Leigh Wood reveals gameplan to stop Mauricio Lara and take back world title
Leigh Wood is adamant a tight turnaround will benefit him more than Mauricio Lara when the two collide in their world title rematch on Saturday.
Back home in Nottingham in February, Wood looked to be on his way to defending his WBA featherweight title against the hard-hitting Mexican.
All that good work was undone in a flash in the seventh round, floored by a savage left hook. Climbing back to his feet, he was desperate to carry on. Trainer Ben Davison disagreed and the towel came in to save his man for another day.
One week later, he was back in the gym having activated a rematch clause to set up Saturday’s reunion in Manchester. As is often the case in boxing after a heavy defeat, Wood was urged by some to take some time to regroup and take a warm-up fight before revisiting the Lara fight later in the year.
There was no chance of that happening.
‘It was something I had to put right straight away. The fast turnaround was the best thing for me,’ Wood told Metro.co.uk.
‘It benefits me way more than him. I wanted the rematch on the night. From Lara’s side, picking up your first world title only to be told you are fighting again in 12 weeks… you want to celebrate! Go on holiday, enjoy the moment, you have just achieved your lifelong dream and you haven’t had time to celebrate it.
‘Maybe that’s a factor with him. I had a week away with the kids after the fight and was right back in the gym.’
Wood celebrated that crowning moment himself in July 2021, knocking out Can Xu in the final round to pick up the WBA belt and defending it in that jaw-dropping showdown against Michael Conlan eight months later.
Lara ended that run and took the title with another devastating job on a British fighter on UK soil. With both men throwing the the same left hook, Wood left himself open just enough for the visiting fighter to claim another huge scalp.
Wood has replayed the moment dozens of times, both in his own head and as a part of the exhaustive analysis led by head trainer Davison.
Picking apart the Mexican has been an ongoing project since last July when their fight was first announced, delayed last September after Wood suffered an injury in training. While he felt the full force his power earlier this year, there is a clear game plan and ‘bad habits’ in the champion have been identified.
‘You can’t go in with the same approach every time, there have been slight adjustments but nothing major,’ he said. ‘The key is to keep him under that constant pressure, be a constant threat. I was waiting too long at times [in February], now I am going to be in complete control.
‘We know him better than he knows himself at this stage, I have been studying him since the fight was first announced last summer. With the postponement we were preparing even longer and that has carried on until now. I know his bad habits. I know what he is going to do and where and when he is going to do it so I can go out there and put this right.’
While the rematch was all he wanted, there were external pressures. Josh Warrington was ready to step in and fight Lara this month in a vicious trilogy fight, a rivalry further fuelled by the wild confrontation the two shared at ringside following Wood’s defeat.
‘I wanted to get it done as quickly as possible,’ Wood said. ‘Eddie [Hearn] wanted to do the Warrington fight but I dug my heels in, saying it’s not happening. I was told it would have to be on this date. I said okay. I was told it would have to be in this city. I said okay, whatever it takes.
‘It was out of my hands, but it makes no difference where it is. All the matter is proving to myself and everyone else that I am the better fighter.’
February’s brutal defeat was not the first setback Wood has suffered. He has made a career out of coming back against the odds, dating back to his 2014 British title defeat to Gavin McDonnell.
Defeat in another British title contest against Jazza Dickens in 2020 appeared to end his hopes of climbing into the world title picture. A year later he was world champion and repeating that success will be an even sweeter victory on Saturday night.
‘Winning the belt on Saturday in these circumstances is a bigger achievement than winning it in the first place,’ he said. ‘For fighters who have been in this position, left beating themselves up and questioning themselves, I want to be a leading force and show to these guys you can come back and put things right straight away.
‘Time after time in my career I have done that. Nothing has changed. I have been beat, and come back better. That will happen again on Saturday.’
MORE : ‘I know him better than anyone else’ – Friends turn foe as Chris Billam-Smith vows to dethrone old gym mate Lawrence Okolie
MORE : ‘I was ready to torture him’ – Josh Warrington shares frustration over missing out on Mauricio Lara trilogy and insists he needs to ‘close the chapter’
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