Win the Powerball once, you’re a lucky bastard. Hit it twice? Now you must be up to something.
And that’s why, on Saturday in Manchester, it was clear to anyone who’d been paying attention that Josh Warrington didn’t beat the odds. He’d rigged the game.
Back in May, Warrington was the irresistible underdog, the locals’ “Leeds Warrior” — and still a wholly untested commodity — when he took on featherweight belt-holder Lee Selby at Elland Road Football Ground, in Warrington’s backyard. Stunning Selby for a split-decision win, Warrington set up an improbable opportunity to hunt even bigger game: former two-division titlist Carl Frampton.
The Brits, whose tastes have brought us beans on toast and an improbable revival of “Sweet Caroline” — legitimate grounds for a second Revolutionary War — would have you believe Warrington-Frampton was this generation’s Hagler-Hearns. Spoiler alert: It was not. Still, we did get to bear witness as Warrington (28-0, 6 KOs), attacking like a deranged hummingbird, flustered Frampton (26-2, 15 KOs) early, coaxed him into some dandy exchanges along the way and, in the end, pulled off what seemed virtually unthinkable little more than six months ago for the 28-year-old overnight headliner: a true tentpole fight and a successful defense of his own featherweight strap against a world-class opponent.
With only six career stoppages and a smart, sturdy foe in front of him, Warrington would need a bold fight plan and a bit of fortune to take down Frampton — most recently seen in August appearing positively revived in a dismantling of Luke Jackson.
Warrington set the script in the first two rounds, swarming Frampton with steady pressure, waves of arcing shots and constantly changing angles. When he wasn’t ducking, blocking or taking a face full of leather, Frampton was eating Warrington shoulders and forearms that smothered his own offense. Although never hurt, Frampton rarely had a half-second to consider how to turn the momentum in the opening rounds — and he was even pitched onto his back foot by one stinging combination from Warrington. During an early break, Frampton’s trainer bellowed at him, “You’re pissing about in there!” He wasn’t wrong.
But the 31-year-old Irishman began finding a comfortable range and timing up Warrington’s mad-dog charges by the 3rd round, catching his opponent wading in and taking some of the vinegar out of him with a jab here and a straight right there. As Warrington’s approach turned a touch more selective, Frampton seemed to gain back some confidence. He dug to the body, threatening to sap the energy from Warrington’s legs, which would have been all she wrote for a Punch and Judy hitter whose results hinge on his speed and relentlessness.
In the end — and, incidentally, most of the middle rounds too — it was Warrington’s activity that would win out. Frampton simply didn’t have the tank to keep up, too often failing to let his hands go, too often following single shots with no follow-ups, too often absorbing mostly harmless — but potentially judge-swaying — flurries at the end of rounds. If he’d been allowed an extra pause per round, a moment to hear himself think, a single deep breath, Frampton might have rediscovered the formula he’d cooked up for a similarly lanky, high-octane opponent in Leo Santa Cruz. Instead, he was served up death by boa constrictor.
After the scores were announced (116-113 and 116-112 twice for Warrington), Frampton credited his foe for being the better man and a bigger puncher than anticipated. It was a noble sentiment in defeat, but don’t throw good money at the prospect of Warrington chopping down any of the top featherweight ferns — the cat just ain’t built that way. In fact, we may learn one night in the not-too-distant future that his brand of frenetic slapdashing may be viable against only select opponents at the highest levels. But on this night, in front of his countrymen and — yes, a global boxing audience — the Leeds Warrior had his man’s number.