Controversial Leigh Wood stoppage was the right call
It takes just one punch to change a fight, a life and a boxing career.
In Nottingham late at night and late in the seventh round on Saturday, Leigh Wood found that punch when Mauricio Lara connected with a single left hook. Sadly, it hit him flush on the chin.
Wood was winning the fight, delighting his hometown faithful and then, with just six seconds left in the round, he was caught and went down heavily to the canvas. Wood’s head hit the ring apron with a final whack; he was down, but not out and somehow beat the count. The capacity crowd of 12,000 willed their idol to rise.
Wood regained his feet at about eight, stood unsteadily as the referee, Michael Alexander, asked the standard questions; Wood seemed to satisfy the referee, Lara had inched closer to finish the job and then, on the command of “box on”, the white towel of mercy and surrender landed in Alexander’s arms. Ben Davison, Wood’s trainer, had climbed the ringside steps with the blood-stained white towel in his hand, had seen all he needed to convince him that the welfare of his boxer was more important than the glory and dangers of fighting on. It was a fearless call in that arena. Davison, incidentally, had no idea that there were fewer than ten seconds of the round remaining.
Leigh Wood’s reign as WBA featherweight champion was over and he turned in desperation and pleading to Davison. Wood was walking on stiffened legs as he went towards his trainer. He wanted to continue, all fighters want to continue, but from 15 feet away it looked to me like the most perfect stoppage. Davison took the bravest of steps and it was the right one.
Lara had entered the ring with a justified reputation as a heavy puncher, a man prepared to take risks knowing that he has the power in just one fist to change the course of any fight. And change it at any time. The Mexican, who is ten years younger than Wood at 24, had lost four or five of the six completed rounds, was breathing through an open mouth, struggling with Wood’s plan and looking at times in rounds five and six like he was feeling a bit sorry for himself. The single left hook, thrown as Wood tried to deliver the same punch, was perfect in every way.
Wood had fought with confidence and a smart plan to nullify the left hook by using both a high guard and his feet to move away from the danger; it worked, Lara lunged and missed dozens of times and Wood countered with straight rights. The left side of Lara’s face was bruised at the end and Wood had to deal with an ugly cut about his left eyebrow from the first round. It was a gripping fight, the story simple: Could Lara connect, could Wood survive? All the best fights have simple storylines.
Wood insisted he could continue and with just six seconds left before the bell to end the seventh round, that is an understandable boxer’s complaint. However, at the moment the referee told the pair to continue, Wood looked both vulnerable and static; Lara was poised, knowing one more punch would end the fight. Wood did not show the awareness of a man with a grasp of his awful situation. There was no attempt to buy a few priceless seconds by moving backwards and trying to get his legs working again – he just looked trapped and hurt at the moment Davison threw the towel in. A decision in boxing can be both heartbreaking and correct. Sure, the official time of the stoppage was 2:54, but damage in the boxing ring can be measured in the tiniest fragments of a single second and at the point the fight was stopped, six seconds was an eternity.
At the end, Lara had his dream, the WBA’s belt clutched to his chest and his eyes streaming with tears of delight. Wood congratulated him, shook his head and tried to hold back his own tears. It was hard for him.
There is a rematch clause and Wood is expected to trigger it. Lara will have to return to Britain for the fight. There is an alternative storyline and one that could lead to an even bigger fight. Lara has twice met Josh Warrington, the former world champion, who was a ringside guest. In their first fight, Lara stopped Warrington in a shock; their rematch ended in a bloody and bad-tempered two-round technical draw after Lara sustained a cut. A trilogy is a natural alternative to a Wood rematch. At the end on Saturday night, Lara went to stand above Warrington, looking down and leering and then he spat at his feet. “He crossed the line, now it’s personal,” said Warrington. All scenarios work.
Wood will recover his damaged pride, sit with Davison to make peace, Lara will return home a Mexican idol and Warrington will dream of revenge. He is right, it is personal and all the greatest fights always are.