Leigh Wood aims to make Josh Warrington respect him the hard way
It took Leigh Wood a decade to win the British featherweight title and from there just months to upgrade to world honors when he upset Can Xu at the Matchroom HQ in the summer of 2021.
The late bloomer has made the most of his time as a world champion since then, and he intends to continue the journey when he faces domestic rival Josh Warrington at the Sheffield Arena, Sheffield on Saturday.
Wood, rated at No. 3 by The Ring at featherweight, recognizes what his countryman brings to the fight as well the magnitude of the occasion.
“It’s currently the biggest fight in my division from the fans’ point of view, from the crowd’s point of view, and intriguing from the fans point of view, especially on these shores – it made sense,” Wood (27-3, 16 knockouts) told The Ring. “It’s a history fight, we’re both two-time world champions.
“I’ve seen Josh many times in the flesh, I’ve been ringside for his last three or four fights. I boxed on the same bill when he got beat by [Mauricio] Lara, I won the British title against his stablemate.
“He’s got a lot of qualities, he’s got a lot of things similar to myself: He’ll never quit, he’s tough, takes some stick and keep coming, he’s got a big heart but on the other hand he does make a lot of mistakes, he does a lot of things which I can exploit. He does a lot things he does well but he does lot things bad and I need to make the most of those moments.”
The two fights spent time together on the set of “Face Off” a show designed around the two sat together discussing the fight.
“He tried to diminish what I’ve achieved, that Can Xu wasn’t as good as we thought, the [Michael] Conlan win [wasn’t impressive], he said a few things and I thought, ‘This is going to be his undoing.’ because he’s going to underestimate me by trying to get confidence by picking out my wins and trying to diminish them,” said Wood. “Whereas I sat down and said, ‘[Carl] Frampton is an extremely good win, [Lee] Selby is a very good win, Kid Galahad is probably an even better win considering the styles. I had nothing but praise for him. I know I’ve got a hard fight and I’m prepared for a hard fight. I’m sure he will as well but I just don’t think he realizes the extent of my abilities, my power and what I’ve achieved. I think he’s slightly dismissing it.”
This will be Wood’s third fight in eight-months, while Warrington hasn’t boxed in the last 10-months, since he lost his IBF title to Luis Alberto Lopez. The Nottingham-born fighter feels this is a definite advantage.
“It’s got to help me, I felt going straight back in the rematch with Lara, it was only 12-weeks but it felt like a few weeks,” he said. “Just getting in the ring being active, being back in the gym, continuing to train, same again. I’ve had a few weeks break, I’ve had my down time but straight back in training camp, there’s no rust to knock off, it’s only going to benefit me and him being out of the ring for a long period of time is only going to be something else he’s got to contend with.”
Wood, who was one half of The Ring’s Fight of The Year and also scored The Knockout of The Year over Michael Conlan, is further buoyed by a career best win over Lara last time out. The two had fought in February and despite showing his skills for long periods of the fight he was caught and stopped in seven-rounds.
Many felt it fool-hardy when he his exercised his rematch clause. It proved anything but and Wood boxed circles around the ill-disciplined Mexican.
“I should have done that the first fight but I was in a packed out crowd in Nottingham, I felt I was breaking him down, he was breathing heavy, throwing less and I thought, ‘I’m going to get the knockout here.’ Put the icing on the cake and cement myself as a legitimate champion and in doing so I got caught,” he admitted. “A lot of people wrote me off before that fight and more people wrote me off after that fight but I knew what I had to do. I could cruise to victory if I wanted to, it was only because I wanted to get that fantastic knockout and send the crowd home happy.
“I was a lot more relaxed [for the rematch,] I studied him and my team made sure I knew everything about him and I had three camps for him because of the injury, there was never a doubt in my mind that I was going to lose that rematch.”
The 35-year-old acknowledges this a must win for both men at this stage of their respective careers.
“For sure, it’s a long way back for the loser at this level and at our age, with that said there’s a lot on the line,” he said. “I’m one fight away from my dream fight, he’s one fight away from everyone saying, enough is enough. I don’t read too much into that, I just focus on what I need to do.
“I feel he’s been slandered a lot in his last four fights but he’s actually boxed alright. The Lopez fight was a very close decision and the fight before that he beat Kiko [Martinez] who proved to still be still very dangerous, so I’m looking at him as I’m getting the best Josh Warrington and that’s what I’m prepared for.”
Both men are huge soccer fans, Wood of his local team Nottingham Forest and Warrington of his hometown Leeds United. That will amp things up further at the weigh in and particularly on fight night.
“I do feel it’s going to be pretty much 50/50, I’ve been told I’ve sold more tickets than him,” he said. “The support has been unbelievable. On the night the atmosphere is going to be unbelievable, it’s going to be similar for the Conlan fight, battling fans all night, they literally picked me up of the canvas. I’m expecting a similar thing on October 7.”
As Wood has said many times his goal isn’t a specific fight but more where he fights.
“I was hoping to get it at the City Ground but it couldn’t happen but hopefully come through this fight in good fashion and I get my dream fight at the City Ground,” he said. “Obviously I’ve got to come through this fight, which I’m confident in doing. I’ve got a number of opponents that would fit the bill.
“This could possibly be my last fight at featherweight, unless I get an offer I can’t refuse which would tie in with the City Ground. For example the Conlan rematch is a possibility, if people want to see, which I think they do. Or it could be a unification fight. I could move up and challenge for a world title against someone like [IBF titleholder Joe] Cordina. Moving up with the WBA there a potential fight there [with Hector Luis Garcia.] We’ll see, I’m not trying to think too much into it, my eyes are on Josh, I know it’s a hard fight. I know he’s going to come to give every single drop of Josh that he has left because it’s a must win fight for him but I am confident and it’s a conversation we can have after.”
The battle of Britain if you will. I expect a lively pro-soccer crowd to cheer their man on in what I think will be a keenly contested fight. I think Wood has more power and is a better boxer but Warrington has a very good engine and will be right in Wood’s face. Both will have successes but I think Wood will win a 12-round majority decision.
Warrington (31-2-1, 8 KOs), The Ring’s No. 8 ranked featherweight, went the traditional route of winning British, Commonwealth and European championships before defeating IBF titleholder Lee Selby (SD 12). The hugely popular Leeds-born fighter made three defenses, notably turning back the challenges of Carl Frampton (UD 12) and Kid Galahad (SD 12).
He vacated his title rather than face Galahad a second time and came unstuck against Lara (TKO 9). The rematch was curtailed at the end of the second round, due to a clash of heads. But the 32-year-old regained his IBF title by stopping Kiko Martinez (TKO 7) in a fight that left the Brit with a broken jaw. However, he has since lost it to Luis Alberto Lopez (MD 12).
Wood-Warrington, plus undercard bouts, will be broadcast on DAZN at 2:00 p.m. ET/ 11:00 a.m. PT. and 7 p.m. GMT.
Questions and/or comments can be sent to Anson at [email protected].