Immaculate Warrington diffuses Brunker
Josh Warrington boxed immaculately to dominate sturdy Joel Brunker before a fervent home crowd at Leeds’ First Direct Arena on Saturday night. Warrington (now 22-0, 4 KOs) swept every round against the Australian visitor in retaining his WBC International and Commonwealth featherweight titles - boxing on the back foot with precise raids that left the more predictable Brunker (28-2, 16 KOs) facing an uphill struggle from the off. Judges Howard Foster, Steve Gray and Ian John-Lewis all scored it in accordance (120-108).
Former Olympian Brunker, 29, proved too pedestrian to match Warrington’s nimble boxing, yet the New South Wales slugger stuck doggedly to his task from first bell to last. Gashed high on his left temple (from a head clash) in the fifth and bloodied over his right eye in the eighth, Brunker cut an unenviable figure. Hoping to engage Warrington in the type of dog-fight that would have played to his strengths, the Aussie was left confounded when the home fighter opted to box smartly instead (under orders from his father and trainer Sean O’Hagan).
Warrington, 24, has been brought along cannily: he has progressed steadily through the featherweight ranks in collecting British, Commonwealth and European titles and he continues to improve with each outing. A note of caution, though: while promoter Eddie Hearn has his crosshair fixed firmly on a match between Warrington and the Welsh world titlist Lee Selby at Elland Road Stadium next summer (after suggesting the popular “Leeds Warrior” had now graduated to world class - something of a broad term these days), it would be beneficial for Warrington to maintain his current trajectory before tackling the mercurial Selby.
Indeed, it would be heartening to see the likes of Russia’s Evgeny Gradovich (the man Selby bamboozled to win the IBF strap) or Japan’s Hozumi Hasegawa – someone of that ilk - drafted in to allow Warrington to continue to grow. Ringside pundit Carl Froch was forthright in his assertion that Selby remains a level above Warrington – as was amateur star Anthony Fowler (also ringside); while former British super-middleweight champion Paul Smith questioned whether Warrington’s lack of power (Warrington has only four quick wins) could limit his progression. He should be given every chance to develop his full potential.
Warrington picked his punches exceptionally well. In order to deal with a pressure-fighter such as Brunker, a boxer must possess sufficient clout in either hand to break up his momentum whenever he closes in to unload. Warrington managed that adeptly – varying his attacks between right crosses, stiff left hooks (both to head and body) and a nippy jab that he pumped out while motoring in and out of range; Brunker was constantly kept guessing. In an attempt to force a late stoppage in the eleventh, Warrington snuck in a right uppercut that caught his man completely off-guard. This was intelligent stuff.
Selby is a prime example of how to move a fighter from British level into world class. If Warrington can bridge that gap, his outstanding supporters can look ahead to a memorable evening in 2016.
Martin Murray (32-2-1, 15 KOs) floored Colombian Jose Miguel Torres (31-7, 27 KOs) seven times in all to record a fifth round stoppage on the undercard. The 36-year-old Torres – brother to Ricardo, the former welterweight who came within a hair’s breadth of stopping Miguel Cotto in 2005 – seemed to find the canvas far too easily when put under pressure. At times, he resembled an all-in wrestler ducking under the bottom rope in order to earn a respite.
Murray, 32, an imposing figure who has shown no ill-effects from February’s punishing encounter with Gennady Golovkin, is a welcome addition to a 168lbs domestic mix – one that includes George Groves, James DeGale, Callum Smith and Rocky Fielding. The St. Helens man matches up well with any of them.
Cruiserweight Tony Bellew (25-2-1, 16 KOs) boxed well within himself against Latvian Arturs Kulikauskis (16-27-5, 8 KOs) before easing to a fifth round TKO. The Liverpudlian, 32, accomplished his aim in banking a few rounds before bullying Kulikauskis, 24, against the ropes to force the referee’s intervention at the 2:07 mark. It all seemed a little too straightforward for a Tony Bellew fight, though.
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Photo: Lawrence Lustig.