Well, that was spectacular. Leigh Wood’s meeting with Mauricio Lara wasn’t the incessant war we perhaps anticipated, but it was nonetheless a bruising fight. It gave us momentum swings and, when Lara landed a huge left at the end of the seventh, a seemingly out-of-nowhere showstopper ending.
The story ultimately was that, skills-wise, Wood did end up looking the better boxer. For long stretches of the fight he had Lara where he wanted him. By the seventh, the Mexican was beginning to look pretty battered, but he never gave up or lost focus. Wood, on the other hand, did a bit, and committed an error he really didn’t need to be making. Against a puncher like Lara, that was enough.
It was one of those fights were both men can learn lessons. Let’s take a look at what some of them might be.
It’s probably fair to say that, despite the loss, the boxing lesson was for large parts dished out by Wood. For the majority of the seven rounds, he was on top, having figured out how to make Lara come to him but pnunishing him for trying. That isn’t to say that Lara’s win was a fluke, or anything like that. But it would certainly be fair to say that even someone with his power can’t live on one-shot victories like that, if he wants to continue to win at world level. So what does he need to learn?
The first, and probably most important, thing should be to figure out how to use his feet and his head together. Lara’s head movement before the punching begins is not bad, but he had a problem here. His previous opponents had mostly been about his size, or wanting to fight in close themselves. That meant that meant that they’d start throwing when he was already close enough to leap in. He’d just have to hold his ground, slip a few shots, and then jump forward. Wood, however, is both considerably longer than him and was using that range. It became clear pretty soon that while Lara can jab and move his head, he doesn’t step in while doing so. He’d avoid a few shots from Wood, but be no closer to being able to safely throw anything of his own. When he tried, he’d find himself lined up for intercepting shots,
The way Wood did set those up was textbook. His jab was on point. He wasn’t throwing it hard much, but instead he’d let it go in twos and threes to distract and blind Lara to what was coming. The Mexican likes to use his opponents’ jab as a trigger to throw, so singles would have been dangerous, but Wood avoided that danger brilliantly. Throwing it in bunches, and following it with a straight right or a cuffing left hook, meant any time Lara tried that, he was walking on to something. Because he was trying to step in as he did, Wood didn’t even really have to throw them that hard to have an effect. He was also doing well to keep himself safe afterwards, pivoting out after the hooks, and slipping under much of Lara’s work if he had to stay close after a right hand. Normally almost cartoonishly aggressive, Lara became hesitant very quickly.
Four rounds in and WHAT A FIGHT #WoodLara pic.twitter.com/vQykFNmQpZ— DAZN Boxing (@DAZNBoxing) February 18, 2023
That effect was exacerbated by the bodywork. Lara throws his own very well, but on this evidence, he doesn’t really bother defending it at all. He claimed afterwards that although he felt it, he was never hurt to the body. That seems like a fairly obvious lie though- he was visibly wincing after taking some shots from about the third round on. After the fight, he seemed to struggle to lift his arms, so he may have injured a rib, or something in that area. In any case, future opponents will certainly have noted that, so he must learn to bring his elbows down on occasion to block that route.
So, with all that going against him, how did he pull out the win? If it wasn’t a lucky shot, what was it?
Well, although he did show some serious limitations in technical depth, he also showed strong focus, awareness, and fight IQ. As mentioned, Wood was combining straight rights with some cuffing check hooks to send Lara falling past him (most to the head, some to the body). The problem was, as the fight went on and he became less nimble, he’d end up turning on the spot rather than sliding out as he threw them. Lara seemed to spot this, and committed to throwing hard left hooks of his own in reply.
This was a gamble, because he couldn’t be sure when Wood was going to hook. To land, he still needed to jump forward, and when the straights came, they were wobbling him pretty hard. Still, it was a calculated gamble, and at the end of the seventh, it paid off. Wood once again threw a hook without disengaging, and although it landed hard, the response was far harder. He went down, and although he got up, his trainer Ben Davison wasn’t happy with what he saw and threw in the towel. With ten seconds left in the round that may have seemed premature, but replays showed he was wobbling and slow to respond to the ref, so it was a good call.
A HUGE left hook ends the fight and crowns a new world champion #WoodLara pic.twitter.com/JtCh01k0Oz— DAZN Boxing (@DAZNBoxing) February 18, 2023
So what can Wood learn from this? At 34, he isn’t likely to retool his whole game. He doesn’t need to though. It would be easy to say that the lesson here would be to stay focused, not relax, but it’s a little deeper than that. The key is a little bit of awareness, particularly of himself. As one or another fighter tires, the landscape of a fight changes, and Wood (and his coaching team) just missed a little bit of what was happening.
As mentioned, although it seemed to come out of nowhere, Lara had been trying that left hook for a little while. Not only was it not the first one he threw, it wasn’t the first he landed. Wood had been a little bit shaken by a solid one about a minute before, and a couple of others came close. Even a little earlier in the fight, he’d begun to take the odd one- it didn’t start in the seventh. Put simply, if Wood and his team had been a little more aware of the loss of his own movement, he could have stopped throwing the hooks, and been a whole lot less vulnerable.
There’s a more general lesson for all of us to take from this, too. What we’re talking about is not some huge, egregious mistake. It’s not a deep failure by Wood or his team. For them, it’s something to note for next time. For us, it’s a reminder: combat sports can turn on the tiniest details. The difference between Wood seeing Lara sail past him after throwing a hook, and being caught by the counters, was inches. Those inches didn’t disappear all in one go, either. He didn’t go from doing it right, to suddenly doing it wrong. He simply got a bit more tired round by round, until he consistently wasn’t safe anymore. That’s how it slipped by.
So: lessons will hopefully be learned by both sides. It was a cracking fight, and neither walks away from it diminished. We’ll see them both again.
Eddie Hearn, the promoter of both men, indicated that Wood did have a rematch clause, so most likely that’ll be next. Both will quite honestly fancy their chances next.
Beyond that, featherweight is an extremely strong division at the moment, with good potential fights for both. Whoever emerges with the belt in the end will probably want to unify with their fellow champions. At the moment, those are Rey Vargas, Luis Alberto Lopez, and the winner of another upcoming firefight, Robeisy Ramirez vs Isaac Dogboe. There’s a stack of others behind that, though. It’s an exciting future.
For Lara, though, there’s some other unfinished business. Former foe Josh Warrington was ringside for this fight, and they really seem to hate each other. With Lara jumping out of the ring to spit at Warrington immediately after his victory, something he happily admitted to, it seems both men have a score to settle. If it doesn’t happen next, it’ll surely happen soon.
️ "Lara spat at me!" - @J_Warrington talks after #WoodLara pic.twitter.com/WppeoCLaWy— Matchroom Boxing (@MatchroomBoxing) February 18, 2023