For most human beings and many fighters, going through what Josh Warrington went through against Mauricio Lara in February of 2021 would be enough to change them psychologically forever. On that night, Warrington was shocked by an unheralded opponent, his jaw blasted by Lara’s unhinged attack so often that it physically cracked. Warrington got away from his steady, workmanlike approach, went for broke, and was met by a man better equipped for that kind of battle. 

It was the kind of humbling, physically taxing defeat that would have derailed most fighters. The presumption of many boxing observers was that it had. Even after a disappointing no-contest in a rematch with Lara, many had assumed that like plenty before him who had suffered serious beatings in losses in the past, that his days as a fighter at the top of the division were numbered. 

Kiko Martinez overcame his own adversity that we seldom see fighters emerge from. The former super bantamweight titleholder had lost four straight world title bouts, the fourth being against Gary Russell in a bout much of the public groaned at, presuming Martinez to be a high-level B-side or top European-level fighter at best at that point in his career. A loss to Zelfa Barrett in February of 2021, the same night as Warrington’s loss to Lara, more or less confirmed those observers’ suspicions. 

But a chance encounter with Kid Galahad, a bout presumably made to give Galahad a “safe” title defense to kick off his IBF featherweight title reign, netted a life-changing and career-altering result. Martinez knocked Galahad cold, perhaps the most improbable of results, emerging from boxing purgatory to the throne of one of the four major sanctioning bodies. 

The two met for the second time on Saturday night at the First Direct Arena in Leeds, five years after they fought in the very same place, this time with Martinez’s world title on the line. Warrington and Martinez fought with a ferocity born of their circumstances. Warrington, having felt his grip on top-level status slipping through his fingers after losing to Lara, battled with the desperation of a man who knew this could be his last chance to stay there. Martinez, having in his mind been unjustly denied the decision in his first bout with Warrington, tried to replicate his knockout shot from the Galahad fight, perhaps thinking it was the only way to leave with his title over his shoulder. 

Beyond that, both men suggested—in terms more certain than others in different interviews—that a loss would spell their final fight. Martinez said that he had made peace with living out his days, financially secure, on his farm with his chickens Pacquiao and Marquez. Warrington wasn’t as straightforward, but his promoter said it for him.

“Both of those guys are not only fighting for a world title but to hold on to what they love, and that’s why you’re going to get a great fight,” promoter Eddie Hearn told Boxing Social prior to the bout. 

When the bell rang on Saturday night, Warrington rushed Martinez the way Martinez had done to him in the past. Warrington likely understood two things. One, that a title shot against Martinez was the best opportunity he could have been given to become a world champion again. Fair or not, the perception of Martinez was that he was one of the most vulnerable and most beatable titleholders in the division and perhaps in the sport. And two, that Martinez thrives off of any level of apathy in his opponent’s approach. If you concede any amount of time and space, that is his cue to attack. Warrington decided to leave nothing to chance.

In the first round, Warrington attacked Martinez as if his opponent was hurt, even before he actually was, throwing combinations to the body and head without bothering to take anything off them at all for the sake of accuracy. Enough of them landed to put Martinez under duress, and Martinez responded by trying to get out of trouble with the same right hand that iced Galahad. Warrington had it scouted, and met him with a right hand that put Martinez on the canvas, only for him to emerge with a gash above his eye as well. 

The knockdown may have shown Martinez how close the end, of the fight, of everything actually was. By round three, the fight had fallen into a familiar pattern for Martinez fights. He might not have been winning rounds, but he was marching forward with his trademark gait, fists cocked at chest-level and elbows swinging side to side. Warrington settled into a less-frenzied rhythm than he’d adopted in the opening rounds, focusing on stiff jabs and single shots from the outside. When Martinez did find his way to the inside, Warrington used a combination of his shoulders, his head and hard body shots to insist the action would only remain there if he wanted it to. 

In the seventh round, Martinez found the right hand he was looking for, the one that had won him the title last time out. With just shy of a minute remaining in the round, it connected, and Warrington was affected enough to grimace instantly, and then hold on to Martinez. In that moment, Warrington too must have realized how close it was to being over. He must have known that if he went down and stayed there, it would be the last time his rabid followers in Leeds would perform a full-throated singalong to the Kaiser Chiefs as he walked to the ring. He must have remembered the last time he’d been in trouble like this, in a mostly empty venue, against Lara. 

Unwilling to let it happen again on this fight, Warrington roared back and pressed Martinez to the ropes, never landing any single concussive shot, but rather, so many of them with no end in sight that the referee had to wave the fight off. 

Both fighters were ready to go home. Martinez was comfortable staying there, his career complete. Warrington, meanwhile, just wanted a long rest, his future goals still within reach. 

“I wouldn’t mind a bit of bread pudding, a cheeseburger, a pint with all these lot. I wouldn’t mind going home, having sex with me missus, because it’s been about four weeks,” said Warrington. 

Corey Erdman is a boxing writer and commentator based in Toronto, ON, Canada. Follow him on Twitter @corey_erdman.