IBF featherweight world champion Josh Warrington kept his dreams of Las Vegas superfights alive by the slimmest of margins as he won a split decision over Yorkshire rival Kid Galahad.
Warrington will now look to contests with the likes of Oscar Valez and Leo Santa Cruz after winning 116-112 (Steve Gray), 116-113 (Michael Alexander) and 113-115 (Howard Foster).
But he endured a frustrating night in the office in Leeds in a fight that was hard to score and more than a few would have scored for Galahad.
Sheffield’s Galahad opened the first with a crisp left hand from the southpaw stance but moments later he was warned by referee Phil Edwards for using the head. It was ugly, dramatic and interesting all at once. Warrington was trying to get untracked and find his fast rhythm, Galahad was looking to clinch anytime Warrington found himself on the front foot. They grappled; heads rubbed. There was not much in it.
Galahad found a home for his short left early in round two. Then he found Warrington’s body with his left but Galahad was warned for holding and referee Edwards looked displeased with the Sheffield man’s tactics.
It was rough through the third round. Warrington was unable to break the shackles and march forwards with his usual gusto because of Galahad’s switching and quick shots down the pipe.
The Leeds fans in the First Direct Arena, maniacal during the introductions, were quiet. Warrington’s nose bled in the fourth.
Galahad was able to keep Warrington away until he was caught by a slashing left-right in round five, which gave the home fans something to cheer about.
It was intriguing if scrappy. Galahad had more success as a southpaw and he was proving hard to hit, too. Warrington was showing signs of frustration, trying to wriggle out of clinches to work in close. Galahad picked up another verbal warning for holding in the sixth.
Warrington fired plenty in the seventh but landed little. Galahad was looking comfortable.
He was fighting on his terms, though Edwards again spoke to him about holding in the ninth.
Warrington’s corner was concerned.
Father and trainer Sean O’Hagan said before round 10, “Do you want to go back to work [get a job]? Do you want to keep that belt?”
Warrington tried to force the pace more as a consequence but he couldn’t figure out the puzzle in front of him.
The crowd booed when Galahad tried to hold in the 10th but he’d already landed the punch of the round, a short left uppercut as Warrington tried to close the distance.
It became an ugly melee through the championship rounds. There was holding, mauling and few punches of note. The crowd tried to galvanise Warrington one last time ahead of the 12th and he started well enough. But Galahad had snuffed out the awesome force that had swept through Lee Selby and Carl Frampton and he’d silenced one of the most vociferous crowds in sport.
Warrington lifted his hands in mock victory at the bell but the Sheffield corner didn’t look certain on the other side of the ring.
“I knew it were close but I thought I was doing the cleaner work,” said a relieved Warrington. “You can’t come in the champion’s backyard and win by pot-shotting singles. I’ve got to give him credit, he was pretty clever with some of the stuff he did inside. It was probably one of the most tense I’ve been for a fight, the talk of going to the States and unifying, I put pressure on myself. I got carried away with it all myself.”