Leigh Wood savoured the continuation of his “Cinderella story” as he signed off from the featherweight division by retaining his world title with a dramatic stoppage of Josh Warrington.
Wood revealed his battle with the scales had been as tough as the fight for the WBA crown in Sheffield, where Warrington’s bullish flurries put him up on the scorecards ahead of the second half of the bout.
Nursing a cut and swelling by his right eye, Wood remained composed and flipped the script at the end of the seventh with a savage right hook and a burst of punches that left Warrington flat on his back.
Referee Michael Alexander halted the contest despite Warrington’s howls of protestation as Wood celebrated his 28th win from 31 fights, adding another chapter to his late career resurgence.
It was not too long ago Wood was fighting down the card on small hall shows, while a points defeat against Jazza Dickens in February 2020 left him short of options at the wrong side of 30.
But a year later he was the British champion and, within 18 months of his loss to Dickens, Wood claimed a world title as he reaped the rewards of linking up with Ben Davison, Tyson Fury’s former trainer.
The 35-year-old said: “It’s some turnaround, kind of a Cinderella story. My team has changed me as a fighter. I know I wouldn’t have won the world title without them.
“I probably wouldn’t have won the British title without them. The time I had before that completely changed me as a fighter, changed my perception on boxing and how I view it and how I operate.”
Wood is no stranger to adversity after following up his upset win over Can Xu to become world champion with a stunning final-round stoppage of Michael Conlan last year when behind on the judges’ scorecards.
He was brutally stopped by Mauricio Lara in February but went straight back into the lion’s den for a rematch three months later and regained his world title, while his latest win brings plenty of options.
A fight at the City Ground, the home of his beloved Nottingham Forest, is the priority, but it will not be another defence of his title as boiling his 5ft 7in frame to nine stone has become too difficult.
He said: “This was a great fight, but am I ever in a dull fight? I’m not, so on that basis I think I’ve got the pick of the litter.
Wood was coy when asked whether a City Ground fight would be his last, adding: “I’m 35, I sacrificed lot to get here.
“There’s going to be a massive void in my life after boxing so we’ll see. We’ll do the City Ground, but the only other thing I can think of (after that) is a Las Vegas fight.”
Warrington came into this showdown having lost his IBF title last December but, in a cauldron-like atmosphere, the Leeds fighter controlled proceedings before the momentum was switched in an instant.
After his third defeat in 35 fights, Warrington, who insisted the stoppage was premature, intends to carry on and suggested he will also move up to super-featherweight and pursue a rematch against Wood.
He said: “I’m devastated. I was cruising the fight, up on the scorecards and I switched off for a split second. Maybe I got up too quickly, but my senses were all with me, I heard the bell go.
“I thought would have been at least given an opportunity to sit down (at the end of the round). I dominated most of those rounds. I just know I’ve still got plenty in the tank.
“This was probably my last fight at featherweight, I still make it comfortable but it’s been a long time and my better performances in sparring have come when I’ve been a bit heavier.”