Josh Warrington survived a scrappy and close fight to edge past English rival Kid Galahad on a split decision and retain his IBF world featherweight title Saturday at the First Direct Arena in Leeds, England.
Warrington, who made his second title defense, kept himself available for a world title unification fight later this year but failed to shine against Galahad, whom he found awkward and slippery.
Two judges scored the bout for Warrington, 116-112 and 116-113, and the third had it 115-113 for Galahad. Afterward, the champion appeared more relieved than jubilant.
Warrington (29-0, 6 KOs), 28, who had the backing of the crowd in his home city of Leeds, could not get into his rhythm and was frustrated by Galahad's tactics of holding, which stopped him from dominating through his work rate.
The clinches disrupted the flow of the fight, and Warrington was unable to dictate the pace like he had done in his previous two world title fights, against Carl Frampton and Lee Selby.
"I knew it was close, but I thought I landed a lot more cleaner shots," Warrington said. "You can't come into the champion's backyard and pot shot, land single shots, and hope to win it. There was a lot of holding. He was pretty clever with some of the stuff he did inside."
Warrington's first choice for an opponent would be Leo Santa Cruz of Mexico, the WBC titleholder who is regarded as the division's No. 1 fighter. Gary Russell Jr. (WBC) of the United States and Oscar Valdez (WBO) of Mexico are the other world titleholders at featherweight.
"I hope it's fighting in the U.S. next," Warrington said. "It has to be another big one for me because there's no one left for me to fight over here [in the U.K.]. With the talk of going to fight in the States, I got carried away with it myself. Instead of taking my time there were times I just switched off."
Galahad (26-1, 15 KOs), 29, from Sheffield, England, had compiled eights wins since he returned from a doping ban in April 2016, which kept him out of action for 18 months. Warrington had questioned the quality of Galahad's opponents, but the challenger made things difficult throughout the fight. He stopped Warrington from throwing his clusters of shots but did not throw enough of his own.
From the first round, Galahad switched stances, hoping to confuse Warrington, and there was plenty of holding in a messy opening round.
Galahad was warned for getting Warrington in a headlock in the second, and Warrington then finished the round strong and caught Galahad off balance with a short right.
Warrington began the third well with a flurry of shots, but the fight continued to be punctuated by holding. The clinching prevented Warrington from establishing a rhythm and utilizing his work rate that has served him so well in recent fights.
However, Warrington had some success in the fifth round when he planted a right hand on Galahad's temple as the challenger tried to slip the punch. Galahad looked dazed for a few moments but was able to avoid further danger.
Galahad was warned for holding in the sixth, but he continued to find Warrington with single shots.
Galahad smothered Warrington, tying him up on the inside whenever he tried to get close, and the champion looked in need of points going into the ninth.
Warrington landed a few clean shots in the 10th, including a left that jolted Galahad's head back, and the champion opened up with a furious attack in the 11th round. But it turned untidy, like most of the rounds were, and Warrington was tied up whenever he got close to Galahad.
On the undercard, Zelfa Barrett (22-1, 13 KOs) showed why he might one day contend for a world title, scoring a unanimous-decision win over fellow Englishman Leon Woodstock Jr. (12-2, 5 KOs) for the vacant Commonwealth junior lightweight title.
In an entertaining fight, Barrett's fast hands and array of punches earned him scores of 118-110, 117-111 and 117-111.