Having been fortunate enough to witness many examples of sporting excellence in Leeds over the years, I was privileged last weekend, thanks to event sponsors Grosvenor Casinos, to see local Featherweight boxer Josh Warrington provide ample evidence that Yorkshire’s premier city is arguably the sporting capital of the whole nation.
If this may seem to some rather an extravagant claim, then the facts and the statistics will speak for themselves. Leeds as a city has a track record of success, history and reputation unmatched by other less fortunate sporting centres, certainly in terms of the sheer number of mainstream sports where it can boast brand leaders. Yorkshire County Cricket Club, just this week crowned County Champions for a record thirty-third time, is based in Headingley – a part of Leeds also graced by the home of the biggest Rugby League club and that code’s finest team, in the shape of Leeds Rhinos. The Rhinos, already Challenge Cup winners, are seemingly set to sweep the board this season and have been at the forefront of Rugby League for well over a decade.
Meanwhile, across the city at Elland Road, even Leeds United are showing promising signs that they might yet return to something approaching their former, peerless glory. They provided the warm-up to the Rhinos’ Challenge Cup success with a notable win of their own at much-fancied Derby County. This was an encounter embellished by a truly brilliant late winner from new signing Chris Wood, who has hit the ground running for Leeds. The Whites are unbeaten so far this nascent football season, and are being spoken of as dark horses for promotion to the Premier League.
Great times for Leeds, then. No other city, surely, can demonstrate such a high profile across the country’s three major sports – and now, with a boxer in Warrington on the very cusp of world class, it would appear that Leeds will be adding yet another asset to its portfolio of competitive excellence. At the city’s impressive First Direct Arena last Saturday night, Warrington faced the toughest test so far of a highly promising career. It was a test he passed with flying colours as he produced a display of controlled aggression, consummate skill and relentless ferocity to outclass completely a courageous opponent in Australia’s Joel Brunker.
Brunker’s gutsy and determined performance was worthy in itself of admiration, rightly so for a fighter of high reputation who had been beaten previously only once. Brunker hung in there over the full twelve rounds, refusing to fall before a veritable barrage of attacks as Warrington mixed it up and hit the Aussie from all angles. Brunker defended doggedly and landed some telling blows of his own but, as the fight proceeded, it was plain to see that his horizons were shrinking from initial ambition to mere survival in the end. That he stayed on his feet reflected immense credit on a brave but out-classed and well beaten boxer who finished up bloodied, but defiantly unbowed.
The eventual margin was as wide as it could possibly be in the absence of any actual knock-downs. Every judge awarded every round to Warrington, who can look back upon an exceedingly efficient night’s work that promises much as he raises his sights towards world glory. After this comprehensive victory, extending his perfect professional record to 22 fights and 22 wins, Warrington – a keen fan of Leeds United and Leeds Rhinos – was looking ahead to a possible appearance at United’s Elland Road stadium as he aims to make further progress towards a world title shot. At the age of 24, he may well ultimately have the world at his feet.
Josh Warrington has adopted Marching On Together – the anthem of both Leeds United and Leeds Rhinos – as his rallying cry, and the effect on his vociferous support is palpable, certainly at an event like last weekend’s First Direct Arena boxing card. The atmosphere was magnificent, truly electric, the signature song rocking the place along with the massively self-assertive We Are Leeds. There is some keen rivalry between the local followers of football, rugby and even cricket but, in Warrington, there has appeared a unifying figure; a man of great promise who can call on the support of the whole city, so it seems, as he aims for the very highest level of achievement as a proud representative of Leeds who wears his heart on his sleeve and his colours on his back.
As competitive as boxing’s Featherweight division undoubtedly is, crammed with quality and with several durable fighters between the aspirant Leeds lad and his ultimate goal, it’d be foolish surely to bet against Josh Warrington, in his beloved favours of blue, yellow and white, one day wearing a World Title belt. If he does, it will be a matter of immense pride for followers of Leeds sport everywhere – and yet another sign were any needed that here, indeed, is a sporting city without equal.