Newly crowned British Featherweight boxing champion Leigh Wood took time out to speak exclusively to me about his title and the exciting times ahead.
The 32-year-old Gedling man used all his experience to knock out Reece Mould in the ninth round, inflicting a first career defeat upon the young pretender. Mould started strongly and was certainly on point with his jab in the opening rounds, however, Wood stemmed the Doncaster man’s momentum powerfully in the fourth by sending him to the canvas, courtesy of a beautiful uppercut.
Despite being bloodied and shaken Mould regained composure and made a great account of himself, constantly attempting to gain centre of the ring. His intent was clear, getting close up and in the face of Wood to negate the potency of his opponent’s fierce punching power.
Experience would be the telling factor in the battle for the Lonsdale belt as Leigh Wood, a former Commonwealth champ, possessing the propensity to switch to southpaw, never looked in danger. Mould, despite landing some nice, albeit sporadic shots, succumbed to his fate in round nine. Wood floored the 26-year-old again with a sweet left on the chin, but the best was yet to come as he lived up to his “Leigh-Thal” nickname. The contest ended in devastating fashion as Wood unleashed a whirlwind of shots from which Mould was unable to recover from; the belt was coming back to Nottingham!
And so, to the man himself: I asked Leigh Wood about the emotional ring walk tribute to Nicky Booth and Gary Winning: “I think I owed it to Nicky and Gary to highlight their services to Boxing and the City of Nottingham, Gary was a great bloke, always giggling and very funny, a person you loved being around. Obviously, I was a huge fan of Nicky growing up, it was the least I could do.”
Having been Commonwealth, and now British Champion I asked the million-dollar question, one that the fans of Leigh Wood will pay great attention to: How realistic is a shot at the world title looking now? After a short pause, Leigh gave the reply which will bring elation to the people of Nottingham, “It’s 100% going to happen!”
The conversation returned to Saturday’s win at Wembley Arena and in particular Reece Mould’s game plan. I referred to Mould’s, in your face, close up style and Wood was quick to explain how he’d done his homework on the Doncaster man. “He (Mould) brings the same to every fight, he’s got shot’s that he likes, which he’s successful with; he was tidier and better than I’d seen him before, but I was better prepared and more experienced. I’d been sparring with both Welterweights and Lightweights in the build-up, the Welterweights were trying to take my head off whilst the Lightweights replicated the extensive pressure expected on fight night.
I delved a little deeper, focussing on Leigh’s ability to perform and deliver on the big stage; clearly a man for such occasions as seen on Saturday and also in the Commonwealth bouts. I asked Leigh how he approached such contests mentally? “I don’t really know mate, it’s just something I’ve done since I was a kid, I love fighting and the challenge of fighting. When I hear people say things like my opponent is dangerous or this kid will beat you, I get up for it. Likewise, if they say that I’m gonna win easy, it doesn’t inspire me. I was the younger brother and hung around with the older kids growing up, they’d tell me I couldn’t do stuff, my response was, right then, I’ll show you I can do this. So, if I read comments predicting that my opponent will knock me out in five rounds, I see that and think, right then, let’s have it!” Wood is clearly a driven character and one that loves a challenge.
It’s been highly publicised regarding Leigh Wood’s decision to switch trainers and team up with Ben Davison, I wanted to know if the thought process behind this move was engineered as a path to the world title? “Ben had this persona and reputation of being Fury’s trainer but now he’s created his own identity and rightly so. He’s not only got me but also Josh Taylor, Lee McGregor, and others, he’s got a good stable which is going to be one of the best stables in Britain. For me personally and to answer your question, it’s extremely important to have Ben on board. I like the way he views things, sets things up and how he prepares me. Since I’ve been down there with him, he’s changed my whole mindset and my perception of boxing.
Next came a topic which has always intrigued me, the aftermath of defeat. In reference to only his second career loss, to Jazza Dickens in the Golden Contract tournament, I asked Leigh how much he learned from that defeat? “You learn more from a loss than a win because you think that little needs to be changed if you’re victorious, but when you lose you kind of over analyse and you don’t want that feeling again. It’s like when you burn your hand, why did I burn my hand? Because I touched something hot…don’t do that again!” A simple but brilliant analogy when all’s said and done, further proof that Wood is still on a journey and certainly not yet at his destination.
Of course, given all that’s going off in the world it’d be remiss not to speak of fans in stadiums when the world title fight comes around. With that in mind I asked Leigh what it was like fighting behind closed doors, so to speak? “I’d love to fight at the City Ground for a world title, but I can’t see it being a vacant belt, therefore I’d be fighting a champion, on their terms and in a venue of their choice. As for last Saturday, I didn’t like it at all, I’ve always had a great following and I feel sorry for my fans who couldn’t be there. It felt like sparring at times but it’s one of those things that had to be done; if I have to do it again I will but I really want my crowd back.”
I brought the interview to a close with a subject that’s genuinely close to Leigh’s heart, Nottingham Forest. As always, he proudly wore the NFFC crest on his shorts, but this isn’t a token gesture or a ruse to hoodwink Reds supporters into backing his campaigns. Leigh Wood is a massive Forest fan who loves the club and its supporters. “We’re in good form and Chris Hughton’s mixed things up, given us confidence and we’re pushing up the table.” Leigh slipped into boxing mode as the intensity of his voice upped a gear: “We can’t afford to switch off at all, as long as we’re clear of relegation and we beat Derby the fans, like me, will be happy!”
There you have it; a lad from Gedling who’s the British title holder, loves Nottingham Forest and is poised to become world champion. Despite a day of relentless press requests and demands, he took time out to give Nottingham Sport this heartfelt and lengthy interview. If I was asked to describe Leigh Wood in just a solitary word, it would be “genuine!”
Thank you, sir, the world awaits.
*Article provided by Steve Corry (Nottingham Forest Correspondent).
Main image @MTKPerformance Wood and team celebrate a stunning victory to take the Lonsdale belt.