UK Boxing makes a long awaited return this Saturday night as Matchroom promote the first card after the enforced postponement of all British bills in January.
Top of the first card back is Josh Warrington, and he’s a man keen to make up for lost time, having not been in action since October 2019.
Warrington (30-0, KO7) has given up his IBF Featherweight title in order to seek the big names in the division that he richly deserves.
A proposed meeting with WBA “Regular” boss, Can Xu, wasn’t able to be agreed, so Warrington is eased back into the ring against Mexico City native, Mauricio Lara (21-2, KO14) over ten rounds.
Warrington has constantly defied his doubters through his career, with his lack of knockouts on his record being counteracted by his unbelievable engine and will to win.
The Leeds man won English, Commonwealth and European straps before manoeuvring his way into world title contention in May 2018.
He secured home advantage at the home of his beloved Leeds United FC, and expertly wrenched the IBF crown from Lee Selby in an impressive split decision win as underdog.
A more impressive feat came seven months later, as Warrington again started as second favourite, but was simply too good for Carl Frampton in a clear points victory.
Next came Kid Galahad in June 2019, and Josh retained via split decision in a messy, forgettable affair that was tough to score.
The last Warrington appearance came in October 2019, and he scored a rare stoppage win against the overmatched Sofiane Takoucht at the First Direct Arena in Leeds, stopping the Frenchman in two rounds.
That would be his last outing under Frank Warren, and he returns under the Matchroom banner for a second stint this weekend.
His opponent shouldn’t spoil the return party, and 22-year-old Lara fights outside his native Mexico for just the second time.
Lara lost a four round split decision on his debut in October 2015, and his other defeat was a first round knockout loss in 2018.
He is unbeaten in his last ten contests, with his last win coming in December 2020, widely outscoring Sergio Puente over ten in Monterrey.
Prediction: Warrington may need a few rounds to shake off the ring rust here, and that’s when he will be at his most vulnerable against Lara, who will no doubt look to strike early.
Once Warrington settles into a rhythm, I think he will be grateful for the rounds, and although he may step on the pedal late on, he may have to settle for a wide points win.
The contest that could take fight of the night honours also comes at Featherweight.
Ryan Walsh was somewhat controversially stripped of his British Featherweight title, and now the vacant belt is at stake as Nottingham’s Leigh Wood (23-2, KO13) takes on Doncaster’s Reece Mould (13-0, KO6).
It’s an intriguing contest, and one that Wood desperately needs to win to get back into contention at the high end of domestic level.
Wood won the Commonwealth crown in March 2019, and after an impressive knockout defence against Ryan Doyle, he then impressed again in halting the unbeaten David Oliver Joyce in nine in the quarter finals of the MTK Golden Contract tournament.
The last four was where Wood exited though, as James ‘Jazza’ Dickens took a majority decision win.
26-year-old Mould is young and hungry, and has been mandated to fight for the Lonsdale Belt for some time, having won the English title in June 2019 with a fourth round stoppage of Sean Davis.
His last outing came in October 2019, outscoring Bayardo Ramos over six.
Prediction: Wood is coming off a loss, but has operated at a much higher level to Mould, who is green at this level.
The Nottingham man can be back to his best here, and I favour him to wear Mould down and grind him to a halt in the championship rounds.
Zelfa Barrett (24-1, KO15) makes his second Matchroom appearance following his up and down thrilling eighth round stoppage against Eric Donovan in the Matchroom back garden last summer.
The Manchester man gets a perfect chance to enhance his reputation with a ten round Super Featherweight assignment, defending his IBF Intercontinental crown against the experienced former world champion, Kiko Martinez (41-9-2, KO29).
Barrett has won five on the spin since his sole defeat to Ronnie Clark via majority decision in February 2018, and 34-year-old Martinez should be dangerous early on here.
‘Brown Flash’ Barrett will need to be on his mettle against the rugged Alicante resident.
The Spaniard is a former IBF Super Bantamweight champion, but that was in 2014, and he is not the force he once was.
He was stopped in five by Gary Russell Junior in May 2019 in a bid for the WBC Featherweight belt, and has only been seen twice since, recording two low key wins in Spain against nondescript opposition.
Prediction: Martinez will go for broke early doors here, and that should play into Barrett’s hands. I can see Zelfa countering the Spaniard to perfection and scoring a knockout before the halfway mark.
At Super Lightweight, Dalton Smith (6-0, KO5) should have too much for Birmingham’s Ishmael Ellis (11-3, KO0) who has lost three of his last five. The pick is for Smith to end matters inside the distance.
There are two more Featherweight offerings to round off the bill. Ivan ‘Hopey’ Price (3-0, KO1) will more than likely need the scorecards to overcome former Central Area champion, Zahid Hussain (16-1, KO2).
While Ibrahim Nadim (2-0, KO0) will also need the distance to take care of Jonny Phillips (5-5, KO2), who hasn’t previously been halted.