Of Eoin Kennedy: While talk in certain weight classes in boxing has been dominated by speculation surrounding big fights, the men in the sport’s most exciting division have begun to step up and actually fight each other.
Last Saturday night in Leeds, England showed once again that the featherweight division is stacked with talent and the fact that none of the champions or challengers are crossover stars in the mold of Tyson Fury or Canelo Alvarez (or think they are like Errol Spence and Terence Crawford) lend themselves to some fantastic, fan-friendly matches.
Last Saturday was no exception as another highly competitive fight was served up and once again the IBF title was given the hot potato treatment. Josh Warrington relinquished his IBF strap last year in pursuit of bigger fights in the US, but that was not to be for Leeds’ own cult hero, but in the end the red belt made a curious journey back into his possession.
Former foe Kid Galahad picked up the vacant title left by Warrington in a one-sided affair against Jazza Dickens and went on to make his first defense in his hometown of Sheffield, expecting old warhorse Kiko Martinez to play only a supporting role on a night that was all about the champion who parade their new hardware in front of their hometown fans. However, the Spaniard forgot to read the script, and knocked out Galahad in devastating fashion, banishing him from the division in the process.
The unlikely champion had just one match on his wish list, Josh Warrington in Leeds. So after dreaming of big title fights in New York or Las Vegas, Warrington found himself back in his hometown challenging for the title he had voluntarily vacated against an opponent he had beaten on his home turf five years earlier. Fun old game.
Warrington duly took care of business and was once again the IBF featherweight champion of the world, but commitments to face the mandatory challenger meant the American odyssey would have to wait for Warrington and his legion of Leeds supporters.
Last Saturday’s opponent, Luis Alberto Lopez, was probably not considered commercially valuable enough to fix the match in the US, so promoter Eddie Hearn opted for the safety of Leeds, and the old mantra “Warrington’s next match will definitely be the US” was recycled. Well, if the IBF title was the stumbling block to the adventure across the Atlantic, that is no longer the case as the game Mexican edged out the hometown hero and took over the red belt. Just like compatriot Mauricio Lara last year, Lopez went to Leeds and defeated Warrington.
Lara himself can probably count himself unlucky not to be a world champion given that he was Warrington’s first opponent after dropping the IBF title, and unfortunately for the Mexican his explosive knockout victory came in a fight with no championship at stake. But despite that fact, Lara’s stock has soared since then and he is set to challenge for the WBA version of the world title against another Englishman, Leigh Wood, early next year.
The fight is an odd choice for Wood (who has recently been promoted to full champion after Leo Santa Cruz finally relinquished the belt he held hostage) as Lara is a big puncher with a ferocious style but doesn’t carry a title or big advertising. appeal to the table. Essentially, this fight presents far more risk than reward for the Nottingham fighter, and what makes it even more bizarre is that Eddie Hearn is also Wood’s promoter, and he has seen the devastating Mexican go into an English fighter’s backyard and destroy the man his. Will lightning strike twice for the Matchroom stable?
In Hearn’s defence, he alluded to the fact this week that he had suggested a rematch with Michael Conlan as an option for Wood, but his team management were not interested. One can see why Wood might choose to stay away from the slippery Irishman for the time being. Despite knocking Conlan out of the ring and into the arms of his father and brother back in March in a fight that has to be awarded fight of the year, it cannot be ignored that Conlan controlled the vast majority of proceedings, boxing circles around Wood. Wood is correct in his declarations that a match is thirty-six minutes long and that he was ultimately the last man standing in the epic battle, but most observers would agree that if Conlan can conserve his energy more effectively than in the first match, would be the favorite to triumph should the two dance again.
Interestingly, since that fight in March, Wood is yet to fight, while Conlan already has two wins. The latest of those came last Saturday night in Belfast, where the former Olympic bronze medalist blasted Karim Guerfi out in the very first round. Knockouts, especially this early, aren’t what stylist Conlan is usually known for, but his adoring Belfast fans weren’t the least bit upset by the rush with which the hometown hero dispatched his opponent.
In a division where the best regularly battle the best, the landscape changed again last Saturday. Warrington has some soul-searching to do. No doubt the former two-time world champion still has lucrative fights ahead of him, but are his best days behind him? Days that saw him defeat Carl Frampton and Lee Selby. Or is he hanging around to get the big derby clash with Leigh Wood? For that match to carry at least some of the spice it had before Warrington’s loss, Wood will have to come through his massive test against Lara, and that is far from a foregone conclusion.
Michael Conlan, the man who went through his own period of soul searching in March, is now sitting pretty with plenty of momentum, and the good news for him is that the newly crowned IBF world champion, Lopez, is also under Bob Arum’s Top Ranger promotional banner, so the only real the question that arises in relation to that fight is whether they will continue in the hallowed Madison Square Garden, New York or add a new chapter to the famous fighting city of Belfast, Ireland where Conlan follows in the footsteps of local legends such as Frampton and Barry McGuigan. Whatever happens, there’s no sign of the action drying up in boxing’s most entertaining division.