ON A wooden shelf that overlooks the main ring in Ben Davison’s Performance Centre gym sits a red and gold sombrero.
For the countless rounds of sparring, shadow boxing and hitting pads during this gruelling camp, the headwear has been there, ever-present in Leigh Wood’s peripheral vision. A constant reminder of the night his world came quite literally crashing down.
Only a few minutes after Davison had infamously climbed onto the apron to request the conclusion of his fighter’s encounter with Mauricio Lara, the powerful Mexican crossed the ring and bowed his head as he handed Wood the sombrero that he had worn on his ringwalk. It matched his shorts and boots; red trimmed with gold.
Wood, who was having his gloves removed at the time, nodded in appreciation. There were tears in his eyes and he could feel the frustration of what had just unfolded right down to his boots. That same sombrero is now his most literal source of motivation.
“It’s hard to look at,” Wood admits. “But that’s exactly why I want it there. It will motivate me for this rematch.
“I’ll probably wear it on my back to the ring, I won’t give it back because that’s probably a bit disrespectful but I’ll keep it after the fight.
“He gave me it as a mark of respect after the fight but for me it’s just a constant reminder when things are getting hard, I can have a little glance up there and remind myself what I’m doing this for. If it gets a bit hard I just think ‘keep pushing’. I’m going to put this right.”
Not 14 weeks have passed since that night, when Wood’s impressive performance across the first half of the fight was undone with one savage seventh-round left hook from Lara. The pair were both throwing the same shot at the time but given Lara is one of the division’s biggest punchers, there would be only one winner.
Wood climbed to his feet, regained his balance and did his best to persuade referee Michael Alexander he could continue for the final 10 seconds of the round. The official bought the plea, but Davison didn’t, tossing the towel six feet into Alexander’s arms. Wood immediately remonstrated with his coach but, given the contractual circumstances, he now fully understands the decision.
“Fighters need saving from themselves,” Wood says. “If it was up to me it’s a ‘let me carry on’ moment and it always will be. Even if I had one eye, one arm, one leg, it would be.
“Once that fight is over and defeat is there it’s there forever so please give me every chance. That’s exactly why fighters need saving from themselves and why you have a corner.
“He knew we had a rematch clause, that I can win that fight and that I got caught with a silly shot that was my own fault. I got drunk on my own success and started holding my feet.”
So would he expect Davison to do the same if it happens again on Saturday?
“These are different circumstances,” Wood points out. “He would give me a bit more of a chance to stay in the fight.
“But you never know what might have happened, he might have jumped on me and administered more punishment or the opposite; he could’ve shot his load trying to finish me and missed with everything swinging for the fences and blown himself out.
“With the rematch clause there was a safety net but this time it’s not there. I hope I’d get every chance to try and turn things around.
“But I’m not looking to make that mistake again. Touch wood I don’t get caught with any daft shots again. I think it will be a slightly different fight this time.”
There had been some suggestion that Wood would swerve the immediate rematch, take a warm-up fight and allow Josh Warrington to fight Lara before facing the winner with a rejuvenating victory under his belt. Turns out those suggestions were codswallop.
“Eddie Hearn was thinking he could persuade me otherwise but for me it was always ‘no way, I want the rematch’,” says Wood, who reckons he has watched the fight more than 40 times since it happened on February 18.
“We looked at it as a team and we knew straight away what to do. It’s almost frustrating watching it back, time and time again, but I’ve spent the majority of time since last September studying Mauricio Lara, what he does and what he’s good at, so I know him inside out. This immediate rematch just makes sense.
“Straight away I knew what I did wrong, the mistakes I made. It wasn’t like I came out thinking ‘how do I put this right?’ I knew what I did wrong and I’m raring to put it right. It’s small adjustments that will make a big difference on the night.
“I felt like I had him under control and as the rounds went on I was having more and more success and that eventually came to an abrupt ending. I kind of got drunk on my own success and started thinking ‘right, he’s gassing now, I’m going to hold my feet and take more chances’ and I paid the price for that.”
Now the pair will meet at the Manchester Arena on Saturday night with Lara still never having heard the final bell in any of his three fights on British soil. Unlike last time, the 25-year-old Mexican, who is ranked No.1 in the world at 126lbs, is an overwhelming favourite with the bookmakers,
But there were many who wrote Wood off when he was dropped in the first and then stopped inside six by Gavin McDonnell way back in 2014. Alexander was a judge that night.
Even more said he was finished when Jazza Dickens beat him on points three years back. Wood’s ability to bounce back, it turns out, has been one of his greatest assets.
“I don’t take it as emotionally as I used to,” Wood says. “I think ‘why did I lose?’ and ‘How can I make sure it doesn’t happen again’. If you get too emotional, it can pull you down and mess with your head.”
And not even 12 weeks looking at Lara’s sombrero has managed that.