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What next for Josh Warrington after regaining his featherweight title?

Josh Warrington is back at the top after winning the IBF featherweight title in Leeds and has several possibilities as to who he faces next, with Leo Santa Cruz and Leigh Wood both in contention.

The "Leeds Warrior" delivered a stoppage win in front of his home fans at the First Direct Arena to beat Kiko Martinez for a second time.

After a shock KO defeat to Mauricio Lara last year, followed by a split-draw to the Mexican in September, there were question marks as to what Warrington had left in the tank.

However, a first-round knockdown of Martinez - who shocked Kid Galahad to win the IBF strap in 2021 - set the tone and in round seven, the referee had seen enough and halted the fight.

Warrington was unable to attend the post-fight press conference afterwards, instead going to hospital to treat a suspected broken jaw. The question is, what is next for Warrington?

American Dream?

Josh Warrington's father and trainer Sean O'Hagan believes a possible fight against Leo Santa Cruz in New York or Las Vegas is a possibility.
The two-time world champion had hopes of fighting across the Atlantic with his stock at his highest through wins over Carl Frampton, Lee Selby and Kid Galahad.
However, Covid-19 blocked his chance of going over to America, and then he suffered defeat to Lara, Xu Can got beat by Leigh Wood and other opponents moved up in weight, including Shakur Stevenson.
"I think what this does, it gives us options now doesn't it," O'Hagen said.
"Josh has always expressed an interest in going abroad to fight in Las Vegas, or maybe New York.
"But there again, we've got (WBA champion) Leigh Wood in the equation haven't we? We've got (WBC champion) Mark Magsayo, the possibilities now are numerous."
"With a fighter like Josh, who's put his heart and soul into his career over the last 12 or 13 years, we've got to acknowledge what he wants," O'Hagan said.
"I know that would be a unification (fight) in the States, so we can't rule out (WBA super-featherweight champion Leo) Santa Cruz.
"If I was going to choose one I'd say let's go take on Santa Cruz, then we'll come back home for maybe his last one and unify against Leigh Wood.
"There will be some clamour for that, absolutely, but like I say, Josh has done everything that's ever been asked of him."

Does Cruz still hold the prestige?

It's quote astonishing that Santa Cruz still holds a world title at featherweight considering it's been Rafael Rivera was his last defence of the WBA (Super) title in 2019.
Since then, Santa Cruz - famous for his two bouts with Carl Frampton - has two wins and a defeat although the loss was a heavy stoppage to Gervonta Davis in October 2020.
The 33-year-old, who also has interest from Leigh Wood - the WBA secondary titleholder - was looking at facing Gary Russell Jr but the American lost Mark Magsayo and in doing so, surrendered his WBC crown.
If Russell can get a rematch and win, then Santa Cruz - who tasted defeat to Russell in the amateurs - would be open to fighting him in a rematch.
However, with Russell recently having surgery, Santa Cruz may need a fight to remain active in the meantime and a clash against Warrington could be a fight he takes - especially if enough money is on the table.

Leigh Wood

Fans would love this all-British clash and if being honest, it is much more intriguing than any other fight out there for Josh Warrington.
Yes, there is the American appeal of having some 15,000+ Leeds fans singing his name in the streets of Vegas but Leigh Wood is coming off the biggest win of his career against Michael Conlan in a Fight of the Year contender.

Trailing on the scorecards, Wood delivered a brutal blow to the temple to knock Conlan out of the ring in the final round to retain his WBA title. The Nottingham-fighter is hoping to fight at Nottingham Forest's City Ground and a unification clash with Warrington would be a sell-out.

Wood has a big following in Nottingham, Warrington is a massive draw in Leeds so DAZN and Eddie Hearn would lick their lips at the possibility of that fight next.
And it seems like Warrington is not afraid about being the away fighter.

"Listen, I'd love to go and boot the doors down at the City Ground and take the barmy Leeds lot with us and beat him in his backyard," he said before his win over Kiko Martinez.

Mauricio Lara

Josh Warrington was handed the first and only defeat of his career to the Mexican but it was a heavy beating last year, and the rematch looked like it would have went the same way.

In a bid to avenge his ninth-round stoppage, Warrington took on Lara in front of some 20,000 fans at Headingley Stadium in September 2021, only for the fight to be stopped after two rounds from a clash of heads.

Lara received a nasty cut and was unable to continue. The heavy-hitting 126lb fighter returned himself this month and dismantled Emilio Sanchez in San Diego and has since been referred to as the new Roberto Duran.

Could we see a trilogy between the pair?

Maybe, but now is not the right time, especially for Warrington. Back as world champion, and with options, Lara is certainly a man he should avoid if he wants to prolong his career.

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