It is hard to know where to start a fight report on Josh Warrington’s contest with unheralded Mexican, Mauricio Lara. The 22-year-old, who catapults himself from anonymity and small purses to the world scene with the victory, remains the same boxer he was on Friday. He is still slow, with wide punches, ponderous feet and a propensity to mark up. But he has, whatever circumstances prove to have been in play, battered the best Featherweight in the world and knocked him out in spectacular fashion.
Congratulations to him for taking the fight and grabbing the chance. Almost everything else about the night felt wrong.
The fact Warrington was permitted to continue following a heavy fourth round knockdown was startling enough. He was vertical, true, but standing on the deck of his own Titanic and he couldn’t hear the band. An opponent would have been stopped. And cliches about the fact it was a world title fight were also unavailable as Warrington had abdicated the IBF belt in the prelude to the bout. It didn’t stop the cliche blowing on the hot air of punditry.
Sacrificing his world title belt created a peculiar atmosphere of denial about this whole event. It was a tactic based on the unconventional. On opting for an untrodden path to fellow champions, to profile opponents and to greater competition and wealth. By all perceived wisdom it was a curious, if not baffling, decision. The logic was simple enough. Get out of mandatories. Prey on the rivals Russell, Can, Valdez and Santa Cruz, appeal to their competitive urge, to their machismo. Rematching Kid Galahad, a product of the Winconbank Gym of unfathomable riddles, as the IBF insisted he need to do to retain said belt, appealed to Warrington as much as it did his broadcast partners. Galahad can fight, some thought he beat Warrington first time around, but he doesn’t make for good television and he doesn’t enhance Warrington’s standing.
So, Warrington stood down, planned to shed ring rust over 3-4 rounds with a straightforward Mexican with a pretty record and a love of being hit in the face. Problematic for Warrington, a fighter who feeds on intensity, passion and the energy of the crowd, this fight was behind close doors and in London. Far from his roots, his fans and the external factors that make him feel confident. It was Lara’s sixth fight since Warrington last boxed. It wouldn’t matter because Warrington was world class and Lara wasn’t. That was the script.
Warrington, a prohibitive favourite with the bookmakers, began the fight slowly, trying to punch sporadically, from distance. Establish a gap by using his jab. He hadn’t read his lines. His fight plan was an antithesis of his best night, when he leapt on Frampton like a piranha. Ferocious and unflinching. But as with many all-action fighters, those who are fuelled and fired by their audience and the impetuosity of youth and the pursuit, the chase, Warrington found a change of tactics an uncomfortable fit and that which was natural and instinctive in 2019, was but a memory. One with frayed and ambiguous edges. He was rusty. He may have gotten old. It does happen.
Between rounds, as far as TV cameras enables an accurate assessment, there seemed a lack of awareness of how dense the ‘fog’ Warrington was trying to perform in. The evidence was plentiful and explicit to those of us with beer and nuts, watching from the sofa. Warrington’s legs were like lollipop sticks, stuck in the sand by holidaymakers as waves of disorientation rose and fell over them. Engulfing him. It is a testament to his conditioning and will that he survived the last thirty seconds of the fourth and that he somehow found a way out of the 5th round too. Commentary conceded he was now suffering from a concussion, essentially stating that he should, by definition, be stopped. Certainly, in 2021, enough his known of the dangers of fighting on with a concussion, though plenty remains to be discovered, to have expected more alacrity and caution from the officials.
However, the safety of the fighter is also the domain of the cornermen. Despite offering little verbally between all of the rounds subsequent to the 4th, with his stiffness of leg lingering long beyond the 4th and 5th too, it is hard to conjure how Warrington’s demeanour and performance failed to convince Sean O’Hagan, his head trainer and Father, to take a less damaging, if no less surprising, loss and move on. Whether via rematch or as a reappraised opponent for one of those Warrington was in pursuit of.
Warrington may elect to retire. It was that type of performance. A terrible one. The fact he hasn’t boxed for more than a year was unquestionably a factor and may offer an excuse to tell himself when he inevitably returns to the gym. He may learn there that tonight was no fluke and that the sad reality is, despite being just 30 years old, he is past his own zenith and something has been lost.
Of greatest importance is that Warrington, a proud Yorkshireman, is well for the long term. He took blows he didn’t see coming, that he didn’t need to take and was hurt repeatedly. If he chooses to box on, he will be in a weak negotiating position and may need to travel for a title shot. He will also return to a British fight scene where scoring judges are among the worst in the world, ref: Barrett v Martinez, where rabbit punches are frowned upon but widely permissible and where a referee’s generosity and incompetence is measured in blinking brain cells.
We wish Warrington well, congratulate Mauricio Lara, who was a gentleman in victory and pray that there will be some sanction for the two cards of 118-111 submitted for Barrett v Martinez, a refresher for officials who permit rabbit punches constantly and also hold up disoriented fighters otherwise unable to protect themselves effectively.
Boxing doesn’t have to be this incompetently administered.