Josh Warrington made history by becoming the first boxer from Leeds to win a world title with a stunning split-decision upset victory over Wales’ Lee Selby.
Selby, who was cut above both eyes by accidental head clashes inside the first six rounds, could not recover from a superb start by the Yorkshireman.
The judges scored the contest 116-112 115-113 113-115, giving Warrington the IBF world featherweight title at Elland Road, home of his beloved Leeds United.
Warrington, 27, came into the fight as a 4-1 outsider with the bookmakers but produced the performance of a lifetime, showing relentless energy and courage as he continued to power forward for 36 pulsating minutes.
Selby, 31, had said he would be at ease in the “Lion’s Den” but he could not overcome what Warrington served up in front of a hostile crowd as he moved to 27 wins from as many bouts.
The Welshman came back into the contest in the middle rounds but Warrington finished strongly and could now be set for a trip to Belfast to face former two-weight world champion Carl Frampton in August.
Selby’s defeat was a first defeat in nine years and just the second in his career.
Stadium fights in the UK are becoming commonplace, so much so that this was the fifth in a little over a year in an outdoor arena.
But there was something of a throwback about this one, with Selby figuratively taking on the might of an entire football club.
Warrington is synonymous with Leeds United – he is the chairman of their supporters’ club – and there was palpable excitement in the air even before his extraordinary ring entrance.
Warrington’s ring walk will endure in the memory, with one of Leeds’ greatest ever players, Lucas Radebe, leading out the challenger as the strains of the Kaiser Chiefs – named after Radebe’s first club – played him in with ‘I Predict A Riot’.
Both Ricky Hatton and Tony Bellew have fought at the football stadiums of the clubs they love, Manchester City and Everton respectively, but Leeds is not a city with split footballing loyalties and the wall of noise that greeted Warrington was special even by recent standards.
However, the noise was equally loud for Selby’s ring walk – a chorus of boos and abuse, rather than cheers and adulation.
Having made the bold statement that his previous four title defences, against Fernando Montiel, Eric Hunter, Jonathan Victor Barros and Eduardo Ramirez, were all tougher foes than Warrington, silencing the home crowd was to be no easy task, especially as Warrington began aggressively and on the front foot.
Warrington was relentless in the early exchanges, tagging Selby above his left eye and opening a cut at the start of the second session from a clash of heads.
He won both the opening rounds and was asking more questions of Selby than many would have expected.
Known as the ‘Welsh Floyd Mayweather’ for his mean defensive skills, Selby was expected to box off the back foot and allow Warrington to be the aggressor, but he was drawn into a toe-to-toe dust-up, arguably playing into Warrington’s game plan perfectly.
It stood to reason that Warrington would have a good game plan for the Welshman, considering his trainer and father Sean O’Hagan prepared Samir Mouneimne, the featherweight who inflicted Selby’s only previous career defeat in 2009.
Another clash of heads in the sixth round opened another cut, this time around Selby’s right eye, and prompted a furious reaction from Selby’s corner, especially when it seemed referee Michael Alexander was contemplating ending the action.
However, with his cornerman Chris Sanigar minimising the damage from the cuts, Selby began to come on strong in the later rounds, still trading with Warrington but using his reach advantage to ensure he was landing when the home favourite was missing.
He may wish he had adopted the tactic from the start but Warrington continued to press with punches to the back of the head aggravating Selby, who complained throughout the contest to no avail.
Warrington continued to come forward, however, and showed he has more than merited the big fights and pay days ahead.
After the fight, Selby didn’t speak to the media, but new world featherweight champion Warrington said: “I can’t put it into words, I’ve worked hard over the last 18 weeks and during that time I’ve had two baby girls born. I’m overcome with emotion, it was sheer grit, and the crowd got me through this.
On a potential fight with Carl Frampton in Belfast, Warrington added: “I don’t mind going anywhere.
“I’ve been a fan of Carl’s and two weeks ago I said I would beat Lee Selby and go to Windsor Park. We will sit down with Frank Warren and get the fight sorted.
“But I prefer the end of the year as I need some time to be a dad and let this sink in.”
Frampton, who was ringside for 5 live, said: “I would love to fight Josh Warrington. I would love him to come to Belfast and fight me.
“It was a fantastic performance. My next fight will be in Belfast, that’s all I know.”