Josh Warrington hopes vacating title can lead to fighting big names in 2021

Josh Warrington wants to face the division’s elite in WBA "regular" champion Xu Can and WBC champion Gary Russell Jr. Photo by Bradley Collyer/PA Images via Getty Images

Josh Warrington has told ESPN that he hopes giving up a world featherweight title will ensure he gets to fight the big names this year.

Warrington (30-0, 7 KOs), 30, vacated the IBF title on Thursday rather than go through with a mandatory defence and rematch against Kid Galahad, his rival English and Yorkshire boxer.

Warrington, from Leeds, instead wants to face the division's elite in WBA "regular" champion Xu Can (18-2, 3 KOs) and WBC champion Gary Russell Jr (31-1, 18 KOs), 32, from Maryland in the United States.

Warrington -- ESPN's No. 1 fighter at 126 pounds -- had hoped to face Xu Can, 26, in his next fight but will now have to wait until later in 2021 to face the Chinese boxer, and after Warrington boxes Mexican Mauricio Lara (21-2, 14 KOs), 22, at a venue yet to be confirmed in England on Feb. 13.

"Up until two weeks ago I was having a unification fight against Can Xu for the WBA 'super' and IBF titles," Warrington told ESPN.

"But in the space of a week it all fell apart, the WBA have said [Leo] Santa Cruz doesn't want to be WBA champion in recess anymore, and Xu Can pulls out of fighting me. Galahad was crying to the IBF and said my next fight was not a unification fight anymore and enforced his position as the mandatory challenger.

"I had a plan how I was going to go about things, I thought I would beat Xu Can and then I would make a decision about what to do with the mandatory defence against Kid Galahad.

"But I had to make a decision straight away, and boxing is a short career. I want to keep progressing and fighting the bigger names. By the end of the year people will realise why I have done this, I will win more belts and fight big names rather than hanging about fighting silly mandatories.

"I want to fight Xu Can and Russell Jr this year and the plan is to fight Xu Can, hopefully before the summer."

Warrington won the IBF title on points against Lee Selby in May 2018, then won a unanimous decision over the division's former No. 1 Carl Frampton in a first defence.

In October 2019, Galahad won a scrappy fight against Galahad by a split points decision before an impressive second-round knockout of Sofiane Takoucht. Warrington has not fought since that quick third defence due to COVID-19.

Qatar-born Galahad (27-1, 16 KOs), 30, who has lived in Sheffield, England, since childhood, could face another English rival, James "Jazza" Dickens (30-3, 11 KOs), from Liverpool, for the vacant IBF title.