The showdown between two-time Featherweight world champion Leigh Wood and former two-time Featherweight world champion Josh Warrington was one which was highly anticipated in the United Kingdom as it was an encounter that brought together two of the top fighters in the sport and two of the top draws in the United Kingdom as well. It was also a clash between two boxer/punchers that stylistically appeared as though it could be a fight of the year candidate.
Before an enthusiastic sellout crowd in the Sheffield Arena in Sheffield, England on October 7th, Boxing fans were treated to a memorable battle. Before the battle occurred however, there were questions regarding the condition of the WBA world champion Wood, who had struggled on the day before the fight to make the 126lb. Featherweight limit. This fueled speculation that no matter the outcome, Wood, who was making the first defense of his second reign as WBA world champion, would be moving up in weight after this fight.
For a significant portion of the bout, Wood looked like a fighter that showed all the signs of someone who struggled to make weight and perhaps was overtrained. Although Wood attempted to keep Warrington at distance by Boxing out of the southpaw stance and trying to work behind his jab, the dynamic of the fight quickly became one where it was Warrington dictating the combat and forcing the fight on the inside.
Warrington did this by fighting out of a high defensive guard as well as crouching down underneath Wood's punches. This allowed the former IBF world champion to do two things. First it limited the ability of Wood to inflict damage, and secondly it created a scenario where Warrington could not only close the distance and get in close, but it also allowed him to vary his attack by mixing offense to the body and head of the champion. Gradually as the rounds progressed, Warrington began administering a beating on Wood by landing hard, thudding hooks to the head and body, as well as being able to push Wood back and make it a rough fight on the inside. Wood would also suffer a cut over the right eye in round four from a left hook by Warrington.
It appeared as though both because of the beating that was being dished out by Warrington as well as the apparent difficulty he had in making weight that this may not have been Wood's night as he continued to take punishment, did not use head movement, and thus could not avoid the hooks that the challenger was able to land with both hands. At the midway point of the fight, I felt Warrington had won five of the first six rounds due primarily to his effective aggression and landing the harder punches of the two fighters. While he was able to stagger Wood frequently throughout the bout, the champion showed his mettle and continued to engage. Having said this, after six rounds of mostly one way action and having seen the effects of the punishment at the hands of Warrington, this observer did question in his mind whether or not a time would approach where either the referee or Wood's corner would stop the fight.
Round seven began as many of the previous rounds had with Warrington coming forward and initiating the combat. Warrington's ability to rough up the champion on the inside worked against him however, as he would be penalized a point midway through the round for rabbit punching. As the closing seconds of the round occured, suddenly without warning, Wood exploded with a vicious right hand that badly staggered Warrington followed by a brutal right hook, left hook combination to the head that sent Warrington flat on his back down on the canvas at the bell to end the round. Although Warrington in showing mettle of his own was able to get to his feet, he got up on very unsteady legs and staggered to his corner turning his back to Referee Michael Alexander as he was attempting to determine whether Warrington could continue, resulting in the fight being stopped giving Wood a come from behind knockout victory in a successful first title defense of his second reign as world champion.
In a scene that resembled Wood's knockout win over Michael Conlan in his first reign as champion, Wood did not celebrate enthusiastically as most fighters would, especially after scoring a knockout in such brutal and thrilling fashion. Instead Wood immediately approached Warrington who sat in his corner dejected and emotional after the fight was stopped and embraced his opponent, consoling him and ensuring he was okay before celebrating his victory with his corner and the crowd in attendance. An example of "Class" and "Respect" that all fighters on every level of the sport should learn from.
The resemblance of his victory over Conlan in March of last year also had one other similarity as it relates to this fight. Wood was behind on the scorecards and like the Conlan fight, was approaching the point where he needed a knockout to retain his world championship.
An obvious question is what comes next? Perhaps this victory will be the finale of Leigh Wood's time as a Featherweight. Whether or not potential unification bouts in the Featherweight division are available, will ultimately factor into his decision on whether to move up in weight remains to be seen. As thrilling as this knockout victory was and as endearing as Wood has become to some fans for engaging in memorable battles, he will need to work on his defense if he hopes for continued success regardless of where on the weight scale his next fight will take place. While it can be an asset in having the ability to take a punch and sustain significant punishment, it can also be a curse and that does not necessarily revolve strictly around the remainder of a fighter's career, but more importantly, what a fighter's life might involve when their career is over. Looking to improve on the defensive elements of the sport should be a top priority not just for Wood, but for all fighters regardless of what stage they might be in their careers.
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