Boxing is back with a bang in early 2023. That’s a stark contrast from the last calendar year, with the sport plagued by negative headlines and promotional blunders that made the powers that be involved with the sweet science look amateurish. Whether it be the consistent hurdles to put together an undisputed clash at heavyweight, Conor Benn’s failed drug test or the collapse of a much-anticipated showdown between welterweight world champions Terence Crawford and Errol Spence Jr. – 2022 has been a year to forget for boxing fans.
That will hopefully change in 2023 – and if the cards to kick off the new year are anything to go by – we are in for a treat. After a great evening of boxing at Manchester’s AO Arena headlined by Chris Eubank Jr. and Liam ‘Beefy’ Smith was announced for January 21 – there’s yet another thrilling match-up to look forward to in Nottingham next month.
Taking place at Motorpoint Arena on February 18, Nottingham’s own Leigh Wood will put his WBA featherweight title on the line against the dangerous Mexican Mauricio Lara. Leigh Wood catapulted himself into the national spotlight by upsetting the pre-fight online betting odds with an incredible and dramatic win against Olympic bronze medallist Michael Conlan last March. After being dropped in the first round by a beautiful overhand left, Leigh Wood managed to return to his feet and get back into the contest as the rounds progressed.
Despite the tide of the fight turning in the ninth round in Wood’s favor, it appeared as though he had left himself too much work to do to win on the scorecards – and as both fighters stood up off their stool in the twelfth round – Conlan’s goal of becoming a world champion was within touching distance.
Leigh Wood had other ideas, however, and unleashed a barrage in the final round that had Conlan backing up on the ropes. What transpired next was one of the most dramatic finishes in UK boxing history, with Wood connecting with a drumming straight right hand as his Irish opponent moved his head to his left. It immediately rendered Conlan unconscious and sent him through the ropes. Wood had retained his WBA belt in the unlikeliest of circumstances – and in doing so – put the boxing world on notice.
Their clash was awarded Fight of the Year by respected outlets Boxing News, World Boxing News, and Boxing Scene – helping Leigh Wood boost his profile among the wider sporting community in the UK and abroad.
While his title defense in Nottingham against Conlan was a career-defining moment – Wood will have his work cut out for him if he’s to hold on to his title in February. His opponent Lara poses an enormous threat, with his relentless pressure and thudding power difficult to contend with. The 24-year-old burst onto the scene after defeating then-undefeated world champion Josh Warrington at Wembley Arena by ninth-round knockout in February of 2021.
Warrington couldn’t handle the strength of Lara’s punches – and given the difficulty Wood faced with Conlan’s power – who most consider inferior to that of the Mexican – Wood can’t afford to get into too much of a firefight early on. If he can withstand the onslaught in the opening rounds and have confidence in his stamina down the stretch – he’s a good chance of securing his fourth straight win and third consecutive title defense.
For those after sports betting tips, Lara enters as the favorite at 1/3, while hometown hero Leigh Wood is the underdog at 12/5.
Featured Image by Jaggery / Motorpoint Arena, Cardiff