When Nottingham’s Leigh Wood knocked out Irishman Michael Conlan in the twelfth round to retain his WBA regular featherweight title in March last year – there were many world-class fights on the horizon for the man affectionately known as ‘Leigh-thal’ after that fateful night in the Midlands.
It wasn’t just the fact that he managed to finish an Olympic bronze medalist the calibre of Conlan, it was the manner in which he did it. Down on the scorecards with all three judges heading into the final round – Wood showed immense heart to put the pressure on a tiring Conlan and force him back on to the ropes.
What transpired in the twelfth will go down as one of the more memorable moments in British boxing history, as Wood landed a chopping right hand as Conlan weaved to his left. It was that right hand that ended the fight, as Conlan was rendered unconscious and fell through the ropes in what were unbelievable scenes.
The clips of the knockout went viral, and seemingly overnight, Wood shot to super stardom in the global boxing circles and became somewhat of a household name in his home country. However, while Wood’s victory over Conlan was certainly a massive step in the right direction for his career – if he wanted to be regarded as one of the world’s elite boxers in the lower weight classes – he needed a couple of victories against big names on the international stage.
He had that opportunity earlier this year when he took on dangerman Mauricio Lara at the Motorpoint Arena in Nottingham. For those unfamiliar with Lara, the Mexican has garnered a reputation as being somewhat of a boogeyman of the featherweight division. A relative unknown prior to 2021, the 25-year-old announced himself to the world in impressive fashion by knocking out the then undefeated former champion Josh Warrington.
It’s Lara’s thudding power and durability that makes him so effective – and while Wood boasts decent power himself – the Nottingham native was going to have to be the better boxer in their match-up if he was going to win. And he did so with great effect in the opening rounds, with Wood utilising feints and a consistent jab to keep the dangerous Lara out of range. The Mexican’s inability to get on the inside appeared to frustrate him – however – whenever you’re dealing with as lethal a puncher as Lara – you cannot afford to switch off.
Wood’s first major test came in the seventh round, as both men exchanged left hands in the centre of the ring. It was Lara’s punch that would do the most damage, as Wood was dropped to the canvas with a little more than 20 seconds left in the round. With Wood still seemingly dazed after his standing ten count, his trainer Ben Davison chose to throw in the towel before his fighter could be subject to any more punishment.
To Wood’s credit, he has every intention of exacting revenge, as he takes on Lara in a highly anticipated rematch at the AO Arena in Manchester on May 27. Can Wood make the necessary adjustments and avoid Lara’s otherworldly power? Or, will Lara once again find his range and end the night early?
We will find out later this month, but one thing is for certain, it is shaping up to be another blockbuster. For those interested in the betting odds for the rematch, Lara is the favourite at 1/3, while Wood is 2/1. A draw is the widest at 14/1.