It should have been a happy moment for British fans as boxing returned on these shores for the first time this calendar year. But it was not a happy return for former IBF Featherweight champion Josh Warrington (30-1 KO 7) as he was shockingly knocked out in the 9th round by unheralded Mexican Mauricio Lara (22-2 KO 15).
After 16 months out of the ring and without his raucous supporters Warrington simply looked lost as Lara outgunned and destroyed the consensus number one featherweight in the world.
Warrington, who recently vacated the IBF Featherweight title, landed a nice right hand with the very first punch of the fight but it was the traveling fighter who got the better of the first round as an unusually slow start from the heavy favourite aloud Lara to land a few punches and control the centre of the ring, a theme that would continue throughout.
Round two saw Warrington let his fists fly more and he got the better of the second stanza even opening a cut on the 22-year-old. The Mexican, fighting in his first ever 12 rounder, continued to come forward but a late rally of hooks from the Leeds warrior saw the round go to him as it seemed like the Leeds fighter got a grip hold on the fight.
The third round was more of the same, but the biggest moment came in the fourth. Warrington was caught with a heavy left hook that wobbled him badly as his legs struggled to keep him up. Lara followed up and sent the 30-year-old crashing to the canvas for the first time in his career. Warrington got up on shaky legs and really should have been stopped there as referee Howard Foster gave him every chance to survive and Josh was extremely lucky to hear the end of the round.
The fifth saw Lara attempt to finish the Englishman and Warrington, fighting on instincts, had not recovered between rounds. The former champ did have his moments landing some lovely shots on the 22-year-old, but it was Lara who continued to stalk and walk Josh down as he winged his slow but powerful hooks in.
The sixth saw the same type of action as Lara continued to bang home shots but Warrington was still firing back on the travelling man but was unable to truly make a dent on Lara.
The comfortable night that many were predicting was going horribly wrong and the eighth round saw Warrington backing up and allowing the Mexican onto him as both winged in heavy hooks, but it was Lara who was having the better moments continuing to blast hooks and uppercuts on the chin of Warrington. Whether it was the lack of the noisy Leeds fans or the 16 months off we don’t know all we know is this is not the Josh we remember pre pandemic.
It was seemingly going to be a long way back for the Leeds man going into the ninth as Adam Smith lamented “It would be the greatest comeback in a British ring if Warrington wins this” and he wasn’t wrong, if Warrington was going to win the contest it was going to take a momentous moment that sadly wasn’t going to come.
The shocking finish came in the ninth round as Warrington was once again caught by a big left hook and conceded ground to the unknown commodity in an attempt to get away and regroup. As was the theme in the entire fight Lara was unrelenting as he followed the former world champion backwards and closed the show with a massive left hook that shut the lights of Josh Warrington handing him his first career defeat.
Warrington required oxygen after regaining consciousness as the empty arena and lack of noise set a much more eerie atmosphere then any crowd could ever muster at this utterly monumental shock. Lara was calm in the interview after the fight as if he hadn’t just walked through an elite featherweight.
Lara said “Simply, it’s been a great night I’m happy for my family and my people back home in Mexico. We worked really hard for it, so it worked out how we planned. Our confidence was because we believed we could do it.”
When questioned on why he didn’t close the show in the fourth Lara explained “We worked round by round in terms of 4th I didn’t want to tire myself out because we knew he was number one in the world and for a reason, so we took our time and worked round by round.”
Lara could have gone back to Mexico with the IBF strap tonight, however Warrington had vacated the belt before this fight, but the 22-year-old remained upbeat about world titles saying “No, I go away with a great flavour in my mouth, there’s a tinge of sadness because we don’t have a world title but that will come in the future.”
On the undercard Manchester’s Zelfa Barrett improved his record to 25-1 KO 15 with a controversial unanimous decision over former super bantamweight world champion Kiko Martinez (41-10-2 KO 29). Martinez certainly controlled large portions of the fight against the highly touted 27-year-old and rolled back the years at times as he relentlessly came forward with shots but was handed the tenth defeat of his professional career. Judges Steve Gray and Robert Williams’ scorecards of 118-110 were simply laughable and should be seriously looked into.
Leigh Wood (24-2 KO 14) claimed the vacant British Featherweight title with an 9th round TKO victory over Reece Mould (13-1 KO 6). The bout was as entertaining as predicted but Wood put Mould down twice en-route to the victory. Dalton Smith (7-0 KO 6) made light work of Ishmael Ellis (11-4 KO 0) forcing Ellis to retire in his corner at the end of the third. Elsewhere there were wins for both Hopey Price (4-0 KO 1) and Ibrahim Nadim (3-0 KO 0) over Daniel Mendoza (11-12) and Jonny Phillips (5-6) respectively.