Leigh Wood dramatically rescued victory from what increasingly looked certain to be a defeat by stopping Josh Warrington in the seventh round at the Sheffield Arena to retain his WBA featherweight title.
The champion was sufficiently behind on the scorecards and struggling against his domestic rival, and to the extent that he was being made to look lethargic and underprepared.
Bleeding from by his right eye and being repeatedly hurt and thoroughly outworked, he suddenly hurt Warrington with a right to the chin, and clinically finished him to not only extend his reign as champion but to put Warrington’s future in doubt.
Wood had made the first defence of his title when behind on the scorecards and yet thrillingly stopping Michael Conlan in the 12th and final round of their fight last year. His power and the memory of that victory meant that he continued to pose a threat to Warrington, 32, and yet even then the nature of their fight’s conclusion came as a significant surprise.
The aggressive Warrington had started at a typically fast pace. During the first round he landed a left hand when targeting both head and body; they also exchanged strong right hands.
A left to the body from the 35-year-old Wood punished Warrington in the second when the challenger attempted to close the distance between them. Wood also countered him with a left to the chin, and took two further right hands, the first from in close and the second from range.
If Wood had won that round it was the last time he succeeded until the end of the seventh. Warrington forced him back towards the ropes and had varied success when he started letting his hands go; he also landed a left hand, a right from in close, continued to work Wood’s body and landed another right when Wood was on his way in. His intelligent pressure was repeatedly working – he absorbed punishment while targeting the champion’s body and then landed a powerful right-left combination to Wood’s head.
A jab and a body punch during the fourth were further demonstrations of Warrington controlling the pace at which they were fighting. Wood – perhaps the more cultured of the two – was uncomfortable and short of ideas, and it repeatedly showed when Warrington landed a further right, a left to both body and head and a right again. From behind his high guard he also landed a jab and a right hand as a cut opened by Wood’s right eye; Wood, unsuccessfully fighting from a southpaw stance, was being convincingly outworked.
Some cleaner punching from Wood at the start of the fifth was followed by Warrington landing another right hand and then taking a body punch and responding with a left. Warrington then hurt Wood with a right hand that tested his balance, and hurt him again with a left and another right.
Wood’s complaints, during the sixth round, that Warrington was aiming for the back of his head showed how disheartened he was becoming. When he swung and missed with a left hand it showed his lethargy, which seemed increasingly likely to lead to defeat.
Instead in the seventh, after Warrington landed three lefts that made him look so much stronger than his opponent – he was also deducted a point by the referee Michael Alexander for punching behind the head – a right hand from Wood to Warrington’s chin transformed their fight. He followed hurting his challenger by landing a left and then another right, and with Warrington then struggling, a further right hand sent him on his way to the canvas, and a left hurt him again when he was already on his way down.
The round was concluding when Warrington was hurt, potentially presenting him with additional time to recover. Alexander instead rightly detected how much he was hurt, waving the fight over, and in the process ignoring Warrington’s protests.
“I’ve been a legitimate two-time world champion,” said Wood, who earlier this year lost his title to Mauricio Lara. The Mexican was similarly behind and struggling when he suddenly stopped Wood in the seventh; Wood recovered it in a rematch only three months later. “I’m one fight away; I want to get my fairytale ending [at Nottingham Forest’s City Ground].”
Warrington had already declined from the fighter who as the underdog had once so impressively defeated Lee Selby to win the IBF title and defended it against Carl Frampton. After losing to his domestic rival and suffering another heavy knockout – Lara had stopped him in 2021 – he will likely find opportunities at world level out of reach.
“I felt good,” said Warrington, who was leading 58-56, 59-55 and 59-55 on the scorecards of the three ringside judges. “I’m a bit disappointed. I feel let down [about Alexander’s intervention]. That’s two losses on the bounce [Warrington lost to Luis Alberto Lopez, another Mexican, last December.]. I don’t feel it’s done me justice.”