In the first of a new series, published every weekday on Boxing Social, the incomparable Terry Dooley delivers his unique look at the boxing news.
Nottingham’s Leigh Wood (25-2, 15 KOs) has discovered what happens when an unlikely win puts a big, fat target on your back following Saturday’s shock final round victory over Can Xu (18-3, 3 KOs) for one of the WBA’s world titles at featherweight.
Wood has been progressing well under trainer Ben Davison and produced an assured, patient performance to win a slice of the WBA pie on the first night of promoter Eddie Hearn’s latest Fight Camp series. Hearn has stated that the WBA should strip the WBA Super title from Leo Santa Cruz, who has not boxed at featherweight since 2019, but a rematch clause in Wood’s contract could mean that he has to face Xu again before taking on further challenges.
Wood doesn’t care much for the politics of the whole thing, he was given an opponent, a title and a chance, and he took it, so now he wants more of the same or even more if Santa Cruz fancies it. “I’ve come from small hall boxing, the longest way round,” said Wood when speaking to BBC East Midland Sport.
He added: “I’ve come from ground zero to get to a world title and be in such a great fight, at the top of my game, [and] the show goes on. A lot of people wrote me off before that fight and I’ve got all the comments saved. Now hopefully the’’ll give me some credit and that’ll push me towards a bigger fight.
“I fancy [WBO champion Emmanuel] Navarrete, that would be fireworks, he can whack, and Leo Santa Cruz, he’s the Super champion even though he’s not boxed at the weight for two years. There are some massive fights out there.”
A former British and Commonwealth titlist, Wood believes that his new training regime lit the touch paper for his upset win and hopes for more of the same if they can line up some decent names. He said: “I had confidence in what I’d been working on in the gym. I knew what I had to do, I had all the ingredients, I just had to go out there and put it together. We knew what he was good at, and you have to take away what he’s good at, and that’s what we worked on, to nullify him.”
In the meantime, Kid Galahad and Jazza Dickens are set to contest the vacant IBF world featherweight title this weekend so if the division’s world-level names prove out of reach for Wood there is a clear chance that he could face winner of Galahad-Dickens in a big domestic showdown later this year.
Speaking of small hall, off-TV shows, Salford’s Steve Wood has plans afoot for September, including news of new debutants who are taking the risk of turning professional despite the recent uncertainty at all levels of boxing. Wood will put on six shows in 23 days, and he hopes to get things underway again as a promoter despite taking a backseat as a manager in the coming years.
“It will be a mad and busy time for us all, but it was vital the boxers got work as we have been unable to promote a card since March 2020,” said Wood when revealing the details of his upcoming shows. “There is so many quality debutants I signed during lockdown that have been raring to go for months. Working with upcoming fighters gives me such a kick and developing these youngsters is what I enjoy more than anything.
“Over the next few years, some of my existing boxers will get managers’ licenses and I will be handing over fighters to them as I intend to move away from management. I will still be involved with all the currently signed boxers and this new crop excite me. In the future, when I have passed the reins over to carefully picked boxers I can trust to look after fighters, I will be on hand to give guidance and any direction needed to make sure they all can fulfil their potential. I’m buzzing that we’re back and the shows we have planned are all good ones. I can’t wait to see the new fighters progress and hopefully many will challenge for major honours down the line.”
VIP begin their comeback trail on September 3 with a show at Liverpool’s Olympia. They head to The University of Bolton Stadium for VIP Boxing on Saturday September 11. They will be there again the following afternoon on Sunday September 12.
They will return to the Olympia on Friday September 17 before heading to Knowsley on Friday September 24. On Sunday September 26 they head back to University of Bolton Stadium where there will be a co-promotion with Alex Matvienko’s Elite Boxing.
With his small hall business lined up for both September and October (more news to come), Wood hopes to continue to work with DAZN’s Eddie Hearn and Sky Sports to provide dates for the likes of Josh Warrington and Scott Fitzgerald, who are both scheduled for outings later this year.
“I enjoy a fine working relationship with Eddie Hearn and the Boxxer group who are now working with Sky and I am sure that plenty other talent with VIP will also get the opportunity to shine on big stages,” added Wood.
Most former boxers don’t leave boxing behind, it leaves them behind and doesn’t give them a backwards glance. Former fighters and world titlists have to take solace where they can find it in retirement. The drive that drove them to world and other titles has to be replaced, they need another itch to scratch, and former IBF world bantamweight titlist Stuart Hall has done just that by channelling his energy into charity work.
Hall completed the 100-mile Teesdale Way walk to bring in £1,000 for a mental health charity as the former fighter seeks new challenges. “It was very much a case of all the gear, no idea,” said the 41-year-old when talking to Bill Edgar of the The Northern Echo. “We didn’t know how hard it was and we were carrying so much on our backs for the first few days.”
The group raised money for the charity Anxious Minds, which hopes to increase mental health awareness in the North East. “It’s a great charity,” added Hall. “There was a lot of people doubting we would do it but once the money started coming in it came in fast. I’m proud because it’s been a really tough thing to do. We’re going to go home have a rest and maybe set our sites [sic] on something else to hopefully raise more money for charity in the future.”
The cliché, “I’d have ended up in prison or in some other serious trouble”, pops up as lot when you talk to boxers. Boxing certainly acts as a channel for children who have either too much energy, undiagnosed ADHD, anger issues or just like to hit something, anything, to discharge their innate aggression.
It isn’t something many people want to admit, but there is a place for the outlet that boxing provide in all aspects of life and it can be a useful tool when used properly. Xander Waldrum from Taverham in Norwich is autistic and part of his condition has been the inability to deal with his aggression.
His mother, Briony Thompson, has discovered that boxing training is the perfect outlet for her son’s condition and they have not looked back since introducing him to a sport that is vilified by many yet understood by so few.
“Xander’s main difficulties are dealing with sudden change, taking things too logically, and expressing his emotions, as he doesn’t understand them completely,” said Ms Thompson when speaking to the Norwich Evening News. “Since starting his new school back in last July he has been amazing with his behaviour and manners and understanding of the world as they have helped him brilliantly.”
Miss Thompson spoke to a behavioural specialist to seek advice on how to further support her son, as she explored ways of managing his troubles. She said: “They advised an anger room for him to release his anger, which I unfortunately don’t have the space for. I heard about these one-to-one sessions at the gym and, I thought I’d give it a try; I was hesitant at first as I didn’t think he would do the whole half-hour.
“So, we started it at 20 minutes, which he did and loved. Darrell [his trainer] is brilliant with him, he is very patient and lets him have breaks. He also incorporates Xander’s interests into the boxing such as Godzilla and King Kong.”
Xander is now optimistic about his future and his mother believes that his coach, Darrell High, has found the best way to channel his energy. “It’s been a pleasure to coach him through the sport of boxing and this shows just how beneficial that a sport like boxing really is, especially in young people,” said High.
“He handles remembering different combinations and staying calm in difficult situations. It allows him to think about what he does, as he does it and being coordinated at the same time. I think this translates well outside of gym and teaches you a lot about yourself. People like Xander remind me why I do this work and make it worth it.”
Sadly, we have to end this news round-up on a sad note. We have seen the odd sign that boxing is making a comeback and is back on the mend, but as soon as we take two steps forward we have to take one step back.
It is with a heavy heart that we have to end this news round-up on a heavy heart by confirming that that Conor McGregor (0-1, 0 KOs) has had to withdraw from a wheelchair boxing match against impressionist Al Foran due to a shortage of WD-40 that has been prompted by Brexit and the logistical chaos caused by it.
Sorry, it actually transpires that McGregor, who broke his left leg when losing to Dustin Porier last month, has had to withdraw from the September date as his recovery is not progressing as well as expected and he is in desperate need of a confidence-boosting victory.
Taking to Twitter, he wrote that: ‘Guys, the September date is too early for me. I am still in recovery. My docs/physical therapy team out here advice me to stay. I reckon late October at earliest. But maybe November/December too. It is hard to say at this time a concrete date. But I’m in. Wait for me please. Just need to focus on this recovery for the next while first before I can commit to a date. Have some cool things planned for the event though.”
It means that, as things stand, one of the best fighters in UFC history still stands 0-1 (0 KOs) as a professional boxer following his comprehensive stoppage defeat to the Floyd Mayweather, who had been retired for almost two-years and was past his best, back in August 2017.
Foran was either unavailable for comment or avoided us by answering the number given to Boxing Social in a variety of hilarious, zany accents in order to avoid detection.
Main image: Leigh Wood and team enjoy Saturday’s victory. Photo: Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing.