Tuesday, September 26, 2023  |



Leigh Wood not surprised by win over Xu Can, wants Navarrete, Santa Cruz fights

Leigh Wood (right) trades with Xu Can. Photo by Mark Robinson/ Matchroom Boxing
Fighters Network

A lot has changed for Leigh Wood in the space of a week.

Seven days ago, he was supposed to be a lamb to the slaughter against one of the world’s leading featherweights, Xu Can.

Now he’s looking at huge fights in the UK and further afield after his impressive 12th-round stoppage victory over the Chinese fighter.

Wood’s win was a surprise to many, but not to himself.

“I said beforehand I was convinced I knew what I had to do and maybe there were little turns in the tide where he [Can] really tried but it’s a world title fight, you don’t have it all your own way,” explained Wood. “But I said everyone would say ‘Can Xu didn’t show up’ and it would be down to the game plan of me not letting him get his momentum, not letting him get his shots off, stopping him from throwing and the things I would be doing in between my work. That’s exactly what happened and everyone says he didn’t turn up but I knew exactly what I was going to do, what he was going to do and I went out there and did it.”

Promoter Eddie Hearn reckoned Can barely won three rounds and Wood looked the goods. Was the Nottingham man surprised with how much he controlled the fight?

“Not really,” added Wood. “If he’d have taken more risks, he’d have ended up jumping in to take risks. If you take risks with me and I’m set like I was for this fight, always in a position to throw, you run on to a shot and whether that knocks you out or not it’s down to how many risks you take and how much rushing in you want to do.”

As a consequence, Can never got untracked. His prodigious punch output was almost non-existent, his quantity was numbed by Wood’s quality.

“That’s why he didn’t do anything else, the more he did, like in the 12th round he rushed forward to come and get me and he ran into a shot,” said Wood, describing the right hand that set in motion Can’s demise with just seconds left in the fight.

Although many said Wood was merely a marking time fight for Can, Wood paid no heed to that. He said he felt in control even before the first bell. 

“Before I went in, I came out straight away thinking I know what I need to do,” Wood recalled. “I’m the guv’nor, but when I came back from Round One I knew I could sustain that pace for 12 rounds and that pretty much was the pace that we kept for the whole fight.”

Wood pumped his fist every time he returned to his corner. It’s not a superstition but as what was happening to him dawned each round, he kept a tally of banking rounds. 

“I’ve never done it before, it was just me signing off saying to myself, ‘Good round. Another one of them. Banked’. When I was asked how the fight would go I said, ‘It’s totally down to him, I’m prepared to set him up and hit him with big shots round after round and I can be there all night so it’s all down to him how long the fight lasts.’ Eventually I got him. It wasn’t the biggest shot I caught him with but it was the accumulation after 12 rounds.”

Wood had landed a number of heavy and hurtful shots. He caught Can with multiple right uppercuts, causing his face to swell and take on a puffy look. The strategy was also to slow Can down by working the body.

“It takes it out of you over 12 rounds, they always say invest in the body early, especially against people that have a high output because that’s really going to take the wind out of their sails and I think it did, especially the jab downstairs,” revealed Wood. “That was key. That was key in camp and it was key in my game plan and it was what we worked on day in and day out.”

A few days in and it’s still hard for Leigh to absorb what’s happened. The images of him celebrating on his knees went out around the world on social media last weekend but his new status in world boxing will still take some getting used to.

“I was asked straight away to say what it felt like and I got a microphone shoved in my face and I didn’t say anything because it didn’t feel real,” continued Wood. “It takes time to process it and for it to sink in. Even now it’s being processed because it’s something you want to do as a young kid and I’ve done it but I’ll probably be like this until the belt arrives at my door. At the same time, I’m already starting to heal. My hands are better, my eyes are going down and I’ve already started to think what’s next?”

This weekend, Kid Galahad and Jazza Dickens meet for the IBF featherweight title and Wood will be an interested observer, having lost to Dickens and having been an old gym-mate of Galahad.

“We’ll see what happens with that,” said Wood. “In my opinion I think Galahad will win in the last section of the fight, the last three rounds. I think the pace he sets will just be too much, but hopefully Dickens can do it because I’d like the rematch for myself. If he can do it, he needs to be very smart, if he needs to hold, even if he needs to spit his gumshield out to get through a round… Can he do it? Only he can answer that. I’m not going to write him off. People said it to me that I was totally out of my depth and there was no chance of me getting a victory, so it’s down to the individual fighter. [Now] I’d love the [Emanuel] Navarrete fight, I think that would be absolute fireworks, but to fight another champion or in a unification it’s definitely something I want to do next. [Leo] Santa Cruz? If he wants to come back down to featherweight absolutely. Any of those guys in the top five or six, great fights. Count me in.”

Then, next month, Josh Warrington has his rematch with Mauricio Lara as he tries to gain revenge over the Mexican.

“I don’t know if Warrington can do things any different,” said Wood. “He needs to. Getting the wins that he did [against the likes of Carl Frampton and Lee Selby], surely he can adapt to the style in front of him. Maybe he didn’t expect that from Lara, maybe he didn’t expect the fight that it was but he’s a British fighter and for him to get a win it would set up bigger fights in Britain, possibly involving myself, so I’d like to see him get the win.”

Wood has spoken of his dream to fight at Nottingham’s City Ground, and Warrington has a huge footballing fanbase, too. 

“As it stands at the minute, I’m the champion so he’d be taking that trip down the M1 to Nottingham but either way it would be a massive fight with two football teams that hate each other and hopefully he comes through and puts himself into the mix and there are some cracking fights to be made, let’s make them all,” Wood added. “Let’s give the fans crazy nights, great nights and some nights to remember.”

Wood has given them several already, but none more so than his big win in the first week of this year’s Fight Camp.         

Can is also in the frame for his next fight, in a return.

“I know there is a rematch in the contract,” admitted Leigh. “We’ll see if he wants the rematch. I’d be more than happy to give him one, he gave me my shot, but that was me on five-six weeks of training. On 12 weeks I know I can do better and I know my performance looked good but I know I can perform better than that. I can do a lot more than that so we’ll see what happens.”

Can was meant to be the hardest fight of his life but it wasn’t. He’s been in the trenches before but world class Can didn’t take him there. Now trained by Ben Davison, Wood said the build-up was key to how the fight went. 

“That’s down to the preparation, because if you have worse preparation you’re going to have a harder fight,” Leigh said. “Even though I only had six weeks’ notice and five weeks of training – I was only average fitness when I got the call – but it was down to the preparation, the game plan, working on what I need to work on and getting that bang on right.”


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