Leigh Wood has earned his accolades, big fights at 130, soccer arena homecoming
It’s not over till it’s over.
For large swathes of the action, it looked like Leigh Wood was about to lose his WBA featherweight title to rival Josh Warrington when the English standouts clashed on Saturday on the neutral ground of Sheffield. However, just when Wood needed to, he found the punch that he needed to irreversibly change the course of the contest, scoring a highly dramatic stoppage late in the seventh round in front of a raucous crowd.
Heading into the fight both men knew the ramifications of their meeting at the Sheffield Arena, which is situated in between both men’s homesteads of Nottingham (Wood) and Leeds (Warrington). On the scales it was Warrington who looked the better and he seemed a little more vibrant.
On fight night, Warrington employed his usual all-action, face-first approach and bore into Wood from the first bell. Wood enjoyed a better second round, but Warrington came out of the blocks quicker in the third round hurting the defending titleholder early and then late in the round.
As the action continued, it was Warrington relentlessly attacking Wood, who doubled over from a vicious body shot in the fifth round.
Warrington was harshly penalized a point without a prior warning for hitting his opponent to the back of the head in Round 7, but the 32-year-old went straight back to action looking make amends.
However, late in the round the two exchanged punches but it was a stiff right hand from Wood (28-3, 17 knockouts) that shook Warrington (31-3-1, 8 KOs) to his core, Wood threw a volley of punches landing hard right and left hands that deposited Warrington flat on his back.
Although he proudly got to his feet his legs betrayed him as he staggered to his corner, initially with his back towards referee Michael Alexander, who decided to call a halt to the fierce battle at 3:00 of the round.
At the time of the stoppage Warrington was ahead on all three scorecards: 59-55 (twice) and 58-56.
Wood landed 53 of 224 punches at a connect rate of 23.7 percent, while Warrington had more success finding the target 104 of 300 punches thrown for a 34.7 percent connect rate.
History. 👑🌎 pic.twitter.com/cNdbK92lOi
— Leigh Wood (@itsLeighWood) October 8, 2023
“Am I ever in a dull fight?” Wood asked rhetorically at the post-fight press conference. “I ain’t got no quit in me. I came through it tonight, never say never. My career didn’t get off to the best start, but I turned it around. If I can do anything to win, I’ll do it.
“Not my best performance, I did feel a bit groggy making the weight. That aside it was my best win. Josh is a two-time world champion, massive scalps on his record.
“We’ve got the pick of the litter (as far as who’s next). (I) could give Josh another shot but it wouldn’t be at featherweight, I can’t make it safely anymore. There’s other people at the weight above. Who (I fight next) isn’t really a problem, it’s more where, City Ground (a soccer stadium in Nottingham) and when.”
Warrington was left kicking himself for getting caught and also indicated while he’d be open to a rematch that he will likely also move up in weight next.
“This was probably my last fight at feather,” he said. “I can still make it comfortably, but it’s been a long time and I think better performances come in sparring when I’m a bit heavier.”
“I’ve been in with bigger punchers than Leigh, (but) he can dig, he put me over. I feel a little hard done by, (the referee at the) end of the round. [I] got to my feet with a smile at my face, turned around at 8 and it’s waved off. I do feel I should have been given the opportunity to carry on. My senses were with me, I heard the bell go.
“I’m devasted losing the fight. We were up on the scorecards and switched off for a split second but that’s boxing. I’ve still got plenty in the tank.”
Promoter Eddie Hearn hopes to make Wood’s longtime dream come true next time out though isn’t sure who would be in the other corner.
“We said to Leigh Wood that [fighting at The City Ground] would be next if he was victorious, it should have happened sooner,” said the Matchroom boss.
“The numbers on DAZN were fantastic, the crowd was great, why not? We’ll talk about the weight. When you look at the front runners for size of fight at City Ground, I think the rematch is probably the biggest one.”
However, Hearn floated another option from his stable.
“Would [IBF 130-pound titlist Joe Cordina] even want to go into someone else’s backyard when he’s the champion?” said Hearn. “If the deal is right, quite possibly. The focus now would be to make sure the next fight, whoever it’s against, is at the City Ground.”
It’s hard not to be happy for him. A more down to earth guy you couldn’t wish to meet. He’s a man of the people and he’s rightly enjoying every moment of his late career surge.
As I put in my story last week with Wood, it took him a decade to win the British title but after stepping onto the world level he made the absolute most of his chance and shocked Can Xu, outboxing the Chinese punching machine and stopping him in the final round.
Next, he made a then-career high purse of $825,000, his share of a whopping $1.5 million purse bid won by his promoter Matchroom to secure the fight with Michael Conlan. Wood had to get off the canvas early and fight his way back into contention and stun Conlan, who was ahead entering the final round, knocking him through the ropes to win The Ring’s Knockout of The Year and was on the winning end of Fight of The Year.
High drama is nothing new to Wood. He rolled the dice taking on big-punching Mauricio Lara, who had come of age stopping Warrington. Wood seemed to have Lara’s number before walking into a devastating left hand that dropped him heavily and saw his corner throw in the towel in the seventh round.
While many felt it fool-hardy, Wood took up the rematch clause and thoroughly outboxed the Mexican. Yes, Lara missed weight and looked lethargic but that wasn’t Wood’s doing, he acted like a professional and won a wide 12-round unanimous decision.
That led him to the Battle of Britain.
It’s good to have options and that’s exactly what Wood has now, the Warrington rematch at 130 pounds is very viable and would again bring these two well matched fighters together and their respective fan bases.
A fight with Cordina would also be very interesting. Wood hinted to me that a fight with WBA 130-pound ruler Hector Luis Garcia may be possible. If the Brit vacates his WBA 126-pound title, he would likely receive a high WBA ranking at junior lightweight. WBC 130-pound titleholder O’Shaquie Foster is with Matchroom and DAZN, so could also be in the mix if he takes care of mandatory challenger Eduardo “Rocky” Hernandez later this month.
Outside of boxing, Wood has invested his money in property and is a family man but he’s not ready to walk away just yet and enjoy the fruits of his labor and for that we should all be thankful.
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