YOU’D think when headlining a card in your hometown arena there would be some nerves. Even just the odd butterfly in the stomach. Not for Leigh Wood however, as the Nottingham man gave us access to the final couple of days before the defence of his Commonwealth title against Ryan Doyle on Friday at the Motorpoint Arena.
Wood is the picture of confidence. There’s no need for any digs, no mind games with his opponent. He’s not even bordering on arrogance. It’s just pure confidence with a big dose of excitement, as he fulfils a dream while bringing a major fight night back to the city for the first time since 2012. It’s as if he already knows the score and is just waiting for the rest of us to find out.
Whenever boxing is discussed in Nottingham, Carl Froch’s shadow looms large and rightly so. But, as Wood sits in one of the executive boxes in the City Ground, the home of the pair’s beloved Nottingham Forest he jokes: “I’d love to fight here. Just so I’ve got something he hasn’t got. Carl might have the 80,000 at Wembley but he hasn’t got the City Ground, so it’ll be one of the few things he hasn’t done.”
But after that fleeting glimpse into his possible future, he’s straight back to business and the prospect of facing Doyle. He adds, “I’m very excited. I’ve got so much more energy than usual this close to a fight, as I’m usually starving to make the weight but this time everything has been spot on. I cartwheeled all the way here from Gedling. A career best performance is on the way from me and I want to light up the Motorpoint Arena, so we can keep coming back again.
“There’s no extra butterflies for me. Instead of feeling like I’ve got the weight of the city on my shoulders, I feel like I’m on the shoulders of Nottingham and it’s lifting me up. I truly believe that this is going to bring out the best in me.”
Wood claimed the title with a superb stoppage of Abraham Osei Bonsu inside two rounds at the East of England Arena in Peterborough back in March. However he admits the victory wasn’t quite what he anticipated. Now with the fight against former champion Doyle, he knows that this is the chance for him to justify his spot and secure more big nights in front of his loyal faithful.
“I wasn’t as excited as I thought I would be after winning it. It didn’t feel how I thought it would to be honest. It was for the vacant title and I barely had to get out of first gear, but beating Doyle will legitimise the title for me, as he belongs at this level and then I really will deserve to be a Commonwealth champion,” he said.
“We’re well aware of what Ryan brings and we saw what Jordan did to him last time. But different styles make different fights and I’ll do something different to what Jordan Gill did. That’s been and gone and I’ve got to focus on me and not what he did last time. We’re very similar in many aspects, but different in others and no fight is ever the same.
The mention of Jordan Gill brings a smile to his face. The opening night of their double act couldn’t have gone much better, as both left with titles around their waist and plaudits coming their way. After going through difficult patches in their careers, with inactivity and injuries, both now appear as content as a fighter can be and are both reaping the rewards from years of hard work.
Gill moved first, joining forces with Dave Coldwell. The success was immediate and exemplified by his sensational performance against Doyle last October to win the title that is now in Wood’s possession. Wood saw the success and picked up the phone, gaining Coldwell as a manager and continuing his training with mentor Ian Grant.
Now as Wood faces Doyle, he needn’t go far for any advice. With the potential for the double act to keep going as a regular fixture, providing both stay on the winning track, Wood explained: “Me and Jordan have been through a lot together. There’s been plenty of ups and downs, but we’re both here.
“I went down to Peterborough when he was the headline and now he’s repaying the favour and coming to Nottingham for me. If we go back there next and keep taking turns to headline, I don’t mind, although I love fighting here and if we both continue to grow, then we’ll both do our own thing. Obviously it comes down to Eddie [Hearn, the promoter] and what sort of numbers we do on Friday, but for now I’m just thankful to be fighting regularly and in big fights.”
After his buoyant performance at the press conference, the focus switches to the weigh-in. Something that has never been easy for Wood. However, any doubts are settled, as he looks in phenomenal shape ahead of his homecoming.
He is a different fighter now and totally relaxed, not his usual demeanour on weigh-in day. The added bonus of Froch and the roars of many supporters who have come to see their new headline act, after years of waiting for another chance to have one, sees Wood swell with pride as he makes his way to the scales.
Doyle has no trouble either and the fight is on. Wood remarked: “I’ve barely even taken note of him. I looked him dead in the eye and it’s all business now, he knows the score as he done it plenty of times himself. I’ll be coming out on top though, no doubt about it.
“It’s been a good one today. I’ve struggled before at times with the limit but not today. I’m in great shape physically, but also mentally because I’m training for something worthwhile, not just for the sake of it. I’m ready now for Friday night.
“I’ve done the hard work in the gym, now it’s time to properly enjoy it but also make sure I don’t get too excited. It’s important to keep my composure from now right up to the fight. I’ve got to be patient, not rush when the cheers come my way and do the job professionally.”
He gets the thumbs up of approval from Froch, as “The Cobra” makes his way over to the cameras and answers questions from the press pack in the Intu Victoria Centre, which lies in the heart of the city. As for Wood he takes a minute behind the stage, hydrating and regaining his thoughts, as he looks to have his real breakthrough moment on Friday.
As Froch moves on, Wood adds: “We go way back, right to the amateur days when I was popping down and messing around in the gym, not taking it too seriously, whilst he was down there grafting and winning medals at the World Amateur Championships.
“I’ve followed his career from the beginning, then all the big cards with the world titles in the Arena and onto that special finale at Wembley Stadium. So now for me it’s great to have him by my side, talking me through things and telling me what to expect.”
‘Leigh-thal’ finishes: “It was a brilliant reception and I’m really intrigued but most importantly excited about Friday.”
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