An unsightly clash of styles underpinned a frustrating night in Leeds for champion and challenger.
As Thomas Treiber began announcing the judge’s scorecards inside the First Direct Arena on Saturday evening, there was a solemn feeling of inevitability about what was to follow. The orator leant forward, meticulously scouring the A4 sheet of paper handed to him from outside the roped square — as Ronald McIntosh would describe it — and began informing the Yorkshire crowd inside the deflated Arena that their “Leeds Warrior” had snuck over the line.
Challenger Kid Galahad stood beside Treiber, peering over his shoulder trying to make sense of the convoluted sheet before the official confirmation. Abdul-Bari Awad’s lack of facial expression throughout the entire night was punctuated at this moment as he prepared himself for what he would have feared throughout the camp leading up to this fight: “And still.”
The announcement echoed around the venue activating a rendition of the Leeds United song “Marching on Together” from Warrington’s loyal support; the 12,000+ fans had been uncharacteristically quiet during the bout, with the away fighter draining the life out of the champion and his choir.
In the 36 minutes of boxing that had preceded, the judges were split in their opinions of this IBF featherweight world championship bout. 116-112, 116-113, 113-115 read the scorecards of the all-English panel.
In truth, their styles never looked like gelling. Warrington has become reliant on his come-forward, ultra-aggressive style in two impressive wins over Lee Selby and Carl Frampton and the champion looked void of any alternative tactics in attempting to seal his third victory in a row for world honours.
Galahad was proving elusive in defence and attack. The Ingle style of forming adept attacks off the back foot allowed the challenger to enjoy patches of success in the earlier rounds, alternating between styles to scramble the tactical senses of Josh Warrington.
It worked. Warrington tried forming attack after attack with limited success before being tied up or countered by single shots from the fast hands of his rival. Galahad was relaxed, boxing to the instruction of his polarising trainer Dominic Ingle; the fight was going to script for all intents and purposes – Galahad looked to have solved the puzzle early on with hard-to-watch spoiling.
Warrington’s successes came as soon as the challenger turned back to the orthodox position. It was as if this was an invitation to Warrington to turn up the heat on Galahad, with the Sheffield fighter attempting to counter mini onslaughts. These would never last more than 30 seconds in the round as Warrington typically found a way through landing two-punch combinations; Galahad would then revert back to southpaw, continuing the monotony of the problematic encounter.
These pockets of pressure that Warrington was able to find sporadically turned into crucial round-round winning stanzas when looking at the scorecards. Nip and tuck rounds with very little to separate the two look to have been awarded to Warrington for pure aggression and willingness to engage. The debated assumption of having to “do more to wrestle the belt from the home of the champion” was proved correct once again, with Warrington taking the spoils in a fight that I found hard to award to the home fighter — I had Galahad winning 115-113 whilst watching it live.
One notable takeaway was the strength that Galahad was able to show on the inside. Warrington never looked likely to form any success up close but as the energy sapped from the challenger late in the fight, these clinches turned uglier and uglier.
There won’t be a clamour for a rematch. There won’t be too many cries of robbery. This being said, there was an overwhelming feeling of disappointment from everyone involved inside the First Direct Arena as the clocked ticked close to midnight.
Boxing is about timing inside and outside of the ring. From the word go, it looked like the Kid was never going to become king on Saturday night. Now that Galahad has dipped his toe in deeper water, his next move will be crucial for his further development in the sport. After an ugly affair in Leeds, there will be a fear that Kid Galahad has become the latest member of the “who needs him” club.