This turned out to be a U.K. trip that Mauricio Lara would love to forget.
One day after ending his title reign at the scale, the visiting Mexico City native was soundly outpointed by Leigh Wood who avenged a prior knockout defeat to regain the WBA featherweight title. Judges Victor Simons (118-109), Howard Foster (118-109) and Jose Ignacio Martinez (116-111) were unanimous in scoring for Wood, who prevailed in their DAZN-aired title fight rematch Saturday evening from AO Arena in Manchester, England.
“This is my biggest win, two time world champion,” Wood told DAZN’s Ade Oladipo after reclaiming the belt that was stripped from his grasp just three months ago.
There existed the threat of the fight not moving forward at all given Lara’s massive scale fail. A fight week weight check performed by the British Boxing Board of Control (BBBofC) determined that Lara was well above the three-percent threshold, to the point of it being deemed unsafe to cut down to featherweight. Lara stripped down at Friday’s weigh-in just to come in at 129.8 pounds, while Wood opted to weigh within the 126-pound limit in an effort to regain the belt he lost via stunning one-punch, seventh-round knockout of February 18 in his Nottingham hometown.
Lara promised pure, unadulterated violence from the outset as opposed to the deliberate start offered in the first fight. That promise was not fulfilled—along with his failed commitment to make weight—as he plodded forward in the opening round. Wood took advantage and won the frame largely on the strength of his jab, which was particularly effective to the body.
Wood twice sent Lara to the canvas in round two. The first was correctly ruled a push, which actually occurred after Lara connected flush and prompted Wood to respond in kind. Wood settled down and continued to outbox Lara before reminding him of the punching power not properly reflected on his ring record. A right uppercut by Wood sent Lara to the canvas inside the final 30 seconds of the round.
The strong start by Wood extended into round three. The 34-year-old fighting pride of Nottingham consistently found a home for his straight right hand while still committed to his stiff jab. Lara leaped in with a left hook that landed with 30 seconds to go in the round, later followed by a left hook to the body and winging right hand upstairs.
Trainer Ben Davison reminded Wood to remain poised and fight smart following the late surge by Lara. The advice was heeded by Wood, who used his jab to create distance and wisely clinched whenever Lara threatened to get close in round four.
Lara struggled with the constant lateral movement offered by Wood early in round five. Wood wisely kept his distance as blood trickled from a cut over his left eyebrow produced by an accidental headbutt in the preceding round. Lara was too slow with his counter right hand as Wood continued to enjoy success with his jab to the body.
Wood strictly boxed his way through round six. Lara did not enjoy much offensive success but managed to close the gap near the end of the frame.
Boos began to rain down over the slow pace of the rematch. Wood tuned out the background noise and stuck to the task at hand which was to regain his title by the smartest and most efficient means. A right hand by Wood drove Lara to the ropes, turning crowd disapproval into cheers. Lara offered herky jerky movement but did not let hands go. An overhand right by Lara was blocked and immediately countered by a Wood uppercut.
Time was called at the start of round nine, as referee Steve Gray instructed Wood’s corner to remove the excess Vaseline applied to the cut over his eye. Wood continued to box while Lara stalked and plodded but without any success. A lunging left hook by Lara landed under Wood’s jab but with minimal impact.
The vocal crowd found ways to entertain themselves through the spirit of song and chants as Wood continued to outbox Lara in round ten. Wood connected with a right hand as Lara left his chin in the air was able to avoid a counter left hook. Lara stumbled the canvas late in the round, though correctly ruled a slip despite the raucous cheers from those in attendance hoping for a second knockdown call.
Wood stuck to the game plan down the stretch. The most passion offered by Lara came inside the final minute of the fight, when he was overzealous in an effort to get the referee out of his way. It was perhaps an appropriate way to end his disastrous road trip as he fell to 26-3-1 (19KOs).
Wood advanced to 27-3 (16KOs) with the win as he enters his second full title reign. He claimed the WBA ‘Regular’ title in a 12th round stoppage of Can Xu in an August 2021 fight where he led on all three scorecards.
He had to rally from a knockdown and scoring deficit to knock out Michael Conlan last March 12 in the 2022 Fight of the Year. An upgrade to full titlist came nearly a year later, only after Leo Santa Cruz abandoned his WBA ‘Super’ featherweight title reign after long avoiding a title consolidation bout.
Lara suffered his first defeat since his thirteenth pro bout just more than five years ago in Durango, Mexico. A sixteen-fight unbeaten streak followed, including stoppage wins over Josh Warrington and Wood in jolly old England.
His win over Warrington in their first fight began the Mexico bum rush of all things UK. That run was extended through Luis Alberto Lopez’s IBF featherweight title win over Warrington last December and his brutal one-punch, fifth round knockout of Conlan on Saturday in Belfast.
The result of the BT Sport/ESPN+ main event was made known to Wood, who then revealed his desired future plans.
A mandatory title defense versus Otabek Kholmatov (11-0, 10KOs) should be next, at least according to existing WBA paperwork that permitted the sanctioning of Saturday’s rematch. At age 34, however, Wood is more interested in the type of fights that will allow him to sail off into the sunset.
“I think Warrington makes sense. Unification fight (with Lopez) even bigger,” Wood stated of an attractive all-UK clash that would sell well in the hometown of either fighter. “I probably only got two fights left. City Ground is one of them. Unification could be the other. Just give me the big fights. Like I said, I want my happy ending.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox