Saturday night marks the 2021 UK debut of MatchroomBoxing, with Leeds favourite Josh Warrington returning as the headline act. This year’s premiere is delayed somewhat, following the British Board of Control’s month-long prohibition of boxing due to lockdown 3. Fortunately, the ban was not extended beyond January. Anticipation now grows for what could well be a remarkable year for British boxing.
Josh Taylor may become the undisputed champion of the super-lightweight division. Billy-Joe Saunders might get his shot at Canelo. Carl Frampton could become the first person from the island of Ireland to become a three-weight world champion.
And most rousingly of all, Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury should face off to become the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. A fight that will undoubtedly become the all-time biggest in British boxing history. An agreement has been made on the terms, and it seems to be just the TV rights and location that is yet to be decided before a date can be set in stone.
Josh Warrington is another British man who was hoping to become a unified champion last year. The former IBF 126lbs champion Warrington was seemingly on a collision course with the Chinese WBA champion Can Xu at Headingley stadium.
Sadly, the pandemic put paid to those plans. With no let-up from Covid-19, there has been no opportunity to reschedulethe contest with a crowd. This situation dragged on, leaving Warrington a year out of the ring and in need of a dance partner. Mauricio Lara was elected to be that partner, and so,the two men will battle it out at Wembley Arena.
Josh Warrington 30-0-0 vs Mauricio Lara 21-2-0
10 x 3 mins Featherweight Contest
The 22-year-old Lara is a potential banana skin for Warrington. The young Mexican is an unknown quantity. He has so far campaigned in his native Mexico against lesser-known opposition, building his record. However, the ‘Bronco’ Lara has a golden opportunity to make a name for himself with a victory over arguably the world’s best featherweight.
‘The Leeds Warrior’ cannot afford to overlook Lara. The reality is that he has a lot more to lose than he has to gain with an expected triumph on Saturday night. Warrington holds iconic victories over Lee Selby and Carl Frampton. He is BoxRec’s number one and was due to challenge for the Ring Magazine championship against Can Xu, whereas Lara is unknown to 99% of boxing fans.
Josh cannot afford to take his foot off the gas if he hopes to build towards a fight with the likes of Gary Russell Jr, Emmanuel Navarrete or Can Xu. Especially as he no longer holds the IBF featherweight crown, having vacated it due to Kid Galahad enforcing his mandatory status.
Galahad agreed to a step aside deal with Team Warrington to permit Warrington a unification with Xu. As mentioned, that fight did not materialise. Warrington then chose to defend his title against Lara as a voluntary defence. Galahad was reluctant to allow Josh another voluntary, as his agreement permitted Warrington to fight Xu, and Xu only, leading Warrington to vacate his title.
If Warrington doesn’t win as expected on Saturday, he will lose out on the prospect of making the high-profile fights, as well as his status as a world champion. Warrington needs to win, and he should.
The Yorkshire man possesses a phenomenal engine and a chin of granite. He is an underrated boxer too, and I have confidence he can beat anyone in the division on his day. I also believe Matchroom are accomplished matchmakers. They will have done their research to find an opponent that should not prove a stumbling block to potential mega fights for Warrington.
The only benefit I feel Lara has is that he will be accustomed to fighting in small venues without a crowd, having been a professional since the age of 17. This will differ somewhat from Warrington, who has not fought without the backing of his usual army of Leeds fans since his amateur days.
Crowd aside, I feel Warrington will be too well versed to allow that to play any part in his performance. Providing he doesn’t overlook Lara, he should win.
Whatever happens, I would have much preferred to see Warrington keep his title and defend it in a rematch against Kid Galahad. Many thought Galahad beat Warrington in their snooze fest back in 2019, however it was Warrington who emerged victorious with a controversial split decision. It would have been a real sign of intent from Warrington if he rematched Galahad to right that wrong. He could have put that controversy to bed once and for all before going on to make a unification.
Prediction: Warrington points.
Leigh Wood 23-2-0 vs Reece Mould 13-0-0
12 x 3 mins for vacant BBBofC British Featherweight Title
Fresh from his run in the MTK Golden Contract tournament, Leigh Wood has a great opportunity to realise a lifelong goal when he takes on Reece Mould for the British title.
Nottingham’s Wood previously fought for the super-bantamweight version of that title back in 2014 and was stopped in the 5th by Gavin McDonnell. Since the loss to McDonnell, Wood has gone from strength to strength. Winning the Commonwealth title and beating the likes of Ryan Doyle before entering MTK’s Golden Contract tournament.
Wood raised a few eyebrows when he chose tournament favourite David Oliver Joyce as his opponent for the quarter-final. Wood posted a stellar performance against Joyce, stopping him in the ninth round. Wood advanced to the semis where he met with Jazza Dickens and the two had an absolute barnstormer, in what transpired to be one of the final events in the UK with a crowd before Covid-19.
Dickens was the man to avail with a decision on the cards, however, Wood proved his mettle and toughness with a ballsy showing. Wood is a proven champion, that can both box and bang. He certainly has the added benefit of the experience of fighting in high profile occasions over his opponent Mould.
The 26-year-old Mould is a former English champion, beating Birmingham's Sean Davis to the title home back in 2019. Mould was a decent amateur and made it to the semi-finals of the ABAs. Mould is yet to taste defeat; however, his record is lacking notable opposition.
It’s unknown how good Reece Mould is and how good he can be. Saturday’s British title tilt will be a decent indicator of his level. Personally, I feel Leigh Wood will be the man to emerge victorious and achieve his dream of becoming British champion.
Prediction: Wood stoppage.
Zelfa Barrett 24-1-0 vs Kiko Martinez 41-9-2
10 x 3 mins for International Boxing Federation Inter-Continental Super Featherweight Title
Zelfa Barrett faces a step up in class when he takes on former world champion Kiko Martinez. Martinez has challenged some of the best at 122 and 126 pounds. The Spaniard holds losses to Carl Frampton x2, Scott Quigg, Leo Santa Cruz, Josh Warrington and Gary Russell Jr, and has also held the European title a number of times.
The 34-year-old ‘La Sensacion’ now campaigns at super-featherweight. He will hope to put himself in the mix for European honours in a third division with a win over the ‘Brown Flash’.
Zelfa is trained by his well-known uncle Pat out of the renowned Collyhurst and Moston gym. Barrett comes into his fight with Martinez on the back of his highlight reel KO of Eric Donovan last time out in Fight Camp. Barrett has improved no end since his surprise loss to Ronnie Clark back in 2018. Zelfa is electric fast and has the equaliser capable of stopping his opponent in their tracks, as demonstrated with Donovan last time out.
The Mancunian is in a competitive weight division domestically, with Joe Cordina and Martin J Ward looking to challenge for world honours later on in the year. A decent match-up for Barrett would be a bout with British champion Anthony Cacace, who fights Lyon Woodstock on the undercard of Frampton vs Herring.
However, Barrett must first navigate his way past a long in the tooth Kiko Martinez. Martinez is a wily old champion, and it would not be a surprise if he is the one with his hand raised come the end of the fight. However, I believe Barrett will have enough in his arsenal to stop an ageing Martinez late on.
Prediction: Barrett late stoppage.
Dalton Smith 6-0-0 vs Ishmael Ellis 11-3-0
Sheffield's Dalton Smith returns following his impressive knockout of Nathan Bennett at Fight Camp when he takes on Birmingham's Ishmael Ellis.
Ellis is a former Midlands Area challenger, who has fought fan’s favourite Kane Baker and also Jack O'Keeffe. In reality, Ellis is levels below Smith, England’s most successful amateur boxer, who won a plethora of medals including the junior European championships and Commonwealth Games. Smith has the potential and ability to do great things in the pro ranks. At 24-years-old he is still young enough to learn and add to his game as he climbs the ranks.
The fight with Ellis is an opportunity to do just that and work on things against a live opponent who will be coming to win. I fully expect Dalton Smith to post an impressive performanceand to continue building towards some domestic titles later on in the year.
Prediction: Smith Stoppage.
Ivan ‘Hopey’ Price 3-0-0 vs Zahid Hussain 16-1-0
Dave Coldwell’s charge Hopey Price takes another step up against Leeds pugilist Zahid Hussain. Hussain is a former Central Area champion with sixteen victories under his belt.
Price is in the same boat as Dalton Smith. A standout amateur with big prospects, Price has won medals in pretty much every amateur competition there is. He is still learning as a pro and is at a very early part of his progression. Willing to take on a fighter like Hussain who is coming to win is a real sign of intent from Team Price.
However, Hearn and Coldwell know what they are doing, and I have faith that they will get their fighter the right fights at the right time. I anticipate this being a good learning fight for Price, but one he avails from comfortably.
Prediction: Price points.
Ibrahim Nadim 2-0-0 vs Jonny Phillips 5-5-0
Ibrahim Nadim makes his third appearance as a professional against ‘The Matador’ Jonny Phillips. This is a good test for the Ricky Hatton-trained Nadim, as Phillips has been in with classy operators like Stephen Smith and Ivan Price. Nadim is a former ABA champ, and as an amateur fought and lost to Price himself in the final of the England Youth National Championships.
Nadim could have a big future in the sport. He will hope to continue his development with a victory over Phillips.
Prediction: Nadim points.
By Aaron Ludford of SimBoxx
In association with Clint Patrick