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Josh Warrington: Patience replaced naiveté in bid for unification fight

Josh Warrington admits that he will need to be patient before securing fights with other champions. Photo by Dave Thompson/PA Images via Getty Images

Josh Warrington is not giving up hope of landing a world featherweight title unification fight against the likes of Leo Santa Cruz or Gary Russell Jr.

The IBF titleholder admitted he might have been "naive" in thinking his dream matchup against a rival world champion would be his next fight after a split points win over English and Yorkshire rival Kid Galahad in June.

Warrington (29-0, 6 KOs), 28, from Leeds, instead makes a third title defence against French southpaw Sofiane Takoucht (35-3-1, 13 KOs), 33, at the Leeds First Direct Arena on Saturday rather than facing one of the big names of the division.

Warrington says he believes a clash against American Russell (30-1, 18 KOs), 31, the WBC titleholder, is more realistic than Mexico's Santa Cruz (36-1-1, 19 KOs), the WBA champion and considered the division's No. 1, for next year.

"I've got to keep on winning to show I'm a true champion, but I see it as a stepping stone. I want to fight the other champions," Warrington told ESPN.

"Last time, before Galahad, I was a bit naive in thinking it will be automatically done against one of the other champions. But I've been listening to others in my team and realise that negotiations are going on. I'm confident it will come off and patience will be rewarded. I just have to keep winning and something is going to happen.

"I've lost out on the Oscar Valdez fight, he's moving up, but I'm hoping it can still be done with either Santa Cruz or Russell Jr.

"If I could have my choice, I would have Leo Santa Cruz, but I think it would be easier to make the Gary Russell Jr. fight in May or June. Santa Cruz has talked about moving up, he's a big name in America and Mexico and he won't come out of America, and he's got other fights.

"I think Russell is still searching for that crowd, for that profile, and Santa Cruz is a bigger name than him in the States. If we go in the summer at a stadium, at Elland Road or Leeds Rhinos' ground at Headingley Stadium, we would get a big crowd and produce the funds needed to bring him over."

Warrington's best wins were both on points against Lee Selby to win the IBF belt in May 2018, then defending it against former champion Carl Frampton in December. The Leeds boxer said he would not be content if he was not facing another big name soon.

"You climb this mountain and get to the top level and you think the fights will be easy to make, but it's even harder to make the fights once you are champion," Warrington said.

"Not every fighter has the same mindset as you and they don't want to cross between the TV networks and promoters, so these unification fights don't happen.

"When you are a world champion as a featherweight, you don't have a long time at your peak, and I don't want to be padding out my record against nobodies. I fulfilled my mandatary against Galahad and it still didn't happen.

"I'm not overlooking Takoucht, he's a former European champion, but I want to keep on climbing and win another belt, put my stamp on the featherweight division."

The IBF has recently reportedly ordered Galahad (26-1, 15 KOs) to face Claudio Marrero (24-3, 17 KOs), of Dominican Republic, in a final eliminator. Warrington, however, is not interested in a rematch, should Galahad triumph.

"I don't know how the IBF has allowed Kid Galahad to go into a final eliminator straight away after losing to me," he said.

"I beat him and that's that, I want to move on and want to be in big fights now, I don't want to go over old ground."

One opponent Warrington would definitely consider is the world's best in any division, Vasiliy Lomachenko (14-1, 10 KOs), the WBC-WBA-WBO world lightweight champion.

"If Lomachenko comes back down to featherweight, which has been spoken about, I would do that fight, because it would be great to test yourself against the best," Warrington said.

Ahead of Saturday's fight, Warrington said he had been getting along better with his father and trainer Sean O'Hagan.

"This time me and my dad have made up and we're pals again," he said. "In the last camp we had a fair [amount] of verbals at different times.

"But we've been pals this time. We have called a truce between ourselves and it's been a lot more professional and relaxed.

"In the build up to a fight, there's pressure on both our shoulders. This time around we have stayed focused and kept it professional with less commitments outside of training, less media. I've seen the difference in training, and it's like how it used to be, like the build up to Selby or Frampton."