Josh Warrington would feel guilty about behind-closed-doors unification fight

Josh Warrington would reluctantly agree to a unification fight behind closed doors against Can Xu later this year but the Leeds featherweight would “feel guilty” at his sizeable contingent of supporters missing out.

A bout which would have seen Warrington’s IBF title and Chinese fighter Can’s secondary WBA crown put on the line was close to being finalised at the rugby ground of Headingley Stadium, only for coronavirus to scupper the plans.

The British Boxing Board of Control has intimated it will not give the go-ahead for a resumption once restrictions on movement are lifted as it is wary of overburdening the NHS at a time when emergency services are under pressure.

Josh Warrington recognises how important his fans are (Richard Sellers/PA)
Josh Warrington recognises how important his fans are (Richard Sellers/PA)

It is highly likely boxing shows will at least initially return without spectators in attendance, which would leave Warrington facing a dilemma as he recognises how important and enthusiastic his army of fans are.

However, Warrington knows that if promoter Eddie Hearn offered the opportunity to unify the 126lb division in the next few months, it would be too tempting to turn down.

Warrington told the PA news agency: “If Eddie said ‘listen, you’re going to have to fight behind closed doors for a unification or you wait until next year but it’s not going to happen’ then I’d scoop up the unification fight.

“I’d feel guilty a little bit because there are a lot of fans who have been coming since day dot and have not missed a single fight and there are a lot of fans who sacrifice a lot just to be there.

“It’s an occasion, a lot of them feel like they’re in there with me and I couldn’t imagine having to force them to sit at home and watch it on the telly.

BBBofC Statement on resumption of boxing post COVID-19 lockdown.#StayHomeSaveLives 🏠🥊

— BBBofC (@BBBofC2809) April 17, 2020

“I can imagine a few of them saying ‘surely you can just get me in, Josh, and I’ll stand at the back or something’.

“But if that’s what it would have to be to make sure that we got the big fight then it would have to happen like that.”

As the crisis lengthens, the window of opportunity for fighters competing this year shortens, which has led to fears of a logjam and rival promoters staging separate events on the same day.

Having been promoted by both Hearn and Frank Warren during his unbeaten 30-fight professional career, Warrington believes the pair should either work together or through intermediaries to make sure fans are not short-changed.

Warrington knows how detrimental that can be for all parties as his spectacular win over Carl Frampton in December 2018 took place on the same night as the grudge heavyweight rematch between Dillian Whyte and Dereck Chisora.

Warrington's spectacular win over Carl Frampton, left,took place on the same night as Dillian Whyte-Dereck Chisora II (Martin Rickett/PA)
Warrington's spectacular win over Carl Frampton, left,took place on the same night as Dillian Whyte-Dereck Chisora II (Martin Rickett/PA)

And Warrington said: “That was a nice lesson for both promoters on that day because they both missed out and lost out and obviously it wasn’t fair on the fans. I don’t think they’d want to do that again.

“Obviously there will be a lot of fighters who want dates and the shows are going to come thick and fast, which is probably going to be good.

“A bit of communication in some way, shape or form would be good. Maybe if it’s not directly between the promoters but if they did it between the TV networks, maybe get a schedule of their dates and they can shuffle around.

“Maybe one week Sky go on Saturday and BT go on Friday and then next week they alternate. There are ways and means of doing it but avoiding big shows on the same day, that’s what needs to be avoided.”