Wood-Lara set for September 24

Leigh Wood will defend his WBA(regular) Featherweight World Title against Mauricio Lara at the Motorpoint Arena Nottingham on Saturday September 24(DAZN)

Wood (26-2, 16 KOs) memorably stopped Michael Conlan in the 12th and final round of his epic first defense of the WBA 126-pound title back in March, knocking the Irishman out of the ring in brutal fashion to end their Fight of the Year battle.

‘Leigh-thal’ was heavily dropped in the opening round and looked to be heading towards his third loss in the pros before brilliantly fighting back to earn a stunning win that will be talked about for many years to come.

After a fight with WBA ‘Super’ Champion Leo Santa Cruz failed to transpire, in an incredibly gutsy move, Wood has chosen to prove himself against one of the most feared knockout artists in world boxing.

Lara (24-2-1, 17 KOs) floored and ruthlessly finished Josh Warrington in a sensational upset behind closed doors at The SSE Arena, Wembley in February 2021, ending the IBF Featherweight World Champion’s unbeaten record.

‘Bronco’ rematched Warrington in front of a sold-out Headingley Stadium in Leeds seven months later, but a nasty cut over the left eye of the Mexican in round two caused by an accidental clash of heads resulted in the contest ending in a technical draw.

The power-punching 24-year-old blitzed Emilio Sanchez in three rounds earlier this year on the undercard of Roman Gonzalez vs. Julio Cesar Martinez in another destructive show of brute force to put the 126-pound division on notice.

Rossington’s IBO Lightweight title holder Maxi Hughes (25-5-2, 5 KOs) aims to continue his incredible run of form when he takes on Sheffield’s former IBF Featherweight World Champion Kid Galahad (28-2, 17 KOs) in a Yorkshire derby.

‘Maximus’, who is undefeated since November 2019, landed the IBO crown with a shutout points win over dangerous Mexican Jovanni Straffon in September last year before making a successful first defense against Ryan Walsh in March.

Galahad will be looking to return to winning ways up at Lightweight after suffering a shock knockout loss to Spanish veteran Kiko Martinez in what was supposed to be a routine maiden defense of his IBF title at the Sheffield Arena in November 2021.

Denaby Main’s Terri Harper (12-1-1, 6 KOs) leaps up in weight to challenge Scotland’s Hannah Rankin (12-5, 3 KOs) for her IBO and WBA Super-Welterweight World Titles in an intriguing England vs. Scotland clash.

Former IBO and WBC Super-Featherweight World Champion Harper lost her titles at the hands of the USA’s Alycia Baumgardner on the undercard of Galahad vs. Martinez last year before landing the WBA Intercontinental Lightweight Title against Yamila Belen Abellaneda in March.

Rankin captured gold by decisioning Maria Lindberg over 10 rounds at the Tottenham Hotspur FC Banqueting Hall in November 2021 before defending her belts against Mexico’s Alejandra Ayala at The SSE Hydro, Glasgow in May.

“I maybe have a handful of fights left and I want them to be my biggest,” said Wood. “I want to be tested. I’m filling arenas now and I want to keep that momentum going. Every fight should be a step forward, not backwards. Mauricio Lara is dangerous but high risk high reward, I’m confident I can do what Josh Warrington couldn’t do and get the job done.”
“I’m very excited,” said Lara. “This is the opportunity that I have worked so hard for and I am not going to miss it. I am aware that Leigh Wood is a great fighter, but no one is going to take away the possibility of me becoming a World Champion. I’m going to England for the third time and it’s like I’m fighting at home.”

Warrington on fight with Lara: ‘You can’t afford to slip up’

Josh Warrington is all too aware that he can’t afford to slip up against Mexico’s Mauricio Lara at The SSE Arena, Wembley on Saturday February 13 if he is to secure mega fights against the likes on Xu Can and Gary Russell later this year.

‘The Leeds Warrior’ (30-0, 7 KOs) makes his long-awaited return to the ring after a 16 month absence, live on Sky Sports in the UK and on DAZN in the U.S. and more than 200 countries and territories, knowing that a win will pave way to the biggest year of his career to date.

“The next fight is always the most important one,” said Warrington. “You can’t afford to slip up. For my legacy as a fighter, I want to be known as someone who went in there and beat the best. This is the pinnacle of my career. Nobody in the boxing world ever thought I’d get to this stage. All of the big fights are there in front of me. I’m ready to take on the bigger names.

“It’s going to be good to get back. It has been mentally testing. There’s been dates that have changed many times. It’s been last April, then last May, last June, last August, last October and last December. It won’t feel like I’m back until I step through them ropes. It won’t feel like I’m back until that first bell rings. It’s been frustrating but now I’m ready to go.”

Warrington has become accustomed to fighting in front of thousands of his army of fans over the years in his native Leeds and beyond, but the Featherweight kingpin will make his famous ‘Marching On Together’ ring walk in front of a handful of officials, TV crew and promotional staff next week, a strange scenario that he has been mentally preparing for.

“For the last six or seven years, I’ve headlined shows in Leeds and Manchester. I’ve always boxed in front of big numbers. When I first came through, it was smaller crowds on the small hall scene. I’ve had a taste of that, but I’ve got used to fighting in front of those big numbers. I’d say it wasn’t until September that I kind of thought to myself, ‘it might have to be behind closed doors’. I kept on thinking, ‘we can wait a little bit longer for the crowds to be back’.

“For me, when I come out of those doors, I turn and I look to the crowd. I get in the ring and I look down to all of the people around the ringside and up in the stands. I meet them eye to eye and then I know its on. They’re there with me. During the fight I can feel the passion and feel the energy. they’re not just any fans, my fans are f***ing crazy!

“Without them there, it’s going to be different. I understand that. But ultimately, when that first bell rings, I’ve got a man stood in front of me who’s trying to stop me from going where I want to be, trying to take food out of my mouth, my kids’ mouth. I have to just focus on beating that man and moving on. For the last couple of months, I’ve been visualizing what it will be like to walk out in the empty auditorium. You’ve still got to be able to switch on.”

Warrington vs. Lara tops Matchroom’s first show of 2021, Manchester Super-Featherweight contender Zelfa Barrett (24-1, 15 KOs) defends his IBF Intercontinental Title against Spain’s former Super-Bantamweight World Champion Kiko Martinez (41-9-2, 29 KOs) in the chief support bout, Nottingham’s Leigh Wood (23-2, 13 KOs) clashes with unbeaten Doncaster man Reece Mould (13-0, 6 KOs) for the vacant British Featherweight Title, fast-rising Sheffield Super-Lightweight talent Dalton Smith (6-0, 5 KOs) sees action, Leeds Featherweight Hopey Price (3-0, 1 KO) meets Zahid Hussain (16-1, 2 KOs) and Keighley Featherweight Ibrahim Nadim (2-0) steps up against Jonny Phillips (5-5, 2 KOs).

Photo: Matchroom Boxing