If the bookies were to be believed, Josh Warrington was not supposed to make it this far.
The headstrong 28-year-old defied the odds twice in his first two world title fights on his way to becoming the first ever boxing world champion from his home city of Leeds.
First, Warrington stunned former champ Lee Selby on a famous night at Elland Road last June, deservedly snatching the belt after a pulsating 12-round affair at the iconic home of Leeds United.
But he raised the stakes further with an even more impressive performance against Carl Frampton in December, bullying and bruising the Northern Irishman in another 12-round classic that will live long in the memory.
Both times, Warrington entered the fight a huge underdog, unfancied against fighters believed to be better schooled and more skilled yet the 28-0 star upset the apple cart twice – and in convincing style.
However, on Saturday night Warrington enters unfamiliar territory with the weight of expectation now on his shoulders as the favourite to retain his belt.
“It’s not affected me one bit. Just like the Selby and Frampton fights where I was the underdog, I didn’t look at people’s opinions for motivation,” he told BTSport.com.
“I was just looking at them like ‘well, I’ll prove you wrong’. But it never really affected me mentally because of how much I wanted to win.
“What it comes down to is this that is over my shoulder – the world title. This is my belt and I ain’t giving it up for nobody – and I’m not losing to anybody. You’re going to have to try something real, real hard to take this off me and that’s it.
“To move forward for me in my career, talking about fighting in the States and unifying the division, I’ve got to beat those who are put in front of me in order to get those fights. Barry is the next one in front.”
A spicy build-up to Saturday’s showdown has seen both men trade barbs in the press – and the latest noises from the Galahad camp suggest Warrington’s hunger has waned since becoming world champion.
“I believe I am a lot hungrier than him. For me there is no other option,” Galahad explained during an exclusive chat with BTSport.com.
“He’s got other options. He’s got other things in place. Frank Warren has probably been on the phone to the WBO and made sure when he loses he’ll be mandatory for the WBO, so he knows that in the back of his mind.
“I’ve been bred for boxing, it’s all I know. Since the day I walked in that gym all I ever wanted to be is a champion and get to the stage that I’m at now and stay here for a long time.
“For me, this is everything. I sacrificed everything in my life. Relationships, kids, family, jobs, education. Everything. I didn’t ever want to do anything else.
“All I ever wanted to be was world champion, to make sure I come out on top financially, and keep the belt as long as possible.”
Speaking after outgunning Frampton in December, Warrington made no secret of his desire to head across the pond in search of lucrative unification clashes against the division’s other champions.
But after the IBF ordered him to face mandatory challenger Galahad, the 5ft 7ins brawler was forced to scale back his ambitions in order to deal with matters at home first.
However, Warrington brushed away concerns he could be undone by a lack of focus on Saturday night, telling BTSport.com: “I would never overlook an opponent. It would be ridiculous to do so at this stage after training like a demon throughout my career.
“This is my 29th fight. To have 28 fights prior and trained like a demon only to take your eye off the ball when you’re a world champion? I don’t even look at myself as a world champion.
“I look at myself as a hungry fighter who wants to keep on winning and moving forward and that’s it.”
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