Josh Warrington could give up his IBF featherweight title in order to pursue a fight with either Gary Russell Jr or Can Xu in April.

Warrington will defend the title against Mauricio Lara on February 13, a date he had originally hoped to box Can, the WBA champion. But the Chinese boxer was reluctant to box without fans present and Eddie Hearn, Warrington’s promoter, fears that the IBF will turn down a request for a unification fight in April and order him to face his mandatory challenger, Kid Galahad.

“He wants to fight the top guys in the division and he wants to win other belts,” Hearn said. “So there is a chance that after February 13 the IBF title could be vacated if it means taking a step up and fighting Can Xu. But also now we’re in negotiations to fight Garry Russell Jr. at the end of April.”

Warrington beat Galahad in his second defence of the title in 2019, but Galahad has since become his mandatory challenger for the second time.

A deal was initially in place for Warrington to face Can outdoors in Leeds last June before the pandemic hit. Hearn had hoped that Can, who like Warrington has not boxed since 2019, would face Warrington on February 13, but Can was not keen on a behind-closed-doors fight.

“There are two things — Can Xu wants to fight in front of a crowd and also his deal was better with numbers on the gate,” Hearn said. “I wouldn’t say it was a financial issue but he genuinely wants to fight in front of fans, he doesn’t want to fight behind closed doors.

“When the lockdown was announced here and he’s coming in from Beijing, he looked at it and Robert Diaz (the Golden Boy matchmaker) said, ‘Can we not do it for April or May?’.mI said, ‘Yes, we can’.

“It causes some problems with the belts but Ring Magazine have approved that the belt will be on the line and that’s what Josh really wants to win.

“It’s one of those situations where Josh needs to be flexible with the belts to step up and take those challenges.

 He’s really desperate to take those challenges and he just has to get through this fight.”

The Can fight might not be the only option for Warrington in April, though, presuming he beats Lara, as Hearn said talks had taken place about a fight between Warrington and Russell, the WBC champion.

“I like the Gary Russell fight,” Hearn said. “It’s a WBC world title, he’s No 2 in the Ring Magazine. I like the Garry Russell fight. It’s a WBC world title, he’s No.2 in the Ring Magazine and I love that fight. Warrington is ready to go now, he wants something major and really wants to test himself.

“I actually think this fight (with Lara) is going to do Josh good. He hasn’t boxed for 15 months so he can go in and hopefully do a job on Lara and then go straight back into camp.”

It could be a big year for Warrington, who could be in action four times if things go well, with Hearn eyeing a summer fight outdoors in Leeds if the coronavirus pandemic allows.

“Can we go to Elland Road (home of Leeds United), can we go to Headingley (home of Leeds Rhinos), can we do 10,000 or 15,000?” Hearn said.

“Who knows? But you’d hope once this vaccine is rolled out, hopefully by the end of March, you’d hope they have done a good job.”

Ron Lewis is a senior writer for Boxing Scene. He was Boxing Correspondent for The Times, where he worked from 2001-2019 - covering four Olympic Games and numerous world title fights across the globe. He has written about boxing for a wide variety of publications worldwide since the 1980s.