualised every conceivable manner of victory.
“I’ve imagined what might happen if I have cuts or injuries, what might happen if I totally outbox him, or it’s close and I get through it with a little bit of extra work or clever thinking. I think I might get him out of there early.
“But whatever I imagine, I always see my arm being raised at the end and myself walking out of the Manchester Arena with the belt over my shoulder.
“On paper, Carl is the best I’ve faced, a massive name and a hell or a boxer. Most people think I’ll just walk forward, put the pressure on and throw lots of punches, while Carl will be thinking he’ll use his boxing brain to outbox me and rack up the points. But I can adapt to whatever is put in front of me. At times, it will be a chess match. But Carl likes a tear-up if it’s presented to him.
“However it pans out, I’m catching him at the right time. He’s talked about retirement so much, is at the stage when any fight could be his last. When I beat him, I think he might call it a day. If he’ll let me buy him a pint, I will.”
Asked if he’s done his Christmas shopping yet, Warrington scoffs at the very suggestion. “Not a chance,” he says, “no-one’s getting f**k all. I’ll get myself the win and then get myself down the Boxing Day sales. Double whammy!”
So, it looks a lot like Mrs Warrington will be playing Father Christmas this year. From their old man, the twins will have to make do with two black eyes peering into their cots, a sackful of cash, a dad who did them proud and, if all goes to plan, a sparkling belt of red and gold festooned above the mantelpiece.
WHAT A YEAR: Should Warrington win his next bout, he will be one of the fighters of 2018
QUIETLY CONFIDENT: Belief around Warrington grows with every fight
COMING OUT PARTY: Warrington beats Selby to the punch and takes his title
THE MISSUS: Natasha accepts a kiss from the man she put her faith in many years ago