Another potential firefight comes to us from the UK this weekend, as Leigh Wood takes on Maurico Lara for Wood’s featherweight title in what should be non-stop action.
The card will be available on DAZN. Coverage starts at 2PM ET (7PM GMT), with main event ringwalks expected at about 5.50 PM (10.50 GMT).
Wood (26-2, 16KOs) is most known to worldwide viewers for his sensational comeback victory of Michael Conlan last year, to win this belt. He’d been well behind in that fight early, but worked his way back into it before knocking Conlan clean out of the ring in the 11th round.
At 34, he’s a latecomer to the world scene.. Until 2020, he’d been bouncing around at a British/European sort of level. He’d had some success but never looked like troubling anyone for world titles. A loss in that year to Jazza Dickens prompted a coaching change. He brought in the oft-maligned Ben Davison, who helped him clean up the rough edges in his game. A year later, he unexpectedly beat Xu Can for the WBA featherweight belt, which he then defended against Conlan. At the time that wasn’t the ‘full’ title, a claim held by Leo Santa Cruz. But since Santa Cruz hadn’t fought at the weight for years, it was effectively that, and with the Mexican finally officially vacating the title last year, Wood was promoted to the full belt.
Lara (25-2-1, 18KOs), meanwhile, burst onto the scene in 2021. Brought in against Josh Warrington as a tune-up opponent, he was expected to lose. Instead, he beat the brakes off the hometown fighter for 9 rounds before the stoppage. A rematch ended in an unsatisfying clash of heads and a no-contest. Since then, he’s had trouble getting opponents in the ring. A couple of entertaining, but expected, knockout wins have kept him ticking over, but he’s still something of an unknown here in a lot of ways. His power is for real though, that much is unquestionable, and he’s become something of a must-see for his wild brawls.
On a technical level, it’s probably fair to say that Wood is the more polished fighter of the two. Whether he’s polished enough to keep himself safe from Lara’s firepower is another question.
Put simply, Lara is there to throw punches as hard as he can. Defense, he’s less worried about. He does actually have a little bit of proactive head movement as he approaches, but even that is more of a means to an end. He just wants to get close enough to start throwing. Once he does, the head movement goes out of the window, and he isn’t much interested in keeping his hands up either.
That makes him sound like he should be a sitting duck. The reason he isn’t is that he’s a very good puncher. His shots are not just hard, but unpredictable and accurate. And thrown at the slightest opening he sees. All that makes him an intimidating opponent to exchange with- there are very few opponents who can go toe-to-toe with him and be doing more damage to him than he is to them. Even if their defences are about right, if they’re relying on a high guard a lot of shots will go around or through it. Or he’ll throw happily at the gap left when they throw themselves, confident that he’ll do more damage. It’s a style that tends to leave opponents shelling up, which doesn’t help much. He hits hard enough that even shots caught on the guard do damage. More importantly, all it really does is give him even more time to pick his shots and find the gaps.
And, well, in a lot of ways Wood seems to be a fighter who matches up badly here. He does like to exchange with his opponents. His defence is okay, but not fantastic, with exactly the kind of gaps Lara can find. And while he clearly has some pop of his own, he doesn’t hit as hard as Lara. He has a good jab nowadays,but it isn’t about keeping his opponent at range. He uses it to set up his shots and cover his movements. That’s a good move in general, but with Lara using it as a trigger to throw, it’ll be tough to move behind it.
There are a few things that give Wood a good chance here, though. The first thing to realise is that his iconic moment against Conlan has kind of obscured what his basic game is really like. By the end of that fight, he had no choice but to chase hard, so ‘get in close and throw relentlessly’ was his only option. If that was true all the time, he’d be in real trouble here, but it’s not. He’s still a pretty aggressive fighter normally, but there’s a bit more to him than that.
Most importantly, his usual gameplan is more about using off-beat timing and awkward angles to find the space to throw. That can leave him in trouble- he doesn’t always keep a proper stance when moving, which can leave him caught on his heels. It was that exact problem that got him knocked down early against Conlan- and Lara hits a lot harder than Conlan. So it’s a risk, especially since Lara will be throwing at him whether he thinks he’s off-balance or not, so he won’t miss the chance.
When he does it properly, however, it can really throw off an opponent’s attacking game. Xu Can doesn’t hit hard, but he is an aggressive and extremely high volume fighter. Against Wood, the volume was still there, but much of it was rendered ineffective by Wood simply being just off-line. He also found himself falling short a fair bit, and taking shots from angles he was unprepared for. That resulted in the stoppage in the end, as Wood walked him onto a solid right hand that dropped him before jumping on him for the finish.
He’ll be hoping for some of that against Lara too. Okay, even off-line shots are unlikely to be ineffective in this case, but falling short or stepping into things? That should be something he’ll feel he can bait Lara into doing. He’s a competent stance-switcher too, which will raise his chances of getting the Mexican to bite prematurely. And he does hit hard when he needs to. He doesn’t have the fury on every single shot that Lara does, but when he decides it’s time? He’s got good pop, made all the more dangerous by being a little unexpected.
In short, Wood will never not be in danger in this fight. Lara will be on him from the start, and he’ll surely be taking a bit of a beating whatever happens. But Lara can’t put that on him without being in danger himself, which makes for a tightly balanced matchup that should result in real entertainment.
What’s on the undercard?
The biggest fight outside of the main event here is a British light-welterweight title fight between Dalton Smith and Billy Allington. Smith is a rising prospect, a classy pressure fighter who can sometimes start off slow but cranks the pressure as a fight progresses. Allington hasn’t ever really fought at this level before, so Smith should win, but he’s one to watch. We’ll also see Irish hopefull Gary Cully trying to keep a four-fight knockout streak going against Wilfredo Flores, Beyond that, it mostly seems to be a card of British-level veterans in tickover fights, with the likes of Gamal Yafai, Kieron Conway and Sam Maxwell in action. It’s not a bad show at all.