Leigh Wood has gone from strength to strength at 126 pounds. (Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images)
On Saturday, WBA featherweight titleholder Leigh Wood will face fellow puncher Mauricio Lara in what looks like a fan-friendly shootout at Motorpoint Arena in Nottingham, England.
The two had originally been tabbed to meet on September 24. However, Wood suffered a torn bicep in training that forced the postponement of the fight.
“[Mauricio Lara] claimed I faked my injury; he said all Englishmen are running away from him and we’re all chickens,” Wood (26-2, 16 KOs) told The Ring. “They’re big statements to make and gives it a little bit of needle and helps me push that little bit harder, when you push out them reps, a little bit harder, a little bit faster. I’ve got the bit between my teeth; he’s made it a little bite more personal.”
Wood says the injury happened three weeks before their initial encounter.
“It was only a small tear on my bicep, in sparring, but it needed three weeks of full rest,” he explained. “I tried to persevere, I rested for three or four days. Tried to spar again, it was alright about three rounds and by Round 4, I could feel it, Round 5, 6, I had a dead arm and couldn’t pull my arm up.
“I tried again to rest it for a bit longer but a fight of that magnitude you definitely need two arms, you need the right preparation and I wasn’t going to get it.”
The 34-year-old Nottingham-born fighter, who formed one half of The Ring’s 2022 Fight of The Year and 2022 Knockout of The Year for his dramatic come-from behind stoppage of Michael Conlan last March, could have been forgiven for facing a lesser fighter.
“I’ve probably got three or four fights left in the sport and I want them to be big fights,” he said. “I want them to be testing fights and challenge myself.”
Wood, The Ring’s No. 6-rated featherweight, acknowledges Lara may well be his toughest test to date.
“Possibly, I’m definitely treating him like he is,” admitted Wood. “Styles make fights. Is this the hardest style match up for me? No. But on paper it’s the biggest test. He’s very dangerous, he’s a big puncher, unpredictable.
“His confidence is still high. I think he’ll be coming here with the belief that he can win so it’s my job to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Their respective styles suggest an exciting fight that won’t go the distance.
“If you look at our records [then you’d think] it’s not going to go 12 rounds but you never know with fights like this,” he said. “Everyone expects a knockout and it doesn’t come, sometimes everyone expects a points decision and a knockout comes. You have to prepare for the 12-rounds but I can’t see it going 12.”
Wood’s career had a slow build until he claimed the vacant British title against Reece Mould in February 2021.
Ironically, that was on the undercard of Lara’s coming out party when he stunningly stopped Josh Warrington (TKO 9). Having witnessed that upset and ringside for the rematch, the defending titlist has an idea of what he is likely to face on fight night.
“He’s very good at countering certain shots, he punches very hard,” he explained. “But if you starve him of success, he’ll get reckless and force it.
“There’s many weaknesses, sometimes with fighters their biggest asset is their biggest weakness and that’s probably the case with Mauricio Lara. He punches very hard but at what cost? He gases himself out looking for the big shots that sometimes aren’t there. His feet sometimes aren’t set to throw but he’ll still throw. There are few more vulnerabilities that I’m going to explore that I don’t want to say.”
Wood will also have the full backing of a lively crowd, who will cheer his every punch.
“I’ve got a massive fan base in Nottingham, a lot of it is Nottingham Forest [Football club], I’ve been going since I was very young,” he said. “To make sure [the fans] reap the benefits my career and where I’ve got to enjoy of those big nights is important.
“I was at Carl Froch fights when he started filling out the arena and to now go do it myself and keep the boxing buzz alive in the city and keep churning out champions it inspires the next generation. That’s probably one of the most important things about these nights.”
Although Wood is focused solely on the up-coming Lara fight, he has future goals and aspirations, that if victorious, he hopes to achieve.
“My next fight for me has to be the City Ground, opponent wise, I’m not really fussed, that’s just a box I want to tick, that’s my dream to be the first person to headline at the City Ground,” he said.
“If it’s [Josh] Warrington, I think it would be a sell-out. The two football clubs [Nottingham Forest and Leeds United] rivalry, they’re both in the Premier League – it would be massive. If not, it could be [IBF beltholder Luis Alberto] Lopez in a unification or if [Michael] Conlan can get that fight first, and win, it would be a massive rematch in the City Ground.”
On paper this is a mouthwatering fight that should provide a lot of action because of both fighter’s aggressive styles. Wood enters this contest at the peak of his powers having scored the Knockout of the Year in the Fight of the Year and will be confident of retaining his title. However, he can’t afford to start slowly, as he did against Conlan, when he was dropped in the opening round.
Lara (25-2-1, 18 knockouts), The Ring’s No. 4-rated featherweight, was unknown when he was handpicked to face the then-unbeaten Warrington. The Brit tried to warm himself into the fight, but the Mexican swung for the fences and caused considerable damage. After dropping Warrington in the fourth round, Lara poured on the aggression and scored a ninth-round knockout. The two met in a rematch but a clash of heads led to an inconclusive no-contest ruling in Round 2. The 24-year-old has fought twice since (third-round KOs of Emilio Sanchez and Jose Sanmartin).
Wood-Lara, plus supporting undercard, will be broadcast on DAZN at 2:00 ET/ 11:00 PT and 7 pm. GMT
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