In one of boxing’s most improbable stories of 2021, Nottingham’s Leigh Wood finds himself among the world’s featherweight elite this morning, having dethroned China’s Xu Can to win the WBA Regular belt with a stirring 12th round stoppage at Matchroom’s Fight Camp in Brentwood on Saturday.
The 33-year-old Wood has long toiled on boxing’s periphery, but has now gatecrashed the world scene after outhustling and eventually halting the fancied Xu in the last round in one of the year’s most notable upsets.
But Wood (25-2, 15 KOs) is far from done, having had new life breathed into his career by trainer Ben Davison in a breakout 2021. Wood’s energy levels barely dipped as he produced the performance of his life when it really mattered.
“It feels good you know, to get the stoppage over the line in a great and high-paced fight, the last round with six weeks’ notice, I couldn’t have done anymore,” Wood told Matchroom Boxing after his memorable triumph.
“I did say in an interview that I’m going to be catching him clean and it’s not down to me how long the fight lasts, it’s down to him pretty much. I could have sustained that all night. He took some big shots, big heart, credit to him but the accumulation has its effect as well. The shot I finished him with wasn’t as big as the ones I caught him with earlier on, but they took their toll, I caught him and got the stoppage.
“I had belief in my power, not only do I have big power, but I know how to get it off, how to set it up and how to mix it up. That’s the biggest factor in working with Ben [Davison], Lee Wylie and Barry Smith, they’ve really changed the game for me.
“He definitely wasn’t throwing 120 punches a round and that’s down to the game plan. Everyone was saying how are you going to do it, what are going to do, are you going to hit him hard, are going to hold him, it was down to the game plan. Even people watching don’t understand, but that’s a conversation for another day.
“Hopefully, the younger generations see this and think you know what, he’s done it, World Champion, British, Commonwealth, European, hopefully people decide to go pick up a pair of boxing gloves and start their journey.
“Ben and Lee said to me they’ve never been so confident in someone getting the tactics right as much as me going into this fight. I thought that was a big statement, I was doing everything they wanted me to do. I executed it pretty much to perfection and credit to those guys for getting it right – I just do as I’m told, and it works.”
Wood is now casting an eye at unifications with former conqueror Jazza Dickens contesting the vacant IBF title against Kid Galahad at Fight Camp next weekend and WBO champion Emanuel Navarrete another target.
“I’m easy, redemption with Dickens would be great for myself. Full confidence in Ben getting my tactics right for that fight, I had a bad night that fight, first southpaw I boxed as a pro, I’d like to put that right naturally,” said Wood.
“But if there’s bigger fights, I said I wanted the Navarrete fight he’s explosive like me, that’ll be absolute fireworks. People might slate me and say it’s a [WBA] regular title, let’s fight for the Super title [held by Leo Santa Cruz], let’s unify – I want big fights.
“My career was stalled earlier on. In three years, I’ve been British, Commonwealth, WBO European and now world champion. My best years are definitely to come.”
Main image: Ian Walton/Matchroom Boxing.