“Did you ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?”
One thing no-one can say about Nottingham’s WBA featherweight champion, Leigh Wood, is that he does things the easy way. After turning pro in 2011, he paid his dues for a full decade before landing big opportunities. A British title win in 2021 put him on the global map. That was followed by the confusion over former WBA champ, Leo Santa Cruz’s future. With Santa Cruz inactive and dawdling, Wood won the interim world title against the odds. Now that the Mexican’s future has been confirmed to be at super-feather, the man known as ‘Leigh-thal’ has been upgraded to full champion – a proud achievement and one that can never be taken away.
Bearing in mind that his last bout, against Belfast’s mercurial talent, Michael Conlan, was a barnstormer in which both boxers hit the deck, no-one would have begrudged the 34-year-old champion a soft defence this time, even a few soft defences. Following the tried and trusted model of many fledgling world titlists – keep the belt for a while, make some money – no-one could deny he’s earned it. But that’s just not how Leigh Wood rolls.
His challenger on Saturday 18th at the Nottingham Arena, in a fight aptly billed ‘dance with the devil’ is another Mexican. Notoriously tough, as a fighting people, it’s hard to get away from them in the lower weight divisions. This particular Mexican has a lot of people talking, is ten years Wood’s junior and arguably presents a more fearsome test than Santa Cruz would have.
Mauricio ‘Bronco’ Lara is a guy rapidly growing into the role of featherweight division boogeyman. With 18 KOs from 25 wins, including a nine round destruction of former champion Josh Warrington, his punches even sound hard. Like many South Americans, Lara turned pro very young. He toughed it out, survived the baptism of fire, gained his man strength, then blossomed into a fearsome slugger. The two defeats on his record both came when he was still a teenager, while his last two fights, against decent opposition, finished within three rounds apiece. When asked for his own prediction, Lara sat with unblinking eyes and politely suggested that after fighting him, “Wood will need therapy to recover.”Embed from Getty Images
The Nottingham man, for his part, accepts the challenger’s status as favourite. “That underdog mentality, not only do I thrive on it, I kind of need it, but there’s nothing he can bring that I’m not prepared for,” he told the press this week.
Working with trainer Ben Davison, whose own reputation is also on the line following his work with Tyson Fury and Josh Taylor, it’s a very brave fight for Wood to have taken. The real question is whether it’s a sensible one? A win would rocket him into the elite and the prospect of pay per view nights, maybe a stadium fight in his hometown. Meanwhile a loss, especially an obliteration, could well mean retirement.
World In Sport Prediction
Wood has been the underdog in each of his last three or four fights and prevailed. He is tough and fit, and capable of dragging difficult opponents into the later rounds, then capitalising when they tire, as with Conlan.
Lara appears a particularly tricky assignment though. The 24-year-old Mexican has the aura of a champion in waiting, maybe a long term one. We will have a good idea how this will pan out, when we see how Wood’s chin stands up the first time Lara lands clean.
It’s one of those fights that could go several ways. It would not surprise many if it ended in the first couple of rounds. If Wood can weather the early storm, then maybe, just maybe, he does have a chance of stopping the challenger late. That’s a big ‘if’ though.
This should be a firefight and a thoroughly entertaining one to watch. Neither man is hard to hit and both can bang, but Lara has a touch of the Mexican X factor about him.
The challenger to win by stoppage or knockout within the first six rounds.