How Josh Warrington is preparing for boxing's return amid COVID-19

‘Normally I salute the crowd – it’d be a bit weird saluting just a set of seats!’: From not seeing his father while in isolation to trash talking opponents over Zoom… here’s how Josh Warrington is preparing for boxing’s return amid the coronavirus crisis

  • Josh Warrington discusses the possibility of boxing being held without fans
  • The coronavirus pandemic could see sweeping changes should bouts take place
  • IBF featherweight champion may be without his father and trainer in his corner
  • Warrington is growing used to the solitude the coronavirus has created recently 
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

Boxing is a sport of routine and regimen. Even at the very top, there is solace in the familiar.

‘I’ve got a weird one,’ Josh Warrington begins. ‘Before a fight I always have to go to for a pee. (But) when you’re gloved up… you don’t take them off until after the fight.’

So the IBF featherweight champion turns to trusted helping hands: typically, cornerman Jimmy Harrington and cutman Frank Hopkins.

Josh Warrington is growing used to the solitude that the novel coronavirus has created

‘I’ll close my eyes and start thinking mentally about the fight and everything that’s led me to where we are now. But then I might need to go,’ he says. 

‘One of them has to pull my shorts down and another helps me out, so to speak!’

Yet in these uncertain times, even the most intimate habits are under threat.

Boxing chiefs are scrambling to devise safe ways to end the shutdown crippling the sport, with virtual press conferences, short-sleeved officials and remote judging among the proposed solutions.

The hope is boxing can return in July with slimline shows behind closed doors, featuring fighters from the lower tiers. But the prospect of Britain’s biggest names fighting without fans grows increasingly likely.

‘(If) boxing is not going to resume in front of crowds until 2021, I don’t want to wait that long,’ Warrington says.

One thing looks certain: social distancing will do away with bloated entourages. No hangers on, and likely no more than a few cornermen will be allowed at shows.

Warrington’s team of five or six is tiny by modern standards. But even his close-knit team would not be immune, given those over 70 or with underlying health conditions are being advised to stay away.

There is a hope that boxing can return in July with slimline shows staged behind closed doors

‘That’s two of my team out,’ he says.

When we spoke, Warrington hadn’t seen his father, trainer and tactician Sean O’Hagan for about a month due to his historical health problems.

‘He’s been with me in every single fight and routine is probably one of the main things,’ Warrington says.

‘It’s him who conducts everybody and he’s probably the coolest one… he never really feels the pressure and if he does he hides it very well.’

Then there is cutman Hopkins, who is in his 70s and on whom Warrington relies on when the tank needs emptying.

The 29-year-old, like everyone else, could do without this new normal.

After a frustrating year, when unification fights deserted him, Warrington found new direction. He re-signed with Eddie Hearn and agreed terms for a fight with WBA titlist Can XU. Then the virus struck.

Social distancing measures would see fights for Warrington contested behind closed doors

He re-signed with Eddie Hearn (right) and agreed terms for a fight with WBA titlist Can XU

Should he now end up behind closed doors, it would be a huge blow to the fervent support base he has built en route from leisure centres to Leeds immortality. But in these uncertain times, Warrington is growing used to solitude.

He trains alone at his private gym and adds: ‘Fight camps are more or less like lockdown anyway. You do self-isolate… normally you don’t find yourself going out to pubs and restaurants.’

In the final weeks before fight night, even the mundane is off-limits.

‘I know if I go out to local supermarkets or shopping centres, people are going to walk past me and say: “Hi Josh, are you ready for your fight?” and then the next minute they’re sneezing,’ he says.

‘I’ve had people come up to me at open workouts coughing and spluttering, saying: “I’ve had a bit of a chest infection!”‘

Weight cuts can damage fighters’ immune systems at the best of times. In the coming months, extra measures will be required.

Weight cuts can damage fighters’ immune systems at the best of times and will be considered

Trash talking, for example, will likely be reserved for platforms such as Zoom. (‘It’d be a bit weird when I’m sitting in the kitchen, getting up and storming around the house screaming and shouting!’)

And under current proposals, trainers and referees will wear facemasks throughout a fight. The boxers would be allowed to take theirs off only once they’ve completed their entrance.

‘Normally when I get to the ring I stand on the canvas and turn round and salute the crowd,’ he says. ‘I probably wouldn’t do that!’ Warrington laughs. ‘It’d be a bit weird saluting a set of seats or walls!’

Instead among the few voices he will likely hear are those in the two corners, and the commentators sitting two metres apart at ringside.

‘No matter how many people are there,’ Warrington insists, ‘I’m always able to hear certain voices… my wife always seems to stand out.’

So, in normal times, does his dad.

Warrington trains alone at his private gym – something he was doing before the lockdown

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