Nottingham’s very own Leigh Wood once again steps voluntarily into the lion’s den, as he welcomes the challenge of arguably the division's biggest puncher, Mauricio Lara.
Wood is no stranger to difficult fights in recent times. The 34-year-old comes into Saturday night fresh off the back of two major scalps over Xu Can and Michael Conlan. With politics in the sport stopping major fights left right and centre, Wood is setting incredibly high standards in matchmaking terms, that some of the world's best are struggling to match.
Mauricio Lara burst onto the scene on UK shores in 2021 when he absolutely blitzed through Wood’s unbeaten British rival Josh Warrington, stopping him in the 9th round. This highlighted the power he holds all throughout the fight, hurting the Leeds man numerous times during the bout. At the time it was Lara’s 16th knockout, and he has since added another two stoppages - both inside 3 rounds.
For Leigh Wood, the entertainment factor has always been a major part of his career, often showing incredible grit and determination to secure victory. Back-to-back final-round knockouts against Can Xu and Conlan have cemented Wood’s position as not only one of the division's better fighters, but one of the bigger punchers at 126-pounds. Whilst Xu Can came as a shock to many, the brink-of-defeat comeback in the last round of the Conlan fight was nothing short of sensational.
After being instated as the WBA-Super World Featherweight Champion (an upgrade on the regular belt he held), a win over Lara likely sets up a huge all-British clash with Warrington at the City Ground in the summer. Wood vs Warrington. Forest vs Leeds. A blockbuster night that would last fondly in the memory of British boxing fans.
At 34, Wood is cashing in on major fights and big clashes that at one stage of his career looked impossible. The Nottingham man has fought his way to the top facing two major setbacks and requiring stunning stoppages to claw his way there. That is where he will remain regardless of the result on Saturday night.
Wood on his way to stopping Mick Conlan
For Mauricio Lara, it's another chance to silence the rowdy British boxing fans and cause a major upset. Lara was relatively unknown before flying over to defeat Josh Warrington. However, that night is one that won’t be forgotten any time soon.
The Mexican came over with a reputation of being powerful and that showed with the number of stoppages on his record. Lara’s ability was the question most fans needed the answer to, and he certainly showed both power and fight IQ during his victory over the 'Leeds Warrior'. Backed by his brilliant Yorkshire following, Warrington found out the hard way what happens when you try to trade with a Mexican, a real Mexican.
Fans were denied another potential big knockout victory from Lara in the Warrington rematch when the fight was called off after an ‘accidental’ headbutt from Warrington cut Lara and the fight was correctly stopped due to the size of the cut.
Lara hasn’t let the draw bother him, knocking out Emilio Sanchez in three rounds and following it up by stopping José Sanmartin next, once again inside 3 rounds. It would be completely fair to compare Lara’s fists to concrete with the way he has gained his stoppage victories.
The key to fight night will be the race to the big punch. Whoever lands the get-out shot first is likely to secure the victory, and it wouldn’t be a shock to anyone watching if it happened inside the first half of the fight.
Both men have good chins, and serious power in both hands. However, Leigh Wood’s stamina and chin may be the key to victory this weekend. Highlighting both his stamina and chin in his latest victory over Michael Conlan, Wood will need to use both to secure the win on Saturday night.
The main event on Saturday is certain to provide fireworks with arguably the top two punchers in the division facing off. Backed by thousands from his home town, Leigh Wood will be pulling out all the stops to gain victory, with Lara sat waiting to spoil another party.
Leigh Wood (26-2, 16 KOs)
Michael Conlan - WIN - TKO Round 12
Can Xu - WIN - TKO Round 12
Reece Mould - WIN - TKO Round 9
James Dickens - LOSS - MD (95-95, 95-96, 94-94),
David Oliver Joyce - WIN - TKO Round 9
Mauricio Lara (25-2-1, 18 KOs)
Jose Sanmartin - WIN - KO Round 3
Emilio Sanchez - WIN - KO Round 3
Josh Warrington - DRAW - TD Round 2
Josh Warrington - WIN - TKO Round 9
Sergio Puente - WIN - UD (100-90, 99-91, 98-92)
Date: February 18th 2023
Time: Approx. 10.30PM Ring Walk (GMT)
Venue: Nottingham Arena, Nottingham, England, UK
Promotor: Eddie Hearn (Matchroom Boxing)
Elsewhere on this undercard, Dalton Smith defends his British Super-Lightweight Title against Billy Allington. Irishman Gary Cully also features in a lightweight contest against Wilfredo Flores. Cheavon Clarke will also fight in a cruiserweight contest. Gamal Yafai, Kieron Conway, Nico Leivars and Junaid Bostan also feature on this stellar undercard from the Nottingham Arena on Saturday night.