In an utterly thrilling fight Leigh Wood somehow dug deep into his soul to retain his WBA featherweight title against Michael Conlan on Saturday night. With triumph came fear and worry after an ending which proved how dangerous this sport can be.
Fighting in front of his home fans at Nottingham Arena it was an atmosphere for the ages created by those for Wood and the Irish who had travelled over to support their decorated amateur hero.
Round one on its own was unforgettable. Wood came out with a big left hand packed with bad intentions but didn’t do the damage he hoped. He appeared to be getting his shots off quicker, but Conlan was hiding something, a looping left hand which floored Wood right on the bell. The home favourite was on his back. Could he recover and regain his faculties for round two?
Wood was still in shock for the following three minutes. Conlan’s aggression was out in full force. The Irishman’s left hand couldn’t miss, it was his money shot and Wood wasn’t protecting himself from it. The writing was on the wall.
“This is your fight,” yelled Conlan’s trainer Adam Booth at the end of the third. His charge’s jab became sharp and accurate. This was his fight; he was in control. Wood was still in recovery mode.
In the fourth Wood began to cover Conlan’s magic left hand. It was a small start to find a footing in the fight. When he backed his man on to the ropes, he began to let his hands go but Conlan’s skills would take him to the centre of the ring where he would happily trade with the powerful champion. It was the heart of the fighting Irish which Conlan displayed throughout but for a man who was dominating he rarely decided to make life easy for himself.
Conlan then began to target the body successfully which Wood grimaced at more than once. His own responses were of the single variety. Moments of success that gave hope to his vocal support but not enough to turn the fight around, or so we thought.
The status of the WBA world title fight was out the window. The belt became irrelevant. Pride and heart took over. Wood was looking for a kitchen sink to throw but Conlan was showing signs of evasiveness but chose to trade time and time again when they locked horns. Into the late rounds Conlan was still ahead but Wood was chipping away. The target was becoming easier for him to hit.
The 11th round was Conlan’s. He was minutes away from taking the WBA featherweight title, but Wood was getting stronger, defiant and more resilient with each second. The punches that were affecting him in the early rounds were bouncing off him as he chased down the challenger with everything he had. He needed a knockout and with Wood taking something of a shellacking he somehow found a left hand that did enough, with the help of a slip to put Conlan down near the end. Wood raised his hands in celebration. Steve Gray counted it as a knockdown much to the fury of Adam Booth.
Wood had closed the gap but still needed to stop Conlan. He came out with everything in the final round. A thudding left from the champion appeared to have Conlan in trouble. Wood put the foot down and dislodged the kitchen sink and threw it at the Belfast hero. The pressure on Conlan was ramped up. Wood began to look like a man who would not be denied and did not care that he only had 180 seconds to do what seemed impossible. The combinations flowed, albeit with little energy left and Conlan was going backwards.
With just over 100 seconds left Wood threw a jab. It was the beginning of the end. Conlan was backing up to the ropes and tried to cover the punches. Then somehow the champion found the power to land a right hand which saw Conlan crumple and dangerously exit the ring through the ropes into the hands of people ringside who attempted to catch him. Within seconds referee Steve Gray waved the fight off. Leigh Wood was still champion but contained his celebrations and urged others to do so while medical attention got to Conlan.
As trainer Ben Davison and Wood hugged one another all thoughts turned to the stricken fighter. Conlan had been taken to the hospital at time of writing (midnight) and Matchroom CEO Frank Smith reported that he was conscious and stable when he arrived.
“Thank you to all the fans. I hope Michael’s alright. I can’t celebrate till he’s alright,” said a worried Wood afterwards to DAZN.
“He put in a lot early. He’s so tough. I hit him with everything. I’m just thinking about Mick, I can’t get him off my brain.”
Leigh Wood v Michael Conlan on Saturday March 12, 2022, will go down as one of the most enthralling, dramatic and utterly compelling fights witnessed in the modern era particularly in Great Britain.
We were entertained, we were immediately brought to the edge of our seats and these two warriors fought their hearts out and left everything in that ring for a title, for pride, for glory and for our pleasure.
Boxing Social wishes Michael Conlan a speedy recovery.