Little over ten years ago I sat with a man in a pub who was a regular at the Phoenix Boxing Club in Gedling and he told me “there’s a kid coming through and he’s going to be a world champion”.
A big call from a guy who had trained with this youngster and been up close and personal, who had seen him in the flesh possess lightening hand speed and a commitment to training second to none, and when comparing him with those others he’d seen and sparred with on Burton Road in the gym, he even told me straight faced and quite boldly whilst looking into my eyes pint glass in hand “he’s better than Carl Froch”…
These sort of ‘wild’ statements you don’t forget, Froch by then was fighting the likes of Glenn Johnson & Andre Ward, preposterous I thought upon hearing, which is why from ever since his points win professional debut over six rounds against Chuck Jones at Clifton Leisure Centre in October 2011, I have keenly cast one eye over the career of Leigh Wood.
Like Froch, Wood schooled in Gedling and trained in Gedling, both from the same Phoenix club that has been in the same place for as long as I’ve been on the planet, both went to the same Gedling School that now sits a derelict site on Wollaton Avenue, both of NG4 by birth, both cut of the same locally made cloth, good family around them, good family men themselves, both becoming boxing champions of the world.
After his first loss against Gavin McDonnell in 2014, when Wood was just 26, thrown in for me perhaps too early for his first ever 12 round fight, against a solid and experienced competitor for the vacant British Super Bantamweight title, things haven’t been easy for Wood, making it in the game with a point to prove to everyone who doubted him, money never flourished like it did with others, despite winning a commonwealth title which in turn provided what seemed a last chance by the Golden Contract of MTK Global, thereafter however, Wood has flourished, a European featherweight title before reaching the semi-final of the lucrative Golden Contract against Jazza Dickens.
Despite battering the eye of Dickens, the fight went the way of the Liverpool born southpaw after ten rounds of boxing with a majority scorecard adjudging Dickens to have edged it, but Wood did proud against a man who would go on to win the final against Ryan Walsh, and whilst Dickens has since not fought at all, Wood has seen off Reece Mould in nine rounds to win the vacant Lonsdale belt, before taking on China’s WBA featherweight champ Xu Can on Saturday night with little more than six weeks to prepare, a shot at the world title, given a chance by well-known promoter Eddie Hearn, a shot taken, a shot given back in explosive ‘Leighthal’ style… Wood’s own shots too hot for Can, the favourite stopped for the first time in 21 fights, Wood laying siege in the final round of the fight, a bout in which the Brit dominated, to enforce the Referee to stop with seconds remaining. Britain’s newest world champion, Nottingham’s newest world champion, the Phoenix clubs newest world champion, and those comments made ten years ago in the Blacks Head Public House on Carlton Square? Well they were proved right too.
A last word for Wood now 25 wins and 2 defeats from his 27 fights, who’s twitter, social accounts and phone has BLOWN UP in the last couple of days since his famous win… He says “I want the biggest fight possible next. I want to test myself. I said last year that there’s three things I want to do and that’s win the British title, win the world title, and those boxes are ticked. The only thing left to do is to be the first person to headline at the City Ground.”
I’m pretty sure that next bout will take place at the very home of Wood’s favourite supported football club, and when he walks out Trentside to a packed City Ground holding the World Championship belt, it would be proof still that if you work hard enough and dream big enough and never give in whilst believing in yourself and your own ability, that dreams can certainly come true. A talented boxer that has done his city and his people proud. Leigh Wood, WBA featherweight champion of the world.
*Article provided by Daniel Peacock (Editor).
*Main image @itsleighwood WBA Champion of the world Nottingham’s Leigh Wood.