As Leigh Wood prepares to take on Mauricio Lara at the Manchester Arena on Saturday, the record will show that he has already suffered a seventh-round stoppage defeat to the Mexican knockout artist who relieved him of his WBA featherweight title in February.
When a fight ends suddenly and violently, there’s the tendency to dismiss everything that came prior. However, through six rounds, Wood was putting on a masterclass against Lara, nailing the visitor with terrific shots and sending his Nottingham faithful into a frenzy.
And then the lights went out.
WATCH: Lara vs. Wood 2, exclusively live on DAZN
In round seven, Lara timed Wood with a brilliant left hook that sent the Englishman crashing to the canvas. Brave beyond the call of duty, Wood miraculously found his feet, but trainer Ben Davison wasn’t convinced that his fighter had recovered sufficiently enough to continue and threw in the towel.
It was a gut-wrenching setback and one that the ex-champion is determined to avenge.
“I’m still the same fighter,” Wood (26-3, 16 KOs) told The Sporting News on fight week. “I felt like I was having too much success in round six, which led me away from what was getting me that success; what was setting those things up. I started looking for big shots, thinking he was about ready to go. I made a small mistake and paid the price.
“We’ve made some small adjustments [ahead of the rematch]. There will be a slightly different approach with some similar things inside it, but it’s going to keep me in control for longer periods of the fight while it lasts.”
When Lara (26-2-1, 19 KOs) touched down on UK soil earlier this year, there were no secrets. The 25-year-old’s crushing victory over Englishman Josh Warrington in September 2021 was still fresh in the memory and the warning signs were out.
However, Wood was quick to point out that Lara brings more than just blunt-force trauma.
“For sure, he’s a sharp counterpuncher,” admitted the ex-champ. “He tries to lull you to sleep by doing nothing, to get you comfortable so that he can land those shots; catch you on the counter.
“But I know him inside out. I’ve been watching him and studying him since last year when I was supposed to fight him June/ July time. [I’ve been studying him] up to when the fight was rescheduled, then after the fight. I think I know him better than he knows himself.”
“I think that @bronco_lara does it quicker this time.” 👀🍿 @mickconlan11 tells SN’s @Tom_Gray_Boxing that it’s too soon for @itsLeighWood to rematch Lara 🥊#LaraWood2 #LopezConlan pic.twitter.com/4p236x5vLO
— Sporting News Fights (@sn_fights) May 25, 2023
One narrative that keeps popping up is that Wood may have taken this rematch a bit too soon. Decades ago, a fighter going back into the fray months or even weeks after a stoppage loss wouldn’t have raised eyebrows. Nowadays, there’s a touch more caution in that regard.
When Wood enters the Manchester Arena ring this weekend, he will be just 98 days removed from that heavy stoppage defeat.
“It is a fast turnaround but it’s one that benefits me,” countered Wood immediately. “He’s not had time to celebrate. He’s had to get straight back in the gym after achieving something that took him his whole life to achieve.
“I was straight back in the gym, pretty much straight away. I went on holiday with my kids for a week and I was training while I was out there. I was straight back in the gym properly when I got back. I’m so hungry to put things right.”
MORE: All you need to know about Lara vs. Wood 2
Wood is a consummate professional and a real fighting man. No stone has been left unturned in training and the fighter’s game face was already on days out from the fight. Driven by revenge, glory, doubters, and future goals that he wants to accomplish, “Leigh-thal” is clearly on a mission.
“This one means everything to me,” said Wood. “I think this will be the win that people will remember because of the fashion that I got beat last time. I’m being written off to win the rematch by a lot of people — an awful lot of people — which is quite funny. This win will mean the most and it will be a surprise for a lot of people.
“The main reason I’m still fighting is to tick that box and achieve that dream of headlining at the City Ground. Whoever [the opponent is] is irrelevant to me, but there are some really good fights out there for me. First and foremost, I need to come through Saturday night and look good doing so. At my age, people say I’m getting older. You get all those rumours, but I’d like to put them to bed by performing and boxing the best I’ve ever boxed.”
The 34-year-old Wood isn’t ruling out a stoppage triumph. Whether by knockout or decision, victory would be career-defining.