Will Michael Conlan come of age and wrest the WBA ‘regular’ featherweight title from Leigh Wood on Saturday night, or will the Nottingham man once again confound the doubters? Luke G. Williams previews the action…
Now 30 years of age, Irish icon Michael Conlan has long believed it to be his destiny to become a world champion.
“This means everything to me,” he said when his Nottingham Arena showdown with reigning WBA strap holder Leigh Wood was first announced. “It is my destiny. I have been preparing for this moment for a very long time. And [I’ve always] said when the moment comes I will grab it with both hands.”
Holder Wood (25-2, 15 KOs) is one of the more unlikely current world title holders. Stopped in six by Gavin McDonnell in 2014, when he then suffered a second career loss by dropping a decision to Jazza Dickens in 2020 it looked like his career was destined to plateau at domestic or – at best – European level.
In his next fight, against Reece Mould, Wood was in trouble early on but rallied to secure a stunning ninth-round KO win and capture the British title. Despite that triumph, however, few gave him a shot against Can Xu in a WBA title tilt last July. However, Wood’s mixture of pressure and power unsettled the Chinese champion as he out-fought, out-thought and then stopped him in the 12th and final round.
Reflecting on the unlikely turnaround in his career, and the prospect of now headlining a huge show in his home city of Nottingham, Wood said: “I’m buzzing… It’s been a long, hard road to get here. Back in 2014 [when he lost to McDonnell] that was a terrible night.
“I knew the reasons behind it, and I went away and corrected it. Same with both of the defeats I’ve suffered. I went away, changed my team and improved as a fighter. I stayed disciplined, lived the life and that’s why I’m bringing this big night back to Nottingham, I couldn’t be happier.”
Wood also expressed his delight at the prospect of defending his world title at the same venue where his hometown hero Carl Froch fought on 15 occasions. (Wood has fought there twice before himself, but never in a fight of this magnitude).
“This is fairy-tale shit, honestly,” Wood said. “Of all the arenas for Carl I was in the seats screaming, I’m now headlining in the same arena. This isn’t the peak or where I stop.”
A key question ahead of this fight is whether the 33-year-old Wood can replicate the intensity he showed against Xu, or whether that fight was a career-best peak that he will fail to reach again.
The Ben Davison trained pugilist will certainly be aided by the aforementioned home advantage, with a 10,000 sell-out crown expected to be in attendance. A decent proportion of those are likely to be Conlan supporters, but they are likely to be significantly outnumbered by Wood fans, and it will be interesting to see how the Irishman – accustomed as he is from fights at Madison Square Garden and Falls Park to being the adored favourite – will adjust to being on hostile away territory.
Conlan certainly does not seem to have stinted in his preparation for the fight. “I’ve worked my ass off,” he told Boxing Social this week. “It’s been easy in a sense because I haven’t had to get up for anything. The motivation is naturally there. Every session feeling tired, feeling fatigue it hasn’t felt like that. I’ve felt that in previous camps, but this camp has been perfect, went great.
“My preparation has been unbelievable, and my confidence comes from my preparation. I’ve been saying that since the start. I was already preparing great before the press conferences. After them it’s went up an even higher level. I’m looking forward to putting on a performance on Saturday which I know I will.”
“Saturday night we take over. Saturday night we put on a performance and Saturday night you will hear ‘And the new’.”
With both men motivated and confident this could prove a thrilling contest. Wood is probably the harder puncher, although Conlan’s power is possibly underrated. The Irishman (16-0, 8 KOs) produced a career best pro performance last time out against TJ Doheny and if he can keep his composure then I feel his superior technique should see him home, most likely on points.