Fighters like Leigh Wood don’t come around very often. The Nottingham man is now a two-time world champion, having regained his WBA featherweight belt from Mauricio Lara. For the second time, ‘Leigh-thal’ has won title gold as a betting underdog. Sandwiched in between his 2021 TKO of Xu Can and his unanimous decision win on Saturday was a victory in the best men’s fight of 2022 against Michael Conlan. Wood also overcame the setback of losing his first meeting with Lara, a seventh-round stoppage loss that would have derailed a lesser fighter.
But whatever you think of Wood, the term “lesser fighter” is not one you’d use to describe him. One of boxing’s true self-made men, few predicted world titles in his future when he lost a British title scrap with Gavin McDonnell and a WBO European title tilt against Jazza Dickens. But just when it appeared domestic boxing would be his ceiling, Wood shocked the world and dethroned Can.
His defeat to Lara, the dangerous conqueror of Josh Warrington, earlier this year was seen as a regression to the mean. Conventional wisdom at the time saw Wood as a fighter who had overachieved in lifting world title honours and had been swiftly, brutally returned to the domestic game. A modern day Gavin Rees, the one-fight WBA super lightweight champion or Steve Robinson, the fairytale fighter dethroned by Naseem Hamed.
But Wood got straight back on the horse. No return to the small halls, no course-correcting undercard eight-rounder, no confidence builders. He simply signed on the dotted line to face the vaguely terrifying world champion who had just knocked his block off. But if the rematch with Lara looked like a tall order when it was confirmed, it would only serve to get more dangerous the day before.
Lara missed weight by nearly four pounds at the weigh in on Friday. His infringement was so severe that it was considered above the threshold for him to safely be allowed to try and lose it. The Mexican was stripped of his title with Wood given the option of pulling out or fighting a man a whole weightclass bigger than him for the now-vacant title. Nobody in their right mind would have judged Wood for putting his own safety first and withdrawing, but ‘Leigh-thal’ chose to fight.
What a fight it was from the Woods camp’s point of view. Lara never really got going. The Brit dropped Lara in the second round. While Lara had come back from an early deficit to stop Wood in their first meeting, this time he was fairly powerless as Wood was the slicker, more artful boxer on the way to a wide points nod. Wood had vindication, his belt and justice for the weight differential that threatened the fight’s level playing field.
Leigh Wood is a truly special fighter. We ask our boxers to take on the biggest and best fights. This is a man who rematched Lara while also beating Conlan and Can. We ask our boxers to show bravery and valour in the face of adversity. He was dropped heavily against Conlan and went in with Lara who was essentially a super featherweight. Ultimately we ask our fighters to win. The two world title belts on Wood’s mantle tell you all you need to know on that score.
The win means there will be further challenges ahead for Wood. More worlds to conquer. He might win these fights, he might lose. But one thing that is certain is that the 34-year-old will give maximum effort, heart and soul in pursuit of victory. Can we really ask for more from our boxers than that?
*18+ | BeGambleAware | Odds Subject To Change