IBF world featherweight champion Josh Warrington is about to embark on a fight he openly admits he does not want.
But the Briton’s frustrations over facing Sofiane Takoucht in Leeds on Saturday pale into insignificance when he sees the perilous fight some youngsters face.
In and around his ascent to world champion status, Warrington has visited hospitals in his native Yorkshire, where he says he fights back tears when speaking to “innocent” children receiving treatment for serious illness.
“Kids shouldn’t be worrying about chemotherapy sessions,” he tells BBC’s 5 Live Boxing. “They should be out playing. It doesn’t half put life in perspective. I go there and it chokes me.
“Not only the kids but seeing the parents and the strength they bring. They put a smile on – it’s their babies. I look at the parents and think ‘wow, I don’t know how you do it’.
“You walk in with a belt. Even if they don’t know who you are they see it shining and it brings smiles. I had parents say to me they hadn’t seen their kid laugh or smile in a week or so. I had one little girl making me do the floss dance. If she’s happy, she’s happy. It’s job done, a smile on a face. That stuff right there means most to me.
“People moan about the smallest things in this day and age. A flat tyre, or being skint for a week to pay day. These kids are fighting for their life.”
- Listen: Warrington on fatherhood and fighting
Warrington has proven himself a man of the people. The former dental technician has willingly dropped tickets off door to door during his career and, as a result, has amassed a cult following in his home city of Leeds, where he sold out Elland Road in beating Lee Selby in 2018.
He hoped this weekend’s bout – the 30th of a decade-long career – would be away from his home under the lights of Las Vegas or New York, against one of the featherweight division’s other world champions – not Takoucht.
Warrington will have have to wait for such glamour, not that he seeks to lose himself in his own stardust.
“People in the limelight take their position for granted,” he says. “You see people have success in sport, music, maybe a reality show and they think they are God’s gift. You have to give back as the people make you. Real heroes are fire fighters, nurses, police officers – the ones working Christmas Day, risking their life.
“Sports stars are supposed to be inspirational, so be inspirational. If I can put a smile on a few kids faces using my status, I am a happy man.”
Warrington, 28, is something of a boxing throwback. Straight-talking, he ground his way from early fights in leisure centres to amass English, Commonwealth, European and eventually world honours.
His father Sean has stood by his side as his trainer. His wife and mother to his twin girls, Natasha, has given up her own career for the betterment of his.
Across the ring from him on Saturday, just outside the ropes, will stand Takoucht’s trainer Alain Vastine, a man who has lived through his own tragedy when he lost a son and daughter in separate transport accidents just two months apart in 2015.
Warrington says having children changed his stance on wanting to fight for the sheer love of it, and he has even considered the dark thought of a pre-fight hug being the last he ever receives.
“People may say ‘you say that for the cameras’ but winning means that much,” says Warrington. “When I’m in there I will give everything to win, every last bit of energy. But I have kids as now and I don’t want them growing up without a dad.
“My missus, Tash, she would have me retire tomorrow. You see what boxing takes. You see deaths in boxing. You realise it can happen to anyone. In my mind I am indestructible. I my mind I could fight Anthony Joshua and take his best.
“But then, when you’ve had a fight, you relax and sit with family, you get in touch with reality and realise that it’s a long time I have been taking punches to the head. I’ve been doing this 21 years and I don’t want to get to the stage where I forget things, where I am slurring or where my girls are pushing me along.
“You realise there is more after this in life. I will give everything in my career but the day I lose an edge, I will call it a day.”
First there is Takoucht, then the hope of taking more world belts, to more hospitals, to bring more smiles.