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Mauricio Lara Completes Mexico’s Takeover of the Featherweight Division

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By Rory Hickey: In Nottingham, England, Mauricio Lara (26-2-1, 19 KO) beat Leigh Wood (26-3, 16 KO) by technical knockout to take his WBA world featherweight championship and silence a raucous English crowd. Wood was ahead on the scorecards and seemed likelier to end the fight early than Lara. But as the seventh round ended, a perfectly timed left hand from the hard-punching Lara essentially concluded the bout.

Leigh Wood had won his previous two fights by 12th-round knockouts against Xu Can (18-4, 3 KO) and Michael Conlan (18-1, 6 KO); Wood’s win against Conlan was named 2022’s fight of the year by multiple media outlets. He did not have the chance to try for three consecutive 12th-round knockouts by Lara, who threw a massive left hand just as Wood had uncorked a punch of his own. Like in a quick draw from the old West, Lara beat Wood to the punch and landed on a fully committed and defenseless Wood. Wood somehow got to his feet, and the referee allowed the fight to continue, but Ben Davidson, Leigh Wood’s trainer, had seen enough.

The knockdown occurred in front of Wood’s corner, giving Davidson a great view of his fighter’s condition following Lara’s thunderous left hand. As the fight was about to resume, Davidson threw in the towel, the cloth fluttering past a dazed and distraught Wood in the air before hitting referee Michael Alexander, who waved off the fight to give Lara the TKO victory and the WBA lightweight championship.

Ben Davidson has received criticism for not allowing Leigh Wood to continue fighting. While losing a championship after your trainer throws in the towel is heartbreaking, I believe Davidson made the right decision. Wood was staggered and had not kept his hands up after receiving the standing eight count. Lara was chomping at the bit to finish Wood off before the bell for the 7th round sounded.

Even if Wood had survived the 7th round and returned to his corner, he would have had sixty seconds to clear his head before Lara continued his onslaught. Just because Wood had a non-zero chance to shake off the knockdown and ultimately beat Lara does not mean Davidson was in the wrong for stopping the fight and eliminating the more likely possibility of his fighter getting pummeled further.

Lara’s victory was the second time he defeated an English fighter on the British island, previously knocking out Josh Warrington at Wembley Arena in February 2021 as an 11/1 underdog to put the first blemish on Warrington’s formerly perfect record.

Mauricio Lara is an exciting fighter nicknamed Bronco, a horse whose name comes from the Spanish word broncos, meaning rough. The nickname is fitting, as anyone who has stepped in the ring with the Mexico City native can attest. Lara has suffered only two defeats as a professional. His first professional bout in October 2015 was a four-round split decision loss to Julio Carabino. His other pro loss came in May of 2018 when Lara got knocked out by Eliot Chávez in his thirteenth professional fight. Lara is 14-0-1 since then- fourteen wins and a technical draw in his rematch against Warrington when Lara suffered a nasty cut from a clash of heads. Other than that Warrington rematch, Lara has scored knockout victories in nine of his last ten fights.

The featherweight division in boxing is in a state of flux. Recent notable champions, including Emmanuel Navarette, Oscar Valdez, and Shakur Stevenson, have all vacated belts and ascended in weight. There is currently a power vacuum in the 126-pound division that Mauricio Lara hopes to fill. Lara has some competition at the top of the 126-pound hill. Interestingly, all three current featherweight champions are Mexican. Leigh Wood could invoke his rematch clause to try and reclaim his championship. Michael Conlan, who outboxed Wood for a lot of their fight but could not hold off Wood’s thrilling comeback, is an intriguing name at featherweight.

From the municipality of Otumba, Rey Vargas (36-1, 22 KO) is the longest reigning belt-holder at featherweight, capturing the WBC’s featherweight championship in July 2022 by defeating Mark Magyoso (24-1, 16 KO). Vargas lost his last fight– but that was at super featherweight (130 pounds); he fell to O’Shaquie Foster in his bid to become a two-division champion. If he continues fighting at 126 pounds, a matchup between Vargas and Lara would make for a great fight. The other featherweight champion is Mexicali native Luis Alberto Lopez (27-2, 15 KO), who in December upset Josh Warrington in England to claim his championship like Lara once did.

On Saturday night, former champion Mark Magyoso will take on top contender Brandon Figueroa (23-1-1, 18 KO) in a featherweight clash on Showtime. The winner will enter the featherweight championship conversation, becoming the mandatory challenger for Rey Vargas and his WBC championship.

The featherweight division has hosted some memorable fights and rivalries in boxing. Right now, the division feels muddled. As Sun Tzu once said, in the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity. It is there for the triumvirate of Mexican champions Lara, Lopez, and Vargas. That same opportunity exists for the numerous contenders hoping to win a featherweight championship. At this moment, 126-pound supremacy belongs to Mexico’s three kings.

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