For a fighter entering what he later described as the biggest bout of his life, Leigh Wood looked somewhere between stoic and apathetic as he walked to the ring on Saturday night at the Sheffield Arena. Contrasted with his opponent Josh Warrington, who screamed and waved his arms as “I Predict A Riot” by Kaiser Chiefs hit the speakers, Wood looked like he was strolling through the aisles of the supermarket.
As he waited for his formal announcement from the night’s MC, David Diamante, Wood disregarded the accepted practice of standing somewhere in your corner’s radius during the introduction. Rather, he wandered around with absent-looking eyes, figure-eighting through the smiling ring card girls and at times stepping right in front of the camera’s shot of Diamante, no doubt flustering the broadcast’s director. In retrospect, Wood’s demeanor might have been attributed to a hazardous weight cut the day prior, later admitting that he felt “groggy” at the weigh-in, and that he left his hotel room with a dry mouth and a fresh cold sore as his body’s immune system was no doubt taxed to its limits.
That may have been the physiological explanation, but Wood was also banking on a measure of calmness in the face of Warrington’s relentless intensity as a game plan. The dichotomy between their pre-fight energy played out in live action as well, and in real time, seemed as concerning for Wood as it did during his ringwalk. But Wood and his trainer Ben Davison would later reveal that in a general sense, their game plan was to use Warrington’s eagerness against him, capitalize on his exuberance to end the fight by knockout.
“I said when he works very hard for the moments, I will make him pay, and I did,” said Wood.
Save for a sharp right hook in the first round by Wood, the “moments” generally belonged to Warrington for the duration the fight actually lasted. By his own admission, Wood was a little out of sorts, partially from the residual effects of the weight cut, partially due to a shot behind the head early in the bout that he claimed had him feeling disoriented for large portions of the fight afterwards. Wood would later tell Carl Froch in an interview for his Froch On Fighting YouTube channel that he felt that he was transitioning out of exchanges sloppily, and Warrington was able to capitalize as a result.
Warrington battered Wood to the body, and landed a healthy dose of chopping right hands, putting about twelve rounds of punishment on Wood in roughly five rounds’ time. In Wood’s corner after five rounds, a stream of blood was flowing down his right cheek from a gash above his eye, swelling was becoming bulbous beneath that same eye, and blood was gurgling from his mouth as he responded to Davison’s calm advice to not paw with his jab anymore.
Watching Davison coach Wood is a fascinating case study, as Davison has been both praised and criticized for what is often a safety-first approach, particularly in his work with a returning Tyson Fury and Devin Haney. With those fighters, there was the feeling that the plan was to avoid all shots entirely if at all possible. With Wood, Davison concedes that not just some, but many shots will be taken, but that the fighter he describes as the “hardest pound for pound puncher” he’s ever felt can, and perhaps should absorb them if it provides a route for the consequential blow.
“(It was) risky, but I knew that if Lee was brave enough to punch with him that he’d find that shot, and that’s what happened,” said Davison at the post-fight press conference. “It was a risky game plan. There were moments that Josh came off better in those exchanges, but in the final moments that mattered, Lee found the shot that mattered and made the difference.”
That shot was found in the seventh round, after a messy beginning to the frame in which Warrington was penalized for the shots behind the head that Wood said bothered him earlier in the bout. As he was waiting in a neutral corner while Warrington was being admonished, Wood displayed the first show of emotion we’d seen from him all night, albeit in the most modest way possible, shrugging and turning his palms to the sky.
About two minutes later, now toying around with the southpaw stance as he had a few times throughout the night, Wood felt Warrington working too hard for a moment. With Warrington in a bull-rush of a frenzy flurrying to the body, Wood caught him with a perfect right hook that wobbled his legs and froze his feet. After two more quick shots, Warrington was on the canvas. He made it to his feet, but looked just the way he had after receiving the hook in the first place, and despite it being the end of the round, the referee decided it was best Warrington didn’t continue.
Prior to the knockout, the fight was so one-sided that Wood’s own promoter Eddie Hearn said he told DAZN broadcaster Tony Bellew that he “thought Wood was done.” But as Wood has shown in the past in his last-second knockout win over Michael Conlan and his dominant rematch victory over Mauricio Lara, Wood has genes that only a select few fighters are blessed with. The ability to see victory as not just possible but inevitable in moments when they would appear impossible to anyone else.
“I don’t know what it is about me, I ain’t got quit in me until that final bell goes,” said Wood. “It’s my attitude. It’s the same as my career, I didn’t get off to the best start.”
“Write me off all you want, I’m there until the end.”