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‘I just can’t fathom it’ – Josh Warrington frustrated by Can Xu withdrawal

David Charlesworth, PA
·4-min read

A bemused Josh Warrington has questioned Can Xu’s motivation for fighting after a bout that would have had two world titles on the line fell through because of the Chinese’s apparent reluctance to box behind closed doors.

Warrington was been chasing a world featherweight title unification contest since beating Lee Selby to win the IBF crown in May 2018 and was close to securing a deal to take on Can – the WBA ‘regular’ champion – next month.

But Can last week withdrew from a potential showdown, citing an unwillingness to fight with no fans present, and Warrington has instead been left with a more underwhelming choice of opponent in Mauricio Lara on February 13.

The Yorkshireman has not fought since October 2019 and, while he welcomed the chance to shake off ring rust, he could not hide his frustration at a high-profile clash – one he has spent months preparing for – being scuppered.

“All the sparring partners were tailored for Xu,” the unbeaten Warrington said. “All the tactics that we have been going over, myself laying in bed at night thinking about the fight with Xu, trying to visualise it.

“Then for him to go he doesn’t want to fight without a crowd… How? I just can’t fathom it. Thinking about it gets me worked up. What is your life, why are you part of this sport?

“We are lucky to step into a ring during this pandemic, we are lucky the sport is allowed to happen, we all have to make little sacrifices. How long are you going to wait?

“It’s been frustrating for me to get my head around it. I still don’t fully understand it but at least I’m getting back in the ring and back to competing.”

Josh Warrington, right, has not fought since October 2019 (Richard Sellers/PA)
Josh Warrington, right, has not fought since October 2019 (Richard Sellers/PA)

Warrington (30-0, 7KOs) is now devoting his attention to his Mexican opponent, who has won 21 of his 23 bouts, but is hopeful of fighting Can, WBC champion Gary Russell Jr or WBO titlist Emanuel Navarrete later this year.

“As long as it’s a big name and a big fight and there’s another belt on the line then I’m not bothered,” he added. “It could be any one of them.

“I want to test myself against those guys. I don’t want to get to the end of my career and think ‘what if?’ That’s where sportspeople struggle mentally. I want be getting to the end of my career and thinking ‘I tried my best’.

“I’m not saying I can beat these guys. I believe I can beat them but it’s not written. If I get knocked out by Gary Russell Jr then so be it.”

If a unification bout materialises, Warrington knows the coronavirus pandemic and the public’s caution after months of restrictions could rule out fighting in a stadium – as he did when he beat Selby at his beloved Elland Road.

Warrington, left, reunited with promoter Eddie Hearn last year (Bradley Collyer/PA)
Warrington, left, reunited with promoter Eddie Hearn last year (Bradley Collyer/PA)

“We might get to fight outdoors again,” he said. “But could I see it happening this year, like it should have done? Probably not. Even just the way life has changed now, I think some people are still going to be put off by it.

“People aren’t going to want to cuddle and be getting up with each other (saying): ‘What a performance!’ We’re not going to be in that kind of normal any more.”

After reuniting with promoter Eddie Hearn in February last year, Warrington, who turned 30 in November, confessed that he had designs on being closer to retirement with his legacy and financial future secure by the end of 2020.

“I thought I’d be unified champion and potentially may have had two fights in 2020, more than enough money to retire on by 30,” he added. “I’d have achieved everything – and more – than I ever dreamed of by 30.

“But it’s one of those where I’ve had to refocus myself and refocus my mind and just start again from scratch. So 2021 is a blank canvas and we just go from here.”