Josh Warrington has prepared for Saturday’s fight with IBF featherweight champion Lee Selby by turning to the trainer who inspired Ricky Hatton’s greatest night.
The 27-year-old from Leeds finally gets his shot at the world title he has long sought, when at Elland Road – where he will be led to the ring by Lucas Radebe – he can justify comparisons with Hatton.
In addition to Warrington’s physicality and growing fan base the circumstances in which he challenges Wales’ Selby are similar to those surrounding perhaps Manchester’s finest fighter on the night he came of age.
Hatton had long been groomed for success but before he challenged the great Kostya Tszyu in 2005 in front of an expectant crowd in his home city he was dismissed as a significant underdog who would prove out of his depth.
With Warrington similarly not expected to beat Selby – like Hatton with Tzsyu, his pursuit of the champion has been long-term – he has sought the advice of retired trainer Billy Graham to learn how Hatton passed his biggest test.
“It was quite a long conversation,” Warrington said. “He was talking about how he dealt with the pressure and the atmosphere and the approach they had in their camp, how they went through it and how they believed on the night. It was nice to hear that and it certainly reassured me.
“When Ricky Hatton boxed Kostya Tszyu he was the massive underdog, and nobody was giving him more than four rounds in that fight, and Kostya Tszyu was a massive favourite, worldwide, and a great champion.
“Ricky Hatton had a massive fan base behind him, and a lot of pressure. No one expected him to win but he still had a massive fan base. He managed to do the business, and it was nice to listen to his (Graham’s) experience of it. The way they went about it, and dealt with the pressures, and everything else that goes with the occasion of the night.
“Any time I have been down (to Elland Road) prior to this fight, I’ve always taken a couple of moments just to visualise it. I’ve taken a couple of minutes to look around and look at the crowd and just get myself used to it. It excites me. It’s obviously a massive occasion, there are billboards all over the city promoting the fight, but I’m relaxed, I’m calm, I’m ready to go.”
The winner of Saturday’s fight hopes to next defend the IBF title against Carl Frampton at Belfast’s Windsor Park, but further options would include Mexicans Oscar Valdez and Leo Santa Cruz in one of the world’s strongest weight classes.
“We’re lucky to be in a division that is one of the best in boxing,” the 31-year-old Selby said. “We’ve got some great champions and most of them are associated with (influential manager) Al Haymon, so fights with myself should be easy enough to make.
“I know they are all tied up at the moment like myself but I’m sure when we get though this fight they are there to be made.”