Leigh Wood believes Saturday’s world title defense could be his last as making the featherweight limit is becoming increasingly difficult for him.
Wood (27-3, 16 KOs), the WBA featherweight champion and ESPN’s No. 2 at 126 pounds, defends his title against English rival Josh Warrington (31-2-1, 8 KOs) on Saturday at the Sheffield Arena in Sheffield, England.
Wood, 35, managed his weight perfectly for his last outing in May, which resulted in an impressive performance as he contained and outpointed the dangerous Mauricio Lara after flooring him early on. The Mexican went into the fight as ESPN’s No. 1 at featherweight after stopping Wood in the seventh round of their first fight in February, but was stripped of the belt the day before for missing the weight.
“It gets harder every time to make the featherweight limit,” Wood told ESPN. “The last time against Lara was harder than before and Lara not making the weight made me feel even more sorry for myself. I know what it is like.
“I’m 35 now and I’ve been making this weight for a long time, it doesn’t get easier. I think it takes a little bit out of me and I would be stronger at junior lightweight, definitely. There’s nothing more I can cut, except if I was to cut an arm off.”
For Wood, the climax of his career could be at junior lightweight even if he beats Leeds native Warrington. Both are two-time world champions in the last phase of their careers looking to set up a big fight for next year.
“I said two more fights after I beat Lara, but it’s a fight-by-fight basis really,” Wood said. “I don’t want to retire from boxing until I’m the first boxer to headline at the City Ground in Nottingham. The timing meant we couldn’t do the Warrington fight there in the summer — the ground had a new pitch laid [before the English Premier League season started in August] and even the Nottingham Forest players couldn’t train on it.”
Joe Cordina (16-0, 9 KOs), the IBF junior lightweight champion, is a possibility for the winner of Saturday’s fight in Sheffield, as like Wood and Warrington he is promoted by Matchroom. Cordina defends his belt against Edward Vazquez on Nov. 4 in Monte Carlo, Monaco.
“My focus is on Josh Warrington but I’m confident and if I did move up Joe Cordina is a possibility, he’s a great fighter,” Wood told ESPN. “My dream is to fight at the City Ground, and I have to win this one to make it happen. It would have to be a unification fight or perhaps a rematch with Michael Conlan to keep me at featherweight.”
Wood’s career leapt from domestic to elite level when he knocked out Xu Can in the last round for the WBA world title in July 2021, before doing the same to Michael Conlan in 2022’s ESPN fight of the year. Despite his strong recent performances, Wood is aware that Warrington represents a different challenge.
“My discipline and patience was what I was pleased most about against Lara,” Wood told ESPN. “I had to stay switched on when there was not a lot happening because he likes to jump in and surprise you. I learned that the hard way in the first fight with him. Patience was also key in the second fight, not to go leaving myself open.
Woods believes he needs a different approach against Warrington because he’s a different style of a fighter.
“There are things he does well but there are areas I know I can exploit against him,” Wood said.
Wood insists the pressure is on Warrington this time after Warrington lost the IBF belt to Luis Alberto Lopez a year ago. Warrington, 32, was also stopped by Lara in 2021, broke his jaw in a hard-fought stoppage win over Kiko Martinez in 2022, and then lost a majority decision against to Lopez.
“There’s a lot of pressure on Josh for this one, he knows it will be very hard to come back from another defeat,” Wood said. “He’s not fought for a while and it favors me that I have momentum, I’m better when I’m active. This is my third fight inside eight months, activity has served me well through my career. I think Josh is boxing well, I don’t think he’s on the slide and he lost a close fight versus Lopez.
“There’s a lot on the line for both of us.”
On the undercard, Cecilia Braekhus — once the biggest star in women’s boxing — gets a chance to revive her career at the age of 42.
The Colombia-born, Norway-based boxer challenges Terri Harper for the WBA and vacant WBO junior middleweight titles after suffering two losses in her last three fights.
Braekhus (37-2, 9 KOs) lost back-to-back decisions to Jessica McCaskill for the undisputed welterweight championship in 2020 and 2021.
But Harper (14-1-1, 6 KOs), 26, from Doncaster not far from Sheffield, will be boosted by home support as well as her recent form and will be making a second WBA title defense.
She said: “I’ve got to take away her jab and stay busy. I believe I can stop her.”