Leigh Wood fearless ahead of next fight vs. Mauricio Lara in 2023 WBA featherweight boxing bout

When WBA Featherweight Champion Leigh Wood steps into the ring at Nottingham Arena on Saturday to take on Mexican power-puncher Mauricio Lara, he will be perfectly prepared – physically and mentally. And even though all his energy bars are full, an almighty boost of energy is also available to him.

The trigger for this energy boost? Doubt.

Wood (26-2, 16 KOs) was not expected to win the British Championship. He stopped Reece Mold to win one. Wood wasn’t supposed to win the “regular” WBA belt. He stopped Xu Can in the last lap to win a second title. Wood shouldn’t hit Michael Conlan. He stopped Conlan in an epic fight that would later be named Ring Magazine’s Fight of the Year 2022.

MORE: Watch Leigh Wood vs. Mauricio Lara on DAZN

No one would have blamed Wood for having a market shakeout on his first assignment in 2023. Instead, he volunteers to defend himself against the division’s biggest puncher.

“Not easy fights,” Wood told The Sporting News. “You should always challenge yourself. No matter what you do in life, don’t be afraid to face the challenges. That brings out the best in you. Particularly [in boxing]; It’s the fans that make the sport, so keep the fans happy. The fans want to see these fights and I believe fighters should always test themselves.

“The [Michael] Conlan fight for example – fight of the year; two fighters who wanted to win more than anything. We risked everything and gave everything that night. It was a great build; Everything around him had a great fighting spirit, and the fans loved it. Why not keep that momentum going? Why not continue testing yourself? Why not take on these challenges?”

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Well, SkyBet lists Lara (25-2-1, 18 KOs) as the -250 favorite to capture his first world title. The 24-year-old KO machine from Mexico City made her mark when she knocked out fellow Woods fellow Josh Warrington (KO 9) in February 2021. And while a rematch ended in a disappointing technical draw, Lara went on after a headbutt to score two harrowing third-round knockouts in 2022.

However, Wood, recently promoted to full-fledged WBA title holder, is completely unfazed by his opponent’s fearsome reputation and punching power.

MORE: Everything you need to know about Wood vs. Lara

“First of all, I can punch myself and I can box,” said the 34-year-old champion. “I have the discipline to stick to a game plan; discipline to push hard; Discipline to give 100 percent [in training]; Discipline to stick to a diet. Discipline is the most important thing in martial arts.

“You can see Lara doing the same thing every time. You can see how I adapt to win and that will make all the difference on the night. It’s up to Lara and how he handles it. If he approaches the fight like he normally does; he is very ruthless; he makes a lot of mistakes. If he comes to me like all the other fighters, it will be an early night. I’ll be surprised if it gets past the halfway mark at all. It’s up to him. He might get scared. He might start questioning himself and stop doing what he normally does, then I’ll start pressuring him. I’ll get the job done no matter how it comes.”

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Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing

It’s impossible to overstate how important Wood’s home support was in his last fight against Conlan. Even when he fell behind early in that fight, they refused to be silenced. And as Wood came yelling back, they got louder and louder and louder, with the decibel level peaking as Conlan was thrown out of the ring in that unforgettable climax.

MORE: Watch Leigh Wood vs. Mauricio Lara on DAZN

It’s very likely that it will take Wood a lot of fighting spirit and that loyal fan base to get him through some rough patches this Saturday. If he emerges victorious, the champion will attempt to reward his city’s loyalty with a massive event in a 30,000-seat football stadium.

“Yeah, obviously I’m not looking past Lara…I’m thinking about Lara,” Wood said seriously. “I did everything I had to do, ticked all my boxes and am confident in executing my game plan. I’ll say I’ll get through this fight – I’ll win this fight.

“My next fight is the fight on the town square, no matter who is in the other corner. I don’t really care. Whether that’s Warrington, Conlan – if he can still win a world title – or [IBF champ Luis Alberto] Lopez. I don’t really care. It’s just ticking that box, but for now, Warrington looks like the front runner. It’s a great meeting of two sports cities; Forrest and Leeds as well. It would be a great atmosphere and it would be sold out.”

Wood made it clear that the City Grounds fight trumps New York, Las Vegas or any other boxing stronghold. But to imprison him, he must defeat an enraged challenger determined to put him to the test.

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