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Leigh Wood has become a must-watch boxer. In the last two years, he’s scored a huge comeback victory in a fight he was dominating in, as well as taking a huge KO loss in a fight he was dominating (before getting the win back four months later). His latest win saw him getting beaten from pillar to post by Josh Warrington for most of the first seven rounds, before scoring a knockdown as the bell went that led to the referee waving it off. Let’s take a look at how it went down.
The Breakdown: how did Leigh Wood vs. Josh Warrington play out?
Well, for the majority, it seemed to be playing out badly for Leigh Wood.
For the majority of those seven rounds, Warrington was a buzzsaw, blitzing in and out with his trademark high volume. Wood was aiming for more precise responses, but he didn’t seem to have the speed to get them home with any serious effect. Warrington would regularly move around a punch as Wood retracted it and hit him from angles he didn’t see coming, having a hurtful effect.
We did see the early clues to the knockout in the second round, though. Wood had switched Southpaw briefly at the end of the first, and having found some success, stuck with it in the second. Although a tricky moment in the third led to him abandoning it for a while from the fourth onwards, it demonstrated that an open-stance matchup – southpaw vs. Warrington’s orthodox- made it much harder for Warrington to dart in and out the way he wanted.
Still, though, in whichever stance Wood was boxing, he was having trouble. His challenger has always been a fighter comfortable with switching direction very quickly. That meant that when Wood stepped forward, seeking to push the smaller man back, Warrington was able to draw him in then reverse direction and step around him, shortening the distance and landing power shots.
When Wood tried to use his length to box at range, meanwhile, the Leeds native would dart left and right, forcing Wood to turn with him, something he found tricky at times and which left him off-balance. He also showed a bad habit of drawing back with his chin in the air, which meant that Warrington’s punches coming up from underneath were catching him flush and snapping his head round, rather than being moved with.
We also saw Warrington show his clinch-fighting skills. Despite Wood being easily the bigger man, Warrington has form fighting in the clinch (sometimes very dirtily, though he was pretty clean here) and was able to mostly manhandle his opponent whenever the ref did let them work out of it. All that put together meant there wasn’t really any range that was a safe space for Wood to think and recover.
All in all, Wood looked in quite a bad way. He did at points complain about some of Warrington’s punches straying around the back of his head- which did lead to a point deduction in that seventh round. That seemed harsh since the ref had dismissed the previous instances, and they hadn’t seemed egregious and certainly not deliberate. But it did raise a note of caution for Warrington.
The key thing, though, is that although he was getting beaten up, neither Wood nor his corner ever panicked. Sometimes a big change in gameplan is necessary in a situation like this, but despite being down a long way, Wood was landing big shots and he knows his big shots hurt. So he set about refining the details, finding ways to get a fight-turning punch home.
The Finish: how did Leigh Wood turn it around?
The first thing to note about the knockdown- Leigh Wood was back in southpaw at this point, further highlighting the difficulty that created for Warrington to close distance safely. A second before the hurtful exchange, Wood throws a left-hand/right-hook combo, and Warrington sees no route to counter it so he backs off.
For the knockdown itself, Leigh Wood throws the same thing again. Warrington thinks he’s got the timing and tries to counter it this time, but the right to the body that might have landed in a closed-stance matchup falls way, way short whereas Woods hook with his lead right hand sends him reeling.
The second thing: watch Wood’s footwork. A lot of fighters after that first dazing shot would have either held their feet or even stepped forward, which would have let Warrington fall into him and smothered the punches. Wood, though, immediately saw the stumble coming and slid back, allowing him to connect the follow-up perfectly. That precise control of range continues as Warrington falls back, Wood stopping his own retreat and allowing him to land three of his four follow-ups right on the button before Warrington drops.
A side-note to that: watch the battle of the lead feet here. It’s often touted that in an open-stance matchup each fighter should always be battling to have their lead foot on the outside. That is only sometimes true and this exchange proved why- Wood’s position with his lead down the center gave his right hook a much shorter arc to travel, whereas Warrington’s bodyshot fell short in part because he was leaning around Wood’s lead leg and shoulder to try to get it home.
Then came the bell and some slight controversy: Warrington got up pretty quickly and was conversing with his corner as the referee counted. He only turned as the referee hit the ten-count and stopped the fight. Some saw it as harsh that it was waved off immediately.
However, that’s on Warrington – the rule is you cannot be saved by the bell, in the sense that even if it rings you must show the referee you have recovered from a knockdown before you get your minute break. Warrington failed to respond to the ref’s instructions to turn and face him, and indeed was leaning on the ropes in what could easily be read as a ploy to buy time to recover. The ref really had no option but to wave it off.
That gave Wood the comeback, holding on to the title and further cementing him as a true must-watch.
The Future: where do Leigh Wood and Josh Warrington go from here?
Leigh Wood was very clear post-fight about three things: he wants a bit of a break after three fights in eight months, he needs to move up as he can no longer make featherweight safely, and he wants to fight at Nottingham Forest’s City Ground stadium. That suggests his next fight will be in May or June next year, after the football (soccer) season ends.
Warrington is less certain — he spoke in the immediate aftermath of possibly retiring, but that may have been frustration talking. In the later press-conference, he also suggested that, although he still can make featherweight, he probably isn’t going to and will move up himself.
That leaves a rematch open as a huge possibility. There’s no clause to enforce it, but it’s an easily sellable fight that would certainly fill the stadium, and flawed as the argument is, Eddie Hearn could use the controversy over the stoppage to really put the event over, in a similar manner to Carl Froch vs. George Groves 2 back in the day.
If it doesn’t happen though, Leigh Wood has options. Joe Cordina is, at least currently, the IBF champion at super-feather, and as a fellow Matchroom fighter that should be relatively easy to make. Meanwhile, although the WBA does not follow the same rule the WBO does that if their champion in a division moves up they get a mandatory crack at their champ in the new division, Wood’s position with them may well give him some pull in getting a fight with Héctor García made. Either would make for an exciting fight.
Warrington, too, is enough of a draw- he’s been selling out a 13,000 seat arena in Leeds for nine years now- that he should have no problem drawing a good opponent whatever he chooses to do. If he wants to fight sooner than Wood is ready to that pull may make him an attractive opponent for Cordina in his own right, but there’s also an array of international opponents who would jump at the chance and give him a chance to get himself in one ranking or another.
In any case, at 35 (Wood) and 32 (Warrington) both fighters are in the ‘no time to waste’ stage of their careers, and both usually make for good fights, so we’ll be watching their next moves with interest.
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