But was it?
Leigh Wood, the comeback kid from Nottingham, was in trouble.
Former two-time champion Josh Warrington was quicker, more accurate, and winning his fight against Wood.
Warrington had looked extra sharp from the opening bell. Motivated by the naysayers who had said he was over the hill, the Leeds warrior was a step faster, peppering Wood with various blows and impressive bodywork.
Wood looked leg heavy and weight drained. The word was he had gone to hell and back to make weight.
“I did feel a bit groggy, making the weight,” said Wood at his post-fight press conference.
However, he looked, there was no quit in Wood.
There never is.
Wood is a living example of a guy who graduated from the school of hard knocks. What he has achieved, he earned through hard work.
It took Wood ten years to capture the British featherweight title. Ten long years where some thought he should hang em up. Wood had to rebuild his career after losing his first fight to Gavin McDonnell in 2014. He did, winning the WBO European title five years later – then losing it to Jazza Dickens five months later. Some in the media suggested he retire.
Wood was 32. The pandemic knocked another year off his career. He finally received another chance at British honors when he fought Reece Mould in 2021. Mould was the favorite, but Wood viciously knocked him out in round nine. The fight was his first with new trainer, Ben Davison.
Wood received his dreamed of world title shot five months later in Brentwood, Eng. The defending champion, Xu Chan, had held the title for two years and was heavily favored, but it was Wood who was sharp.
His hooks banged off Chan’s chin. His uppercuts snapped his head back. To the astonishment of the ringside announcers, Wood stopped Chan in round 12. After the referee stopped the contest, Wood was on his knees, near tears, celebrating his victory.
The new champion went home to Nottingham to make his first defense against cocky challenger Michael Conlan. The fight looked over after Conlan landed an overhand left from his corner. Wood fell as if shot.
Somehow, he wobbled up, ready to continue. Wood’s entire body had felt the power of Conlan’s blow. His legs were weak, his reflexes dulled. He had to recover. Slowly, he did, but he ate several more left hands.
Wood stayed upright and worked. He found pockets of success in rounds five and seven. Conlan was still winning, but Wood was a believer.
In round 11, as his Nottingham supporters chanted, Wood floored a tiring Conlan. The knockdown had come out of nowhere. Conlan had been doing well until a left hook felled him. He got up quickly, but Wood was back in the fight.
Wood jumped on Conlan in the 12th and final round. The action was back and forth, but Wood’s blows had more impact.
Slightly past the minute mark, Wood forced Conlan into the ropes and unleashed. A savage right to the temple knocked Conlan unconscious and out of the ring.
Wood took some time off – then returned 11 months after his “Fight of the Year” with Conlan to face hard-punching Maricio Lara.
Lara had exited the unknown club by knocking the stuffing out of Josh Warrington in 2021. He was rolling, stopping 13 of his previous 14 opponents. Wood was back in the friendly confines of Nottingham Arena.
He boxed well, keeping the dangerous Lara at bay and beating him to the punch until one Lara hook changed everything. The blow floored Wood hard. He got up, woozy, but trainer Davison threw in the towel. The move shocked many.
The loss devastated Wood. Friends told him to take a break or perhaps consider retirement. Wood did neither. He wanted to fight Lara again as soon as possible.
The sequel went down barely three months after the first fight. Many called Wood foolhardy. He ignored them and trained. Wood was once again the underdog.
Wood boxed circles around Lara for 12 rounds – flooring his rival in round two. The victory was sweet. Wood had proved the critics wrong again.
There was Wood again last Saturday night – running out of ideas. He was eating blows, but another aspect was in play.
Wood is cut from the same cloth as Matthew Saad Muhammad (thank you, Ben Doughty).
“I don’t know what it is about me, “he said after the fight. “I haven’t got any quit in me – it’s never say die.”
If you enjoy hearing from the legends of pro sports, then be sure to tune into “The Grueling Truth” sports shows, “Where the legends speak”
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