Natural-born rivals: Selby vs Warrington preview

James Oddy
16/05/2018 10:40am

Josh Warrington has home advantage on Saturday night at Elland Road, Leeds as he challenges for Lee Selby's IBF featherweight title in an eagerly awaited grudge match...

Josh Warrington (26-0, 6 KOs) and Lee Selby (27-1, 9 KOs) seemed, for a long time, like they might be the featherweight equivalent of Kell Brook vs Amir Khan or Junior Witter vs Ricky Hatton - two natural opponents who, for a variety of reasons, would never set foot in a ring together when at their peak, if ever.

Thankfully for British boxing fans, the pair will meet on Saturday night at Elland Road stadium in Leeds, fighting for Selby’s IBF featherweight title, in a show promoted by Frank Warren.

While this is a fight British boxing fans want, it’s one that both boxers ultimately need. Warrington, fighting in front of his hometown crowd, is in the right time and place career wise to fight for world honours. ‘The Leeds Warrior’ has won English, Commonwealth, British and European titles in a career which has seen a refreshingly old-fashioned route to the top.

Starting out in leisure centres, town halls and, funnily enough, in the Elland Road pavilion, the 27-year-old has worked his way up gradually, recently appearing seven times at Leeds’ First Direct Arena as a regular, well-supported local attraction. He first topped a bill there in 2014 against Martin Lindsay, and his rapacious army of fans have helped him build plenty of buzz and momentum.

Warrington has kept pretty active throughout his career since his debut in 2009, winning all 26 of his contests, with solid competitors such as Kiko Martinez, Dennis Ceylan, Patrick Hyland, Joel Brunker and Hisashi Amagasa probably the pick of his scalps over the years.

Warrington has a crowd-pleasing style that has helped supplement an 'everyman' personality, causing him to become one of the biggest draws in Yorkshire boxing for some time. Super fit, busy, and come-forward in style, he lands wearing body shots during his attack flurries. He can also be versatile, boxing more conservatively when needs be.

The one criticism leveled at Warrington is that he lacks the power that truly elite world-class fighters possess. However, whilst that is true to a certain extent, his excellent motor and shot variety can create real trouble for his opponents. His power also seems to be improving, having stopped two of his last three opponents in Ceylan and Hyland.

Welshman Selby has also had an arduous route to the top. He has appeared in the smaller halls, winning Welsh area, Celtic, British and Commonwealth titles en route to the summit. The only blemish on his record came early doors, against Samir Mouneimne, in 2009. Oddly enough, Warrington defeated the same opponent in 2013, in something of an upset, which catapulted the Leeds man on to bigger things. Other notable names on Selby’s ledger include Ryan Walsh, Stephen Smith, Joel Brunker and Rendall Munroe (who Warrington also beat in the Leicester man's final fight).

Following his domestic success, Selby dethroned Russia’s Evgeny Gradovich for the IBF title in 2015. Selby boxed superbly that night, lending credence to those that believe he is the best 'pure' boxer in the British Isles. Speed, beautiful footwork and combination punching suggested the Barry man was the total package.

Unfortunately, the win didn’t quite prove the catalyst his fans had hoped for in terms of kicking on and solidifying his reputation. Following a slightly underwhelming first defence against Fernando Montiel, Selby had nearly a year of inactivity from his second defence against Eric Hunter until his non-title fight against Andoni Gago.

Whilst this frustrating spell was due to a combination of bad luck and other out of the ring issues, it stalled what was shaping up to be a stellar career. Selby upped his activity in 2017, appearing three times, but none of these fights seemed to capture the public imagination. For a fighter the calibre of Selby, it seems a crying shame.

It makes perfect sense, therefore, for these two boxers to now meet in a stadium fight. Warrington wants a world title; if he were to win one, he would be the first world champion to hail from Leeds. It would also silence those critics that suggest he is 'merely' a popular ticket seller, and not quite a world-level talent.

As for Selby, Saturday provides a marquee event to add to his resume, a reminder of his talent and an exclamation mark after a tough few years.

It’s a cliché, but the pair really don’t seem to like each other. Plenty of needle has been exchanged over the years and that has to be considered a factor when they meet. Furthermore, fighting at Leeds United’s home stadium, it’s almost certain Selby will be treated to some brutal and aggressive treatment from the home crowd.

Some have suggested the latter could rattle the Welshman but, having boxed at the elite level, it’s more likely he will relish the animosity and use it as fuel for his performance during the fight.

Warrington will be tough, committed and fired up, and will come at Selby from the opening bell. The fight will be decided by two factors; how well Warrington’s team can devise a game plan and have their man stick to it in front of an emotional crowd, and how well Selby deals with the pressure Warrington brings.

Warrington has constantly shown he has higher levels in his career, yet Selby has proven (most notably against Gradovich) that he can deal with pressure fighters.

My pick is for Selby to weather some tough moments to come out as a points winner. It’ll be tight, tough, close; maybe even contentious, but I believe the Welshman will have his hand raised come the final bell.