Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Discipline Over Brawn: Wood Regains World Featherweight Championship

The rematch between Mauricio Lara and Leigh Wood for the WBA Featherweight championship of the world seemed to be a relatively straightforward process. Despite criticism for invoking his rematch clause a little over three months after losing his title via knockout to Lara where his trainer Ben Davison was also criticized for his decision to throw the towel in to prevent him from further punishment, Leigh Wood was strong in his belief that he could improve in a rematch.

After all, in their first encounter in February of this year, Wood was out Boxing Lara convincingly before he got caught by a left hook to the head that led to the stoppage in the seventh round. While that fight could best be described as a sudden ending where a fighter who was in control simply got caught, it was nevertheless questionable of Wood though commendable that he would want a rematch so soon in theory not giving himself time to recover from the knockout from both a physical as well as a psychological standpoint.

As straightforward as the manifestation of this rematch seemed in how quickly it was made, there was a speed bump on the day prior to the fight when the new champion Mauricio Lara weighed in nearly four pounds over the 126lb. Featherweight limit, which for a time cast some doubt as to whether the rematch would take place. When circumstances like this occur in the sport where a world champion comes in overweight for a scheduled title defense, they automatically lose the championship in what is often referred to as "Losing The Title On The Scale." 

Under such a scenario, the fight still proceeds as scheduled, but the world championship is only in the line for the challenger. This also creates the possibility that if the fighter who was champion is able to win the fight, the world championship would then become vacant. While Lara's failure to make weight brought about such a scenario, the possibility that the fight would not take place would prove to be short-lived as the source of the issue was likely Wood's camp wanting some compensation from Lara financially due to the now former champion failing to make weight.

Although there is no confirmation that such a compensation did occur, the rematch did nevertheless take place on May 27th at the Manchester Arena in Manchester, England with the WBA Featherweight world championship only being on the line for Wood. In previewing this bout, this observer stated that Wood needed to be defensively aware and responsible at all times if he wanted to be successful.

While his lack of head movement was something that stood out in the first fight, the lack of head movement was also an issue for Wood in the rematch. Despite this tactical/defensive flaw, Wood would produce one of the best performances of his career in a fight where he was considered an underdog with some even going as far as to say his career might have been on the line.

Wood did this by using his legs to move laterally to maintain distance between himself and Lara. This in addition to a consistent jab, mixing in combinations, and varying his attack from the head to the body throughout produced a dominant performance from start to finish. A highlight occured in the second round when he knocked Lara down with a short uppercut to the head. Although Wood did not use head movement in this fight, he was still defensively responsible in not only managing distance with use of lateral movement, but also putting his hands up to defend against often wide, looping hooks that Lara threw.

Whether what became a lackluster performance by Lara was due to the apparent struggle he had to make weight prior to this fight, it became clear as this rematch progressed that he only had one strategy, to try and get Wood in an exchange similar to the first fight and try to catch him with a hook that led to him taking the title from Wood in February. Unlike the first encounter however, Wood did not take the bait.

While this was not the prettiest of fights to watch, particularly if you are one that prefers to see a lot of back and forth action, Leigh Wood proved one thing in this rematch. Discipline and consistency will often always prevail over the brawn of a fighter that wants to go toe to toe. It may not be something that is appreciated by some, but a fighter should always have an approach where the objective is to do what they need to do within the rules in order to win. 

Under circumstances like this where a fight may not be the most entertaining to watch, but one where one fighter is clearly dominating the other, this observer often thinks of the words of Alton Merkerson, longtime trainer of Hall of Famer Roy Jones, who often dealt with criticism for being so dominant in his prime that often the only question was whether Jones would stop his opponent or win every round on the scorecards, often doing so by not engaging with his opponents and using his athleticism and overall Boxing skills to dominant his opposition. Merkerson in an interview when asked about the opinion of some that Jones was unwilling to go toe to toe in fights said simply "You Don't Make A Fight Hard, If It's Not Hard." To sum it up differently, you should not put yourself at risk when there is no reason to do so.

Merkerson's quote has become one of my personal favorites to describe an approach such where a fighter can dominate a fight, but do so without having to put themselves in danger. A quote from one of the most underrated trainers in the sport, but one that all trainers should instill in their fighters. Although I obviously cannot say for certain whether Leigh Wood is familiar with that philosophy, he proved it's merit in this fight as he refused to stand and trade punches with a dangerous, but one dimensional Lara and boxed his way to a wide and convincing twelve round unanimous decision to regain his world championship. 

After such a convincing victory in the rematch under circumstances where some did not expect him to win, the question now is what now for Leigh Wood. There are certainly no shortage of options that he might take including a possible third fight with Lara. For now after the seesaw way 2023 has been for him, Wood has earned the opportunity to get a little rest now as a two-time Featherweight champion of the world before deciding his next move. If however, a third fight with Mauricio Lara is in the near future, the onus will be on Lara to not only show he can make whatever weight the fight might take place at, but also that his lackluster performance in the second fight was not a sign of a one dimensional fighter that just happened to be in the right place at the right time to become world champion. Only time will tell if this is chapter two of a rivalry or if both Wood and Lara will now move in different directions going forward.

"And That's The Boxing Truth."

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