In February, Leigh Wood was on the wrong side of one of the knockouts of the year when Mexican banger Mauricio Lara stunned him in front of his hometown fans.
Wood was coming back from back-to-bank wins over Xu Can and Michael Conlan, making him one of the main players in the featherweight division.
But after seemingly taking control of Lara, Wood was caught in the seventh round and his world turned upside down.
The Nottingham man has triggered the rematch clause, forcing Lara to return immediately to defend her crown and they meet in Manchester on Saturday (May 27).
Wood returned to camp with coach Ben Davison, learning from the last time something went wrong.
“I was never done studying,” admitted Wood. “I’m learning all the time. I have great discipline and I know I need it for this fight. I need to fix everything. I can’t switch off. I can’t have a mental relapse or a mental break here or there. I need to be disciplined, keep doing what I’m doing what I’ve been practicing and training and not get carried away if I start shooting and trying to finish the program early I need to keep doing what I’m doing and you’ll see it on May 27. You’ll see a disciplined, polished performance and probably the best yet.
Wildman Lara, nicknamed The Bronco, scored some bad headlines after the fight by spitting at challenger Josh Warrington who was at ringside. His impulsiveness has led some to draw similar comparisons to Duran, but Wood fails to see many similarities.
“He has that attitude, but at the same time, I don’t think anyone pushes him away and controls him like I did,” Wood stated. “He’s run out of ideas. He didn’t find the shot he used to catch me, I gave it to him. I made him go, stopped his feet and gave him this shot. He’s short-tempered, he’s probably quite reckless, and that’s probably where he got a lot of success from, but at the same time that was his downfall with me up to that point. He was swinging wildly, I was missing him, I was controlling him, and he doesn’t have a good engine. That’s why he relies on his explosive power to try and close the show at times like this.”
Of course, Lara-Wood isn’t the only high-profile featherweight bout to take place tonight. Michael Conlan and IBF champion Luis Alberto Lopez clash in Belfast, but Wood can’t afford to think about it in order to focus on his own main event.
“Only after my fight,” he said when asked if he would be thinking about what was going on in Belfast. “I am sure that will be a question I will ask very soon after my fight. I would like that rematch (with Conlan) to happen but looking at things I’m sure they would have a rematch clause (with Lopez) which I assume could tie things up a bit. But I would like that rematch, and if we both had the belt, what a huge fight it would be.”
There was some animosity between Wood and Conlan in the immediate aftermath of their fight, but the Nottingham man is actually rooting for Conlan to win in Belfast.
“I think Conlan can do it,” said Wood. “I think it’s going to be a tough fight, but stylistically I’d lean more towards Conlan. Lopez will hit Mick over the head a lot and I think Mick will see him through, hopefully. It would be nice to see him go further and win the world title. He’s a good quality fighter and he’s British, so I’d like to see him win this fight.
Conlan called for a featherweight tournament to determine who was the best in the world. With Wood, Lara, Warrington, Lopez and many more in the mix, the mix of fighters, styles and personalities has resulted in a series of unmissable matches.
Wood is certainly open to what comes next and will throw his name in the hat.
“Honestly, that sounds like a really good idea,” the Manchester challenger added on Saturday. “I’ve been saying that for quite some time. I think there should be more tournaments at every level. With boxing, the biggest downside is that the fans don’t get into the fights and people turn their backs on people and the promoters keep people away and sometimes they don’t get in the right fights for a long time. If you have a tournament organization at every level of boxing, everyone has to fight everyone and then they can progress, and you also have a better chance because you can organize a tournament every year. These tournaments will help create those fights, create excitement, and help fighters progress faster. Why not?”
One of the fighters who benefited from the prestigious tournament was the great super middleweight champion Carl Froch. He was a finalist in the Showtime Super Six tournament where he lost in the finals to Andre Dirrell, Mikkel Kessler and Arthur Abraham. Froch will be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame next month and is a fighter Wood has always admired.
“Carl has been a huge influence on me and my career since I was very young,” said Wood. “He brought his world (amateur) medal to the gym, the same amateur gym (Wood was in it). fought for the world title at the Ice Arena. I had this inspiration at my fingertips, in the same school, same gym, same neighborhood, and then it gave me the confidence to do it myself. I can’t ask for anything more. He started a massive series of fights. He did it the hard way sometimes, like the (Jermain) Taylor fight, but he fully deserves to be there (in the Hall of Fame) and he will be remembered as one of the best British fighters we’ve produced, up there with the top five.”