Leigh Wood: A Fight Fan’s Type of Fighter
Boxing fans in the UK are some of the most diehard fans we have in the sport. They get behind their fighters and support them through thick and thin. For whatever reason, Leigh Wood (26-2, 16 KOs) has not grown to be as popular as some of his contemporaries across the pond nor has he gotten the same promotional backing as some of his less accomplished peers. Though he is not one of the UK’s fan favorites just yet, I have no doubt that he will eventually be loved by them and many other fans across the world.
He was recently elevated to full WBA featherweight champion once former champion Leo Santa Cruz (38-2-1, 19 KOs) finally vacated his title after not defending it for over three years. Ward was originally going to defend his WBA “regular” title against Mauricio Lara (25-2-1, 18 KOs) on September 24, but a bicep injury postponed the bout. After the postponement, the WBA continued with their title consolidation plan and ordered a Santa Cruz vs Wood title unification. The fight was set to go to a purse bid, but Santa Cruz ended up forfeiting his title and moving up to 130lbs, which left Wood as the lone WBA featherweight titleholder.
Now that he was the WBA “Super” champion, he had his choice of an opponent for his first voluntary defense. Many fighters would opt for a low-risk first defense, but Leigh Wood did the opposite. He and his team re-entered negotiations for a fight with Mauricio Lara, who has been on a roll since he knocked out former IBF featherweight champion Josh Warrington (31-2-1, 8 KOs) in brutal fashion. Lara is the definition of a high-risk, low-reward type of fight, but Wood never once waivered during negotiations and made it clear that this was the fight he wanted.
Though he is the champion, he comes into this matchup the underdog. This is not new territory for Wood, as he has been the underdog in each of his last three fights. He was a +270 underdog in his first title shot against Xu Can (18-4, 3 KOs), stopping Can in the final round of a fight he was in total control of. His first defense of his “regular” title was against 2-time Irish Olympian, Michael Conlan (18-1, 9 KOs). Wood was once again the underdog, and in the early rounds it was evident why as Conlan dropped Wood in the opening round and built up a lead on the scorecards.
Wood started to gain momentum in the later rounds, finally getting to Conlan and scoring a knockdown in the eleventh. Even with the late rally, Wood was still behind on the cards heading into the twelfth and final round. What occurred in the final round was like a scene out of a movie. A right hand from Wood sent Conlan out of the ring and into the front row. For the dramatic comeback Wood was awarded the 2022 Knockout of the Year Award from many media outlets, including us here at ITR Boxing.
Now Wood is fighting for the first time as a legitimate world champion, but the underdog label is sticking with him. He is a +210 underdog on the books in this one. Most people around the sport believe that Lara will be too much for him to handle, and that along with comments made by Lara have added to the chip on Leigh Wood’s shoulder. Lara called Wood a “chicken” when he originally pulled out of the first proposed matchup due to injury, and Wood has definitely not forgotten those accusations.
“We know that this English fighter [Leigh Wood] is a chicken…” Lara told Izquierdo.com
“England is like a second home to me. We know that English fighters run away from Mexicans.”
“He [Lara] said a few things about pulling out of the fight, faking injuries. It doesn’t matter what he says and what he does. The disrespect is there, and he’s got to deal with me on fight night. I’m going to be at my best and I’m coming for him.
This is a fight that has the stylistic potential to be a fight of the year candidate. Lara always starts fast, looking to inflict pain on his opponent as quickly as possible. Wood on the other hand is a slower starter, who takes rounds to figure his opponent out and build up momentum. The consensus public prediction is that Lara scores a knockout much like he did against Warrington. I am not of that belief. I see Lara starting fast as usual, but I expect the conditioning, consistency, and overall desire of Leigh Wood to help him weather the early storm and get the job done.
Win or lose Saturday, Leigh Wood has embodied what we want out of a professional fighter. He seeks the toughest competition, and is not worried about if the public views him as the favorite or not. He is in a position to upset the apple cart once again, and if he does I hope this is the performance that finally helps him break out and become a star in the Matchroom Boxing stable. Fighters like Leigh Wood keep the sport alive and unpredictable, and at 34 years old I hope he gets the respect he warrants before it is too late.