It was the finish people feared and after just six minutes of boxing the fight was over, the debate started and the wait for a clean ending started again.
Mauricio Lara knew his night was done before the bell sounded to end round two and Josh Warrington knew his wait for revenge would continue. The crowd of 20,000 had no idea what was going on.
After two rounds, with the referee, Steve Gray, circling the Mexican’s corner, there was a mix of resignation and anger as a ringside doctor examined the gash across Lara’s left eyebrow. Nobody needed a doctor, to tell the truth.
From my privileged position on the ring apron, not three feet from Lara’s boots. I watched as the doctor shook his head and waved his finger. It was over, Lara dropped his head, Gray reeled away, crossed his arms to signal the end and performed his duties in the ring; telling Warrington’s corner, telling the Board and telling Mick Costello in the DAZN commentary chair. He told me, as I grabbed at the rope and called his name from my BBC position.
Accidental clash of heads, cut too bad to continue, four rounds not completed. It’s a technical draw. Nobody celebrated. It was so sudden, the night so good, it felt unreal.
Minutes later, Michael Buffer pulled them together in the ring, they tried a half smile, they each had their hands raised, the crowd had fallen totally silent. And then it was over and Headingley emptied in even more silence.
It was a far cry from the moment at 7.28pm when live pictures of Warrington’s arrival were screened to the fans. It was also a far cry from the night in February when Warrington was dumped and done in nine rounds and Lara knew to control his celebrations. Saturday night was about changing that outcome, getting Lara out of his head and for Lara, who had impressed all week in Leeds, it was about proving it was not a fluke. I’m not sure anybody achieved their ambitions.
In the ugly fall-out, as Lara was rushed under a canopy of arms to reduce the chance of any aggravation, a confused and angry and emotional Warrington spoke at the corner of the ring. He was close to tears, shaking his head, trying to understand what nobody at that point could have possibly understood.
His view is that he was handling Lara, blocking shots, moving well and enjoying the fight. “I was thinking,” he said. “How did I let this guy knock me out? I couldn’t believe it.” I’m with him to a degree, but a lot of people remain convinced that Lara would have got to him in a few more rounds. Lara was certainly getting closer and it would have been brilliant to see the outcome.
Lara was wilder than in the first fight, he missed with more, he was caught with sensible punches and he was having to think. There is no proof he is a thinking fighter. Warrington, from behind a high-guard of caution, was moving well, showing little shots and scoring with tight punches. He was clipped with a left hook in the first and one in the second. Warrington did not go down, Lara was certainly not walking through him in this fight.
First bell: Warrington with gloves high, quite stiff and blocked a Lara jab after 40 second – the first punch Warrington had blocked in their two fights up until that point. One minute mark, a sharp Warrington right cross. Lara misses again. Warrington left hook to body and head and Lara smiles as he moves off ropes. Lara misses with a right cross, Warrington moves. A sneaky left hook near the bell from Warrington. It’s a tense round, the crowd love it.
Warrington’s corner: Don’t stay in front of him, pick him off.
Bell for the second round: Lara gets closer, quicker, but still misses. Lara complains about Warrington’s head after 20 seconds and again after 1.20 of the round. Lara lands with a right, misses with a left hook. Warrington lands to the body. They land and miss; it is opening up and then at 1.30 there is another clash and Lara has a tiny nick over his left eye. He lounges in the corner and Gray has to tell him: “You gotta continue straight away, you can’t take a break.” Lara understands. There is 1.23 left when they go back at it. Warrington with a jab, Lara misses with a right uppercut. Lara lands a body shot. Lara is getting closer, Warrington is still tight, no panic, still picking away with accurate counters. There is another clash, with just a few seconds left and Warrington aims a couple of jabs at the red opening. At the bell the bad cut is instantly visible.
Lara’s corner call over Gray once the boxer has sat down. They work desperately on the cut for sixty seconds, pouring in adrenaline, swiping away blood and plugging with swabs. It’s critical action in that corner. Gray goes over, speaks in Spanish to them. The ten second warning sounds, the bells sounds for round three, Lara stands up and turns to let the doctor, who has been called to the apron by Gray, inspect his eye. Warrington is up, standing, looking and hoping.
It’s a lost cause. The fight is over. The cut, so I’m told, needs nine stitches. I’m shocked, it looked horrendous.
They will have to do it all again. “I need the W against him,” Warrington said, his final words on the night.
What an entrance by Warrington, by the way. Unforgettable, just a glorious part of a glorious night.
That was the end of the night and followed an epic win by Maxi Hughes, Katie Taylor going the full ten, Conor Benn learning a lot about the business and Ebanie Bridges receiving a massive ovation from about 20,000 people. It all had that dramatic outdoor feel, the one where the light dips slowly and fights turn dark as rounds tick by.
Taylor won every round against Jennifer Han and dropped her in round eight. Han looked startled when she emerged on the night and walked to the ring; Taylor savoured the return of fans and she was serenaded to the ring. It was an odd fight; Taylor won it clearly, but had to work really hard in so many rounds. Han just refused to buckle and even complained when she was dropped. Han had a baby earlier this year, had to lose about five stone since May. She made her money the hard way in Leeds in their lightweight fight.
Taylor will fight in December and then meet Amanda Serrano next year in the Madison Square Garden ring. Well, that’s the plan. It looks and feels like Taylor needs a test, needs a little bit of fear back.
Conor Benn pleaded with Adrian Granados to stand and fight in the final seconds of their ten rounds at welterweight. Granados was not hired to stand and fight. Grenados was smart in every round, smart enough not to get nailed clean too often. He twisted, he squirmed, he turned his head at the moment of impact and he just kept touching with jabs, showing enough to make Benn think. It was an education for Benn and he followed some terrific fighters by beating Granados wide on points with scores of 100-90, 99-91 and 97-93. The crowd loved Benn and he just wants to please them.
Bridges is an Australian enigma, a traveller through the very heart and soul of the British boxing business; she travels all over with her sparring gloves and smile. She has been adopted by the British fans. She is still a novice, but she fights with her heart and people recognise that. She took a slender points decision over French fighter, Mailys Gangloff, in their eight rounder. Bridges damaged her tender hands, suffered a calf injury in round three and her right eye, severely damaged earlier this year, started to close again. She greeted the cheers of the crowd with a ballerina’s curtsey and when it was over, she waved at the same adoring public, her face red, bruised and swollen; it was a classic study in ‘before’ and ‘after’. She will be back.
The night was stolen by the latest exploits of Maxi Hughes. The man is a fighting marvel and he now owns a belt; it is a belt that can be bargained, can be used as collateral for future purses. Maxi walks and talks and fights in a boxing dreamland.
Maxi was quite brilliant in his twelve rounds with Mexico’s stone-faced, granite-jawed and wonderfully named, Jovanni Straffon. Hughes was once again up against it, selected to lose, but he refused again to conform. Straffon is a seriously dangerous puncher, a big, heavy-fisted lightweight, but he was slowed by his efforts, bewildered at times, hurt often and in a damaged state at the end. “Don’t blow it now, son,” shouted Stefy Bull, his manager, to Hughes in round eleven. It was the same advice that Stefy had been hollering from about round two. It was a masterclass, the only one on the night. Exceptional fight and a privilege to watch from ringside.
The scores in this fantasy fight were wide and rightly so: 120-107 twice and one of 119-109.
Maxi was the hero, but it was ultimately a night of unfinished business. What a fight we were denied.