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Leigh Wood vs. Mauricio Lara - WBA Featherweight Preview

David Payne for Bookies.com

David Payne  | 8 mins

Leigh Wood vs. Mauricio Lara - WBA Featherweight Preview

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Nottingham’s Leigh Wood, 26-2 (16ko), will attempt to defend his WBA Featherweight title on Saturday night against dangerous Mexican Mauricio Lara, 25-2-1 (18ko), in a bout initially scheduled for the autumn of last year. Billed as Dance With The Devil, to reflect the danger Lara represents, this will be Wood’s second fight as belt holder following an upset victory over Can Xu in 2021 to win the interim championship and a thunderous, rousing knockout of Ireland’s Michael Conlon, again as the underdog, in the British fight of 2022. Despite being the champion, and fighting in his home town, Wood is the underdog with many of the top betting sites.

In agreeing to fight Lara, the man who beat Josh Warrington handsomely and looked well set to repeat the trick in their rematch, the bout curtailed by a cut to Lara’s eye sustained in an accidental head clash, Wood breaks one of boxing’s unwritten protocols: ‘every champion gets an easy homecoming defense.’ This is accepted wisdom, permitting a fighter to consolidate his championship and to fill the cash register before risking the belt that adds zeros to his checks against someone to whom he could lose. 

The fight takes place at the Nottingham Motorpoint Arena, a venue that frequently hosted Carl Froch fights on his long march to world titles, and was the setting for Wood’s remarkable off-the-floor win against Conlon. However, in one of boxing’s many vagaries, this will be Wood’s first fight as the fully-fledged champion.

Wood Ready To Prove People Wrong

There is, therefore, spirit in Woods’ acceptance of Lara as a voluntary challenger. The WBA is not mandating this fight. Wood ascended to the full WBA champion status in December when previous incumbent, veteran Leo Santa Cruz, finally admitted after four years without boxing at featherweight, that he would relinquish the crown. Clarity for the history books, for Leigh Wood and more meaning for the fight with Lara. Selecting Lara is a refreshing move for fans too often served up mediocre match ups and instructed to be grateful by those selling the tickets. 

Fans are willing to indulge the easy homecoming concept, but will be enthralled and excited by Wood’s departure from the usual way of things. Aged 34, and having succeeded late at this level of competition, it could be argued Woods doesn’t have time to waste, but that is too simplistic a view. Unquestionably, outside a unification bout, Lara is the most difficult opponent Wood could have chosen. The boldness of the selection is to be applauded and offers a wider range of possibilities for those who like to bet on boxing. 

Wood himself, acknowledges the danger present in fighting the 24-year-old: “I didn’t have to fight him [Lara], this is a voluntary defense, but I want to test myself and I’m going to show him what I’m all about. I prefer being an underdog and I love proving people wrong.”

Odds of 23/10 are available with Betfair and Paddy Power on the Nottingham man to be the outright winner at the time of writing, with 2/1 and 9/4 the wider market average.

Styles Suggest A Wild Fight

Stylistically, there is a high probability of an entertaining and wild encounter. Both protagonists are aggressive and sometimes reckless in their offence. Wood showed in his bout with Conlan (WKO12) that he can carry power into the later rounds. He paid a heavy price staying in the fight to that point. Floored heavily in the first round, he was able to cling on through the punches that followed. Conlan is a cute shot selector, and set Wood up repeatedly at different points. It revealed Wood’s weaknesses – a lack of head movement and a tendency to leave his chin high when throwing his own jab and right cross - but also demonstrated his ability to regroup and a determination to succeed that is often underestimated in prize fights. 

The willingness to absorb punishment, to overcome adversity is shared by all boxers, but the seam of stubbornness runs deeper and thicker in some. Conlan was an outstanding amateur and looked likely to end the fight with one more piercing hook. Alas, for Conlan at least, it was a final shot he couldn’t find. 11 rounds later, Wood knocked him out of the ring and into the laps of those at ringside.

The takeaways? Wood has huge resilience and self-belief, but if he offers Lara the opportunities he presented Conlan, the Mexican has the finishing power to succeed where Conlan fell a punch or two short. In the fight which brought Lara to the attention of a wider boxing public, his breakout stoppage win of the then unbeaten IBF Featherweight champion Josh Warrington, the Mexican was swift to try and capitalize on his first clear breakthrough in the fourth round. 

Peppering a stunned Warrington with left hooks and right hands, a mighty left hook flooring the Leeds man heavily. Howard Foster reluctantly allowed the champion to continue, but it may have served Warrington better had it been waved off there and then. More punishment ensued and while Warrington deserves credit for hanging tough as long as he did, and as surprising has his difficulties may have been, it should have been stopped sooner. A lot of what made Warrington, Warrington was lost that night. 

Lara absorbed some shots himself; Warrington landed several fast combinations throughout, but simply didn’t punch strongly enough to deter the then 22-year-old. On several occasions Lara’s left hook proved the most destructive punch and it was a left hook that finished the fight in the ninth round. He disguises the punch well, throwing like a body shot, but then changing trajectory to land to the head. A gap Wood left Conlon repeatedly. It is a flaw Wood and his trainer Ben Davison will need to have addressed if he is to escape the dangers of the inevitable early trading.

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Can Lara Make His More Varied Offense Count?

There is scope to believe Lara can breakthrough here, if the two do trade, he seems to have the edge in power. He demolished veteran Jose Sanmartin in the third round after a sloppy start with a similar left hook and floored Emilio Sanchez in the first round with a right hand and stopped him in the second with brutal hooks. He arrived at the Warrington fight, which happened without fans in the midst of the pandemic a full two years ago, bristling with confidence. He has, on the back of that win, and subsequent performances, grown still further in self-belief and has become ever more aggressive. He isn’t precise, he misses. And he leaves his own chin available too when he holds his feet and swings like Babe Ruth, but there seems an inherent sturdiness to him. A sense of unflinching certainty.

Despite this conventional aggression, he is a mobile, almost hyper-active, fighter. He does change angles and will make Wood, who tends to walk forward, reset his own feet in order to throw, but will then meet that fire with his own or launch attacks from long distance, rushing in behind a leaping jab or a massive right hand. It renders opponents unsettled, unsafe at distance, forced to walk forward and then meet with power shots swung from either wide angles or down the middle. An exciting, occasionally chaotic and fan-friendly confection of styles. 

It isn’t difficult to conclude Lara has the more varied offence, that his strengths play well against Wood’s weaknesses. He could prove to be better in Wood’s areas of perceived strength too. Heavier puncher with both hands, naturally stronger and at 24, the fresher, younger man too – despite a face that suggests many miles travelled. As the 6/13 favourite for the outright win with many betting sites, and with a growing reputation as a puncher, consensus is pointing toward a stoppage victory for the visitor. Round group betting offers 6/5 for Lara to win the title between rounds one and six. A conclusion which insults Wood’s ruggedness and overlooks his climb from the canvas versus Conlon too. 

Inherent in Lara’s style, and evident in his recent performances, are the opportunities he affords his opponents. Despite Warrington’s poor display he hit Lara flush several times, Sanchez, though overwhelmed inside three rounds, winded him to the body. It is possible, like many before him, that Lara has grown a little intoxicated on his own power. Too reliant on it, arrogant perhaps. In interviews, Wood characterises this as a wildness, proposing that it offers gaps he can capitalize on. 

He showed he is willing to walk through punishment in order to land in previous contests, but Lara is the biggest puncher he has yet faced. If he relies on fortitude and doesn’t move his head, those early round odds will prove good value. On the leading betting apps odds of 5/2 are available on rounds one to four, which is narrow given Wood will be freshest and roared on by thousands of his followers.

Where Should the Smart Money Go?

The pick? Lara to start incredibly fast, not quite finish the courageous Brit, endure some artillery in return and then make a second breakthrough in the middle rounds with Wood tiring. Only a narrow 5/2 is available on the best betting apps on Lara to win by TKO/KO Rounds 5-8, I’d cover by backing the fight not to go the distance at 1/4 and look for odds on an opening round knockdown for either fighter.

About the Author

David Payne for Bookies.com
David Payne
David Payne has been a boxing writer and reporter for two decades. He has featured at TheSweetScience.com and is a regular contributor to LoveSportRadio. You can find his latest news, opinions and insight at BoxingWriter.co.uk.