Leigh Wood – From Small Hall Setback to World Glory

By Boxing News - 02/17/2023 - Comments

By BN24 Staff: Unbeaten for five years, at the time, Leigh Wood’s confidence was sky-high as he entered the MTK Golden Contract Featherweight Tournament in 2019. The reigning Commonwealth champion, however, was faced against seven other high-level competitors, all desperate for a shot at the big time.

In the quarter-final, Wood was drawn against former Olympian, David Oliver Joyce. The Irishman was on the quick route to stardom and big things were expected. But on October 4th, Nottingham’s Wood upset the bookmakers and stopped Joyce in the ninth round of a stellar battle that highlighted the night of action at London’s famous York Hall.

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In February of 2020, his semi-final versus another high-class featherweight, Jazza Dickens, once again had York Hall’s fans on the edge of their seats. This time, a close and enthralling fight went the other way.

As Ian Aldous wrote for BN24 at the time from ringside:

It was close, very competitive and hard to call. Then, all of a sudden, late in the ninth, Dickens was a clean punch or two away from finishing proceedings. Wood looked out on his feet for a fleeting moment. Back he came in the tenth; it was brutal and enthralling. Scores of 95-95, 96-94 & 95-94 earned Dickens his spot in the featherweight final.

Things all of a sudden looked bleak, despite his previous five-year run of wins and titles, and then – the pandemic struck. ‘Leigh-thal’ would miss a whole year of action before returning to the ring with a new trainer in tow, Ben Davison. Whilst the pandemic was wreaking havoc across the globe, Wood’s fortune was about to change.

A shot at the vacant British crown was mandated between Wood and Reece Mould. With no fans in attendance at Wembley Arena, Mould was dropped three times as Wood captured the famed Lonsdale belt. The win catapulted him to an unexpected shot at WBA regular world champion, Can Xu.

With the backing of Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing, he was able to lure the Chinese boxer to Essex in the summer of 2021. Inside Matchroom Square Garden – still under some Covid-19 restrictions with a modicum of fans watching on – the British champion shocked the boxing world and stopped Xu in the final round.

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That link with Hearn was cemented further a month later as the newly crowned champion signed a promotional contract with Matchroom. In merely two fights, his world had turned downside-up.

Three fights after beating a skilled Irish Olympian, Wood was tasked with the same objective in 2022.
Michael Conlan, the mandatory challenger, ventured to Nottingham to battle for the WBA’s regular world title. The defending champion survived serious adversity after being knocked down heavily in the first round. A scintillating scrap for the ages ensued as Wood’s grit, determination and heart eventually wore down Conlan. Another dramatic final-round knockout win saw Wood literally knock Conlan through the ropes and out of the ring. The stoppage proved essential as he was narrowly behind on all three judges’ scorecards.

The bout won countless Fight-of-the-Year awards including The Ring Magazine’s prestigious award.

And now, a new challenge awaits the 34-year-old. This Saturday night, an eagerly anticipated fight that was originally set for September last year will finally take place. Mauricio Lara finally gets his well-earned shot at a world championship (with Wood’s belt having been upgraded to full world title status following Leo Santa Cruz’s vacation of his WBA featherweight belt). Lara labels Saturday’s fight his “acid test”.

The Mexican challenger – ten years younger than Wood – famously and shockingly knocked out Josh Warrington when the Leeds man was widely regarded as the best 126-pound fighter on the planet. A technical draw in their rematch and two more knockouts proceeded. He was due to get his opportunity last autumn, but unfortunately Wood suffered a torn bicep that scuppered their initial fight.

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“I picked him”, Wood said when the pair first faced off earlier this week, making a clear reference to his willingness to welcome the toughest challenger possible to his belt. He could have chosen a much easier defence, but wants to prove his mettle.

Excitement continues to build for what will be a sold-out fight night at the Motorpoint Arena in Nottingham. At today’s press conference, the two main-event fighters alluded to their absolute and undoubted confidence of knockout victory without the need for any histrionics.

If Wood prevails, he hopes to finally fulfil his dream of fighting at the home of his beloved Nottingham Forest Football Club.

His, is a story illustrating that a narrow defeat at domestic level needn’t spell the end for hopes and aspirations of reaching the summit of the sport. On Saturday, he hopes to continue the journey against a live and credible threat to his crown.

Neither fighter expects their battle to reach the halfway stage. Expect war this Saturday night LIVE on DAZN.