Josh Warrington says that talks have started for a unification fight against Shakur Stevenson, even though his preference for his next fight would see him face Gary Russell Jr instead.
Stevenson, 22, won the WBO featherweight title by beating Joet Gonzalez last month in Reno and Warrington, the IBF champion from Leeds, says he is more than happy to face him next, as he tries to nail down a unification fight that eluded him this year.
“I know that negotiations have started,” Warrington told Boxing Scene. “He’s a young lad, he has a lot of people around himwho are going to build his confidence up. I did say to him ‘win a title and we’ll talk’, so he has won a title and we’ll see what happens.
“Obviously there is Stevenson, there is Gary Russell (the WBC champion) and there is Can Xu (the WBA champion). I’d rather have Russell or Stevenson, I want the toughest fights.
“If I could have my way, and it never goes my way, I’d have Gary Russell next, because I believe his inactivity might force him to move up, then Shakur, because he is just a young whippersnapper, then go from there.”
Russell, 31, has only boxed once in each of the past five years, but Stevenson has shown greater desire to move up quickly. At 28, Warrington is in search of big fights. After winning the IBF title from Lee Selby and making a successful first defence against Carl Frampton in 2018, he had to be content with wins over Kid Galahad, his mandatory contender, and Sofiane Takoucht. He also realises that now might be the best time to get Stevenson, while he lacks big-fight experience.
“He is a safety-first kind of fighter, he is always on the back foot, he still has a lot of his amateur fundamentals,” Warrington said. “I have seen him fight a few times and some of the guys he fights are just tough guys who walk forward in straight lines. They are tailor-made for him, they make him look absolutely fantastic.
“Don’t get me wrong, he can probably do stuff I can’t do, but I’m experienced at this level and I’ve experienced tough 12-rounders, I can do it at different paces and I can go forward without doing it in straight lines.
“The only way he is going to find out what that is like is through experience. It’s easy enough to say what you would do, but it’s a different story when you have to put things in place under the lights. Things are a bit different when you are faced with constant educated pressure. It’s the rough and tumble as well, going into clinches and not just holding on, but working away when you get an arm free. And facing that for the full 36 minutes.”
Despite having seen off Takoucht inside two rounds last month, Warrington is unlikely to be back in action until May, when it would be possible to stage a fight at Elland Road, home ground of his beloved Leeds United, where he beat Selby in 2018.
Warrington insists he will not be wasting his time off, though. “It would be a long break after a short fight, but it is not only the fight, it is the training camp too,” he said. “The fighting is the fun part.
“Now it is about using this time, getting in the gym and working on a few things. If it’s a big fight, it takes a lot of build-up and you want to get ahead.
“It’s better to wait a bit to get a big fight rather than just taking any fight. You never want to get too comfortable, you always want to be having a test.
“This division changes fast, but I am in my prime years now, why wouldn’t I want to fight the big fights in my prime years. That’s why I faced Carl Frampton in my first defence. Obviously it was a big challenge and I hoped that would get me into the land of unifications, but I had to have my mandatory (against Kid Galahad) and it hasn’t happened yet. Now we have plenty of time to make it. Going into the New Year, I want a unification.”
Stevenson’s promoter, Bob Arum, floated the idea of a Warrington-Stevenson fight happening at the O2 Arena in London, but Warrington wonders if the American would be so keen to come to Britain to box in front of Warrington’s home fans in Yorkshire.
“They have probably never seen anything like Elland Road,” Warrington said. “I’m sure they have boxed in some iconic venues and on big shows, but it is a little bit different when you are the main event.
“It’s different when there are big turn-outs for press conferences and weigh-ins. It’s non-stop and it chips away at you. I’ve been dealing with it for more than four years, how will he deal with that?
“He has got Terence Crawford and Andre Ward telling him how great he is, but in the ring it is just me and him. And he is only a kid. Mentally, is he that strong yet?”