It was a night of success that turned into a bit of a misery. Josh Warrington knew his career would probably over if he had failed to regain the IBF featherweight title from Kiko Martinez in March. He won what was a swashbuckling fight, but there was no chance of any celebrations.

There was no post-fight party for Warrington, as he spent the night in hospital after suffering a broken jaw and hand, among other injuries. He had planned to have a busy year, but the injuries put paid to that.

“I couldn’t train for 12 weeks,” Warrington said. “It gave me a feeling of what it is like to be retired.”

Warrington finally returns to the ring this Saturday at his traditional hunting ground of the First Direct Arena, Leeds, where he makes the first defence of his second reign as IBF champion when he faces Luis Alberto Lopez, of Mexico.

It is another tough fight but not the big name he has craved. Unifications still prove elusive, while his army of fans continue to dream of watching him in America. But Lopez is the mandatory and the mandatory is due.

“I feel bad for my fans really, because they have been waiting for this big fight, but they don’t really know who Lopez is.

“I sent a text around to all the lads who buy tickets off me. I still sell more than 1,000 tickets personally. Those are people where I am still driving about dropping tickets off, because I do have a relationship with these people and they have been there from the start.

“And people are starting to say ‘who is this guy, why aren’t we off to America?’

“I’m saying ‘Lads, if I get through this one…’, but they have been told that before.

“Obviously, it’s my mandatory so I can’t do anything about it. Kiko managed to get an exemption to fight me. I might have been able to fight Leigh Wood, but it has been nearly a year.

“I have to get this done and then see where we go from there. It is why I have to be fully focused on this, eye on the ball. Then I will have options. The mandatories come around quick when you are only fighting twice a year.”

The win over Martinez should have marked the end of a difficult time for Warrington, whose career froze during the Covid pandemic and then he end up taking a non-title fight again Mauricio Lara, the largely unknown, and taking a one-sided beating as he was viciously stopped.

He got a rematch but that ended in the second round when a clash of heads led to a technical draw. The Martinez win should have put him back to where he had been, but there was no celebrating.

“Coming off a win, and such a win as well, you expect to be able to eat what you like, go on holiday and then back to the gym,” the 32-year-old said.

“When you diet like you do before a fight for 12 weeks.  But it was seven weeks after the fight before I could even eat properly. One of the upsides was that for the first time I kept my six-pack.”

The memories of the hours after the win a still etched on his memory.

“I had a knockout loss, a draw and then I am world champion again, but instead of celebrating, at 3.30 there was myself, my wife and my manager in Leeds Royal Infirmary,” he said. “I can’t feel my left hand and I am ‘nil by mouth’ because I am going into theatre for an operation and on painkillers, because as the adrenaline wears off, I am in agony and every couple of minutes I am spitting out blood because I am cut inside my mouth.

“And I am thinking ‘did I win?’ Then my phone keeps pinging because people are out celebrating and they are sending me messages – ‘what a night, Josh’, ‘you’re back’, ‘what at atmosphere’, ‘what a performance’.”

The return to the gym was slow. and Warrington's broken hand meant that he couldn't even do his regular hobby of playing the guitar.

"The injury was more severe than they thought, so the surgeon told me to give it 12 weeks,” Warrington said. “After that I could just go for a run or do some push-ups and pull-ups. But I couldn’t really put pressure on my hand.

“So, it was baby steps for three weeks. Then I got the gloves on and was just hitting with my right hand, head movement, defensive drills. When I started punching with the left it was a slow build-up.  It was just 50 percent power with my trainer using air pads. And after I would go back and put ice on it because it didn’t feel right.

“It is kind of similar to when I lost to Lara, when I fell on my shoulder and damaged a lot of muscle.”

Having taken Lara lightly, Warrington insists he will not be doing the same with Lopez.

“He’s wild, he’s very confident, Top Rank seem to be blowing a bit of smoke up his backside,” he said. “He beat Isaac Lowe and [Gabriel] Flores. It is always hard with these opponents, because you look down the opposition and you think ‘no wonder he beat them’.

“I have got to treat him like a world champion, I have to. I took my eye of the ball for the first Lara fight and it took me two years to get back to where I was.

“He is going to be elusive, wild, he is short, so I will have a reach advantage. I know he will be targeting my jaw and he will think he can knock me out. But I just have to win this. I have to.”

Ron Lewis is a senior writer for BoxingScene. He was Boxing Correspondent for The Times, where he worked from 2001-2019 - covering four Olympic Games and numerous world title fights across the globe. He has written about boxing for a wide variety of publications worldwide since the 1980s.