Josh Warrington admitted he felt the pressure to deliver at his beloved Elland Road after upsetting the odds to wrench the IBF featherweight title from Lee Selby after a 12-round thriller.
Fervent Leeds supporter Warrington was roared into the ring by an expectant crowd – estimated to be around 25,000 – in his home city as he challenged for world honours for the first time.
Warrington was a clear underdog but, inspired by a raucous reception, he delivered a career-best performance and triumphed by split decision to extend his perfect professional record to 27-0, 6KOs.
Two of the judges rewarded Warrington’s ferocious flurries and sustained pressure – by scores of 116-112 and 115-113 – while a third scored the fight 115-113 to Selby, whose three-year reign as world champion at 126lbs was ended.
Warrington thanked the crowd for their support and added that stepping up to world level in front of his hometown fans had given him extra motivation.
I'm overcome with emotion. We worked on game plans but that all went out of the window and it was sheer grit and determination and this crowd got me through
He told BT Sport 1: “I really can’t put it into words. I’ve worked hard over the last 18 weeks.
“I got into this ring tonight with the expectation of this city on my shoulders.
“I’m overcome with emotion. We worked on game plans but that all went out of the window and it was sheer grit and determination and this crowd got me through.”
Selby (now 26-2, 9KOs) was making the fifth defence of his title and was expected to use his superior height and reach count to his advantage against a challenger whose entourage to the ring included former Leeds captain Lucas Radebe, with rock band Kaiser Chiefs performing his entrance music live.
Warrington came storming out of the blocks and was further buoyed in the second round when an accidental clash of heads opened up a deep cut over Selby’s left eye.
The issue continued to worsen as the fight progressed and though Selby tried to establish his jab in the early proceedings, he could not keep a determined Warrington away.
Neither man is particularly regarded for their punching power – they had a combined 15 stoppages in 53 professional bouts before facing off – but Warrington was clearly enjoying the better of the exchanges in the first half of the fight.
Selby, who was cut over his right eye in the sixth after another head clash, had some success in the middle rounds as he focused his attack to the body, and the tactic paid off as Warrington’s pace slowed.
But every punch landed by Warrington was cheered to the rafters and he continued to push his opponent back with some excellent barrages, and was given the nod at the end of a pulsating contest.
Another domestic dust-up may loom for Warrington as the winner of this bout had been heavily linked with Northern Ireland’s Carl Frampton, whose next fight has been slated for Windsor Park later this summer.
Frampton – who, like Warrington, is promoted by Frank Warren – was ringside in West Yorkshire to witness the unexpected result.
Warrington added: “I said to him two weeks ago, ‘I’m going to beat Lee Selby then I’ll come to Windsor Park’.
“We love an away day, me and the boys, so we’ll turn up wherever, but first things first, I need to sit down with my manager and Frank and then we’ll get the fight sorted.”