The lockdown which brought British boxing to another shuddering halt ends on Saturday night when Josh Warrington headlines the sport’s first promotion in the country since 19 December. It has been a long and depressing break and boxing returns looking even more bruised than before. The bleak news surrounding the fight game has rumbled on since the BBC’s recent Panorama investigation into the continuing involvement of Daniel Kinahan in boxing.
Kinahan’s list of alleged criminal activities are disturbing but, unless he is convicted in a court of law, he has made it clear that he will continue advising fighters and setting up lucrative bouts from his exile in Dubai. Boxing administrators have admitted they are powerless to intervene while Sky and BT Sport, who screen most promotions in this country, squirm in the shadows as they wait to see whether the stories dry up for a while to ease their collective conscience.
At least our attention can shift briefly to Warrington as he makes his own return to the ring 16 months since his last fight. Warrington is an admirable boxer who is striving to establish himself as the best featherweight in the world. But even here there is chaos and disappointment. Warrington has relinquished his IBF world title and chosen to fight Mauricio Lara, an obscure Mexican, behind closed doors at Wembley Arena.
Warrington, who is a folk hero in Leeds, has the most vociferous fan base in the country. Last May he was scheduled to face Xu Can, the relentless WBA world champion, in a unification battle in front of a sold-out Headingley. But the first lockdown ruined those hopes. The fight was rescheduled for November, behind closed doors, before a second postponement was complicated still further when the IBF put pressure on Warrington to defend his title against his British rival Kid Galahad.
As the mandatory challenger, and having been unlucky not to get the decision against Warrington in June 2019, Galahad had accepted financial compensation to step aside last year. He was willing for Warrington to fight Xu on the understanding that he would meet the winner. Galahad has a legitimate claim that he deserves more than anyone to fight Warrington next and he is no longer willing to wait. But he is an awkward operator between the ropes, as Warrington found in the closest fight of his unbeaten 31-bout career, and he also lacks a name that resonates in world boxing.
Warrington, who turned 30 in November, is desperate to fight Xu and Gary Russell, the WBC champion, in bouts which would generate far more money and attention than another slippery scrap against Galahad. So Warrington chose to give up his world title and pursue the bigger fights which his promoter Eddie Hearn has promised to secure him.
There must have been some pain in this decision for it took him nearly nine years to win the title. Warrington had to follow a long and lonely path, fighting in small halls, before he was finally given a crack at the IBF title. He outpointed Lee Selby comprehensively to become a world champion in May 2018. Seven months later, on his finest night in the ring, Warrington retained the title with a brilliant display against the much more favoured Carl Frampton. His last fight, after that fortunate win over Galahad, was in October 2019 when he knocked out Sofiane Takoucht.
Lara, meanwhile, has won 21 of his 23 bouts against a string of little-known Mexican opponents. He has more stoppage wins than Warrington but, in May 2018, Lara was knocked out by another Mexican, Eliot Chavez, with a modest 5-1-1 record.
There is always the chance in boxing that an apparent no-hoper produces a stunning surprise. Lara will cling to that slim prospect and he might bring huge commitment and desire into the ring. Warrington, in contrast, will miss his raucous supporters and he could find it difficult to motivate himself when he is far more interested in fighting Xu and Russell. But it will be a shock if Warrington does not win in decisive style despite the lack of atmosphere in an empty arena.
Boxing is back but this could be a night where Warrington, and the sport itself, treads increasingly murky water while dreaming of a less tainted and tangled future.