Briton Josh Warrington sensationally knocked out Spain’s Kiko Martinez in the seventh round to become a two-time IBF featherweight champion.
In front of his loyal home fans at First Direct Arena in Leeds, the 31-year-old dropped the Spaniard in the first round before the fight was halted two minutes 12 seconds into the seventh.
The two fighters previously met in 2017, Warrington edging a close points decision, but this time the ‘Leeds Warrior’ won in clinical fashion.
It was Warrington’s first win since October 2019 as he regains the title he held between 2018 and January 2021. He seemed to hurt his hand in the fight and was also later taken to hospital with a suspected fractured jaw.
“Kiko [is] still not finished. He’s a big puncher,” Warrington told BBC Radio 5 Live in his post-fight interview. “He’s got iron in both hands and he didn’t stop coming.
“I’ve done the same hands what I did in the first fight on his head. Around three or four, I lost feeling in my hands. It was getting to the stage when every time I hit him I went numb.”
The First Direct Arena has become synonymous with the ‘Leeds Warrior’ – it is the 11th time Warrington has headlined at the venue.
Keeping to tradition, he once again walked to the ring to Marching On Together, the Leeds United anthem, followed by I Predict A Riot by Leeds-based indie band Kaiser Chiefs.
Leeds United footballer Luke Ayling accompanied Warrington to the ring, with team-mate Kalvin Phillips at ringside.
Warrington started quick out of the blocks, and midway through the round unleashed a barrage of shots to head and body. Moments later, a vicious right hook then connected flush on the champion and Martinez hit the canvas.
He rose to his feet and, with Warrington sensing an early finish, somehow withstood the subsequent onslaught. Clearly frustrated by a poor start and hampered by a cut to the left eye, Martinez riled his opponent and the crowd by punching Warrington after the bell.
As ‘Yorkshire, Yorkshire, Yorkshire’ echoed around the arena, Warrington threw a combination of left and right hooks which again troubled Martinez in the second.
A bloodied Martinez was undeterred. He landed a solid right in the fourth as both fighters traded hooks and uppercuts.
More damage was being done to Martinez’s face and while the Spaniard was enjoying some success and seemingly fully recovered from that first-down knockout, he was now cut above both eyes.
As the fight progressed, there was a feeling at ringside that the tempo was starting to slow down, but Warrington had other ideas.
Having just been caught by a right, Warrington returned with ferocious shots which landed from all angles. With Martinez backed up on the ropes and throwing little back, referee Marcus McDonnell had little choice but to intervene.
It was the manner of Warrington’s win which will be most pleasing for him and his trainer and father, Sean O’Hagan.
Very few boxing careers culminate without trials, tribulations and setbacks. While tougher tests await, the victory marks a return to winning ways and world champion status for Warrington after arguably the most frustrating, and disappointing period of his 13-year professional career.
After beating Wales’ Lee Selby for the IBF title, he made consecutive defences against former world champion Carl Frampton and future world champion Kid Galahad.
Then after a period of inactivity during the coronavirus pandemic, in which Warrington fought just once in 16 months, he suffered a first career defeat after a shock knockout loss to Mauricio Lara in February 2021.
Admirably, he went straight into a rematch with the hard-hitting Mexican six months later – only for the fight to be declared a technical draw in the second round because of an accidental clash of heads.
The phrase “must-win fight” is used far too often in boxing, but a loss to Martinez would have almost certainly derailed Warrington’s hopes of regaining a world-title.
A unification fight with Nottingham’s WBA regular champion Leigh Wood – who was in attendance – is perhaps the most likely outcome for Warrington, with both fighters signed to Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing.
Wood’s own stock rose dramatically when he knocked out Michael Conlan in the 12th round earlier this month, having been down in the fight and on the judges’ scorecards.
A blockbuster all-British clash looks destined for a stadium fight at either Leeds United’s Elland Road or Nottingham Forest’s City Ground, featuring two football-loving fighters who would bring huge city-based support.
Warrington has also stated he has unfinished business with Lara. It is a risky rematch he does not have to take, but will speak volumes of his character should he do so.
Mexican Emanuel Navarrete is the WBO champion and Mark Magsayo from the Philippines holds the WBC belt, so a unification contest against either fighter is also a possibility.
Another option could be a high-profile bout against WBA ‘super’ champion Leo Santa Cruz, although the Mexican has not competed at featherweight in three years.
Warrington has a preference, but seems to be keeping his options open.
“In an ideal world I’d love to go to the States,” he said. “But Leigh Wood’s just become champion. I’d like an away day. But I love it here.”
Promoter Hearn added: “Josh has long wanted a trip to America and it would be Ricky Hatton-esque if we could do it.”
Whoever he faces next, Warrington will for now bask in the glory of his latest win. Before the fight, he said his yet-to-be-written autobiography has already gone from bargain aisle to best seller. But hold print. There is still, at least, another chapter to be penned.