CHRIST­MAS CAN WAIT

Josh War­ring­ton tells Ben Dirs he’s get­ting slightly irked with not be­ing taken se­ri­ously

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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.

Photo: AC­TION IM­AGES/JA­SON CAIRNDUFF

Photo: AC­TION IM­AGES/JA­SON CAIRNDUFF

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

Pho­tos: AC­TION IM­AGES/PETER CZIBORRA

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

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