The domestic boxing calendar picks up speed again this weekend when Mexico’s Mauricio Lara, the number one ranked featherweight on the planet, takes on fourth ranked Leigh Wood and WBA belt holder Leigh Wood. The flamboyant contest, which is sure not to fail, takes place on Saturday night (February 18) at the same Nottingham Arena where Wood defeated Michael Conlan in the 2022 top fight last March.
Wood’s progress in the last two years is unrivaled in British boxing. In three fights, after losing around 10 rounds to ‘Jazz’ Dickens in February 2020, he stopped Rhys Mauld in a ‘select’ fight for the vacant British title (February 2021), stunned favorite Kang Xu five months later and then survived a tough opener against Conlan round knockdown before knocking him out, both on the senses and in the ring, in the final session. Given that trajectory, it’s a little surprising that Lara, 25-2-1 (18), is the favorite here.
The lofty status of the 24-year-old visitor can be explained by the presentation alone. Two years ago, almost to the day, hard-hitting Lara stunned then-division boss Josh Warrington behind closed doors at Wembley Arena. The Leeds favourite, who admits he badly underestimated Lara, was hit pretty hard that night after being injured early and went down heavily in the fourth before being rescued in the ninth. As with all such major upsets, the possibility that it was a fluke, along with Warrington’s bold decision to seek immediate revenge, led to a rematch that was cut short in the second round when a clash of heads left Lara bleeding profusely and the fight was called a technical draw. .
In fact, while only a fool would underestimate Lara, the oddsmakers are putting their faith in the Mexican, who is priced at 4/9, purely because of his first effort against Warrington. Other than that bombshell, he remains largely an unproven quantity, at least in terms of his true potential to become the leader of the all-conquering division. Although he has scored two third-round knockouts (against unheralded Emilio Sanchez and Jose Sanmartin) since his anticlimactic comeback with Josh, he still has some way to go to prove himself.
What can’t be denied is Lara’s ability to hurt her opponents, and we’ve seen Wood get hit, hurt, knocked down and cut in recent outings. It is therefore easy to envisage a scenario where the Nottingham title holder is stung and then comes to a halt as Lara, as a demonic presence inside the squared circle, pushes forward with his arms on fire. But Lara, at least according to all the evidence we have, is far from a cultured finisher and, even when in full flow, can look rough and over-the-top. And it’s those rough edges that Wood, 26-2 (16), and his trainer, Ben Davison, have been diligently exploring in preparation for this contest.
“Winning fires me up,” Woods explained. “Lara has a style that suits me. Conlan was stylistically wrong for me, but styles make fights and I’m confident in my abilities.
“If I approach this fight wrong, it could be brutal. Lara is good, and we saw that in the first fight with Josh Warrington, but if I do as I’m planning, this fight won’t make it to the halfway point. I’m going to get Lara out of there.”
It should be noted that this is the competition that Wood did not have to participate in, at least not to keep his sanctioned belt. But a win here would boost his profile immensely and, win or lose, the 34-year-old deserves nothing but credit for taking on such a difficult task.
Lara called Wood a “chicken” and accused him of faking an injury that caused this fight to be postponed late last year. However, the insults have no substance, especially when we consider that the Mexican is doing them, now the contest has been rearranged. If he’s running scared from Lara, Wood is going in exactly the wrong direction.
Inside the ring, Wood will have nowhere to run either. Lara will come to look for the belt. he aims to cut the ring in a claustrophobic approach and make his victim pay closely. But it’s the way he seems to place his shots that Wood will believe he can use. Lara likes to land shots with wide swings, shots that pick up speed and power on the fly, but shots that still leave her chin wide open in the process. It stands to reason that if Wood can keep his guard up and fire quick counters down the pipe, Lara could soon crumble.
We don’t know what will happen if Lara gets stung repeatedly. Will that bully mentality start to wear off, or is his chin equipped to handle the power we know Wood has in abundance? Likewise, while Wood recovered his ground against Conlan, we can’t be sure he would if Lara, a stronger hitter than the Northern Irishman, put him there. We also have to be careful not to get too carried away with Lara’s takedown of Warrington (her only top-level win), when we consider that with Josh spinning around and barely controlling her senses, it took Lara several rounds to finish. touches.
This is a really fascinating fight and without a doubt one that cannot be called without any certainty. Lara is now two years older than his breakout performance against Warrington and can truly become the more complete fighter he promises he already is. Ten years older than his opponent, and after some of the toughest matches against Conlan that possibly put miles on his clock, Wood may already be peaking.
In a call that may not age well if Lara does indeed continue to be the force many believe in the trade, we’re going for Wood to prove the bookies wrong again and take the win. While this fight has all the ingredients needed for a stoppage, this one could go to 12 because Wood is too cultured and disciplined when it really matters most.
Sheffield’s Dalton Smith, 13-0 (10), makes a second defense of his British flyweight title against Egham’s Billy Allington, 10-1-4. It looks like a normal outing for the venerable champion.
Smith received some unwarranted criticism during his previous outing, as he outpointed the talented Casey Benjamin over the course of 12 rounds in November. Perhaps it was just the exam that Smith needed to sit for in order to graduate to the next level. And that’s a level that Ellington seems far below.
The 28-year-old is a former English and Southern County title-holder, but in his toughest campaigns against second- and third-tier domestic opposition, he has had to dig deep to get results. Last time out, in November, he was held to a six-round draw by a rough and tough but victorious Ben Fields. To go from that to taking down Smith is certainly too far. We expect Dalton, 26, to save about half.
Promising Irish southpaw Gary Culley of Daas gets another chance to highlight his promise in a 10-round fight against Puerto Rican-born Wilfredo Flores, 10-0-1 (5). Culley, 15-0 (9) and 27 years old, has impressed in nearly every outing, but Flores, although six years older, is a worthy import and will come to win.
But the nearly impossibly tall, lightweight (6ft 2in) 1/12 is a favorite for good reason. This may not be a one-way street, but regardless, the anxiety seems incredible. Cully to win a lopsided decision.
Also on the card are Birmingham’s Gamal Yafai (who should be too smart for Argentina’s Diego Alberto Ruiz in their 10-round super-heavyweight clash), Northampton’s Kieron Conway (expected to push back against Portuguese veteran Jorge Silva in their eight-weight super-middleweight clash) and Sr. weight class. , Chevon Clark.
VERDICT – Underwhelming fare at the top of the bill, which sees the winner rise to prominence at featherweight.