The first time that Leigh Wood got his hands on a Lonsdale Belt, it was one that belonged to Nicky Booth. The former British bantamweight champion was guest of honour with his brother Jason as Wood’s amateur club. Phoenix ABC, on awards night. The 12-year-old Wood was in awe.
“I had my picture taken with Nicky and the belt and it gave me this feeling of ‘wow. I want one of these’,” Wood said. Two decades later he gets his chance.
Wood, 32, faces Reece Mould for the vacant British featherweight title at Wembley tonight. It is six years since he got his last chance at winning a Lonsdale Belt, when he was dropped in the first and stopped in the sixth by Gavin McDonnell at super-bantamweight.
But Wood says he learnt from that and the intervening period. Against the unbeaten Mould, who has had only 13 fights and never gone beyond six rounds, he believes he will know too much.
“Experience is key,” Wood said. “You can want to win something as badly as you want, but Brendan (Ingle) used to say to me, you can’t buy experience, you can’t borrow it and you can’t pretend to have it. He might be most dangerous early. He might want to come out and make a name for himself, he has not been on that big stage before.
“I’ve been that young hungry fighter, but I got it wrong with the weight but I got it wrong in the fight as well. Having the experience of different styles, different scenarios, the rounds and making weight time and time again and going the distance time and time again, He has got all these things to answer on the night as well as me at my best punching him in the head.
“I hope he has had a good camp. It will be more satisfying winning a British title in a great fight.”
Wood hopes to add to Nottingham’s rich boxing heritage, having grown up watching Carl Froch and the Booth brothers, Nicky and Jason. Nicky Booth tragically died last month at the age of 40, having struggled to conquer addictions for 20 years.
“Nicky was at his best when I was around 11 or 12,” Wood said. “I really looked up to him. He came to my awards evening at Phoenix ABC and had his Lonsdale Belt and I was like ‘wow’, I was in awe of him.
“After that Nicky’s life didn’t go where it should have gone. He got in with a bad crowd and I got to know Jason better. I still speak to Jason, but Nicky was the first person who I met.
“I had a No Fear hat on, massive shirt, probably my brother’s. Nicky looked like he had his brother’s top on too. It was a good night. After that I probably him less than a handful of times. Which is quite sad.
“Jason helped me a lot, he guided me. Gave me a lot of advice and a lot of rounds. I started sparring him at 15 and he didn’t hold back. I was a late developer I didn’t get strong until I was 19. He helped me develop and gave me some toughness.
“It wasn’t a shock when Nicky died, but it was very sad. To see someone who was so brilliant in the ring but got it wrong in his life outside the ring. It has happened with other fighters, other Nottingham fighters. It has to serve as a lesson If boxing is your whole life, after boxing when you have nothing to fill the void it’s an easy option to fill it with something you shouldn’t.”
Ron Lewis is a senior writer for BoxingScene. He was Boxing Correspondent for The Times, where he worked from 2001-2019 - covering four Olympic Games and numerous world title fights across the globe. He has written about boxing for a wide variety of publications worldwide since the 1980s.