From Undesirable To Undeniable: Leigh Wood And Mauricio Lara Get Their Due

Nottingham hosts a WBA featherweight title clash this Saturday
12:00, 14 Feb 2023

When WBA featherweight champion Leigh Wood defends his title against Mauricio Lara on Saturday, he does so as the betting underdog. ‘Leigh-thal’ wasn’t the favourite when he knocked out Michael Conlan in a Fight of the Year contender last March. Nor was he odds-on when he met Xu Can for the title at Matchroom Headquarters in those uneasy post-pandemic days of 2021. Since moving to world level, Wood has not been favoured to beat anybody he has faced. Which begs the question: what more does he have to do?

A loss to two-time world title challenger James ‘Jazza’ Dickens in 2020 marked Wood’s card. Losing to a fringe world level fighter saw the Nottingham man labelled a purely domestic level proposition. So it was a huge surprise when he became the first man in six years to defeat China’s WBA featherweight champion Xu Can. Wood outboxed the belt-holder before dramatically stopping him in the last round. The glass ceiling had been shattered. Standing in the debris with a world title belt over his shoulder was Leigh Wood.


It is a position he defended in the most exhilarating fashion last spring. His opponent was Michael Conlan, the Irishman who has looked like a nailed-on world champion since his controversial elimination from Rio 2016 as an amateur. The Belfast boxer carried an unblemished 16-0 record into the Motorpoint Arena in Nottingham. Despite ceding home advantage to Wood, most expected Conlan to leave with the title. 

He came mighty close. In one of the most astonishing fights of 2022, Conlan knocked Wood down in the opening round. He was then knocked down himself in the 11th round before being brutally knocked out cold in the 12th. It was a sobering finish and there were worrying moments as Conlan lay motionless in the immediate aftermath. Luckily, the Olympian was completely fine and has actually fought and won twice since. For Wood, it was a signature win and a performance that looked like lifting him from the underdog column to the realm of respected champion.


But Wood once again finds himself installed as the underdog in a major fight. There is a tangible reason for this, that being the considerable abilities of his challenger. Mauricio Lara blitzed his way onto the world scene in 2021 with a spectacular stoppage of Josh Warrington. Were it not for the Leeds boxer vacating his IBF featherweight strap in the build-up, Lara would be a world champion right now.

Since upsetting Warrington and making the world sit up and take notice, Lara has gone unbeaten. A rematch with Warrington ended prematurely with the Mexican in the ascendancy. A clash of heads brought that one to a close in the second round. But back-to-back third-round stoppage wins over Emilio Sanchez and Jose Sanmartin have kept Lara hot. Now he faces his trickiest test since Warrington as he goes in with a teak-tough world champion with a point to prove.

This WBA championship is somewhat of a battle of the underappreciated. Wood has overcome his frequently-bestowed underdog status to reign as a world king. Lara was brought in as fodder for a local hero and ended up beating him. Now these two undesirables have become undeniable as they headline an arena show for world honours. It’s an ultimate triumph for meritocracy in boxing. Two fighters that were supposed to be foils for the ascent of others now sit atop the mountain. On Saturday though, only one can claim the throne.

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