The MTK Golden Contract semi-finals are the fight nights that Leigh Wood (23-1, 13 KOs) has been wishing and praying for after enduring a career that has stalled at times because of inactivity and injuries.
On Friday night at York Hall, live on Sky Sports, Wood will defend his WBO European and Commonwealth Featherweight titles against former world super bantamweight title challenger Jazza Dickens with each man just two wins away from changing their careers.
A promotional deal and six-figure purses are what lie ahead but for Wood it is a reward for a deal he made with himself when he first became a professional fighter.
“When I turned pro I said to myself that if you’re going to do this, you’re going to see it out and that’s what I’ve done. I’ve had a lot of ups and downs, a lot of time on the sidelines but I stayed true to myself about what I wanted to do and seen it out.”
Trained by Ian Grant and managed by Dave Coldwell, Wood has seen an upward turn in his fortunes ever since signing up with Coldwell who got him a vacant Commonwealth title fight against Abraham Osei Bonsu back in March 2019. A second round knockout was followed up by an impressive tenth round KO of former title holder Ryan Doyle. A huge left hand ended Doyle’s hopes and capped off a dominant performance for the champion. Wood has since booked his place in the MTK Golden Contract semi-finals with an equally impressive win over successful amateur David Oliver Joyce stopping the Irishman in round nine of a fight that saw Joyce continuously press forward in.
“My best years are ahead of me,” says Wood. “I feel great. I’m extremely motivated, I couldn’t have wished for things to have worked out any better. A year and a few months ago, I was in a very bad place.”
“There’s a few things I don’t want to share,” he said when asked about that ‘bad place’.
“Things [were] going off in my personal life. [I] made a lot of mistakes and it was probably the worst Christmas to date, not last Christmas [but] the Christmas before. The months leading up to that I was at a low because of my personal situation and a few mistakes I made.
“As well as my personal life I’d left my gym that I’d been at since I turned pro, Brendan [Ingle] had took me under his wing when I was an amateur. I used to go up there in my school holidays then I turned pro with him.
“A British title had fell through. I’d not boxed in nearly a year. Before that I got injuries; before that there was promises, promises, promises. Think I was 30 at the timeEnough was enough. It was really upsetting. I came into the flat that I share with Jordan Gill. I had a tear in my eye. He said go off, have a few days at home and talk to Dave [Coldwell] and I remember leaving the flat. I was crying, it was a really bad time. All of the stuff in my personal life was worse than this. Everything was spiraling out of control. I was not where I wanted to be in boxing. I’d not got a lot of money and all these things were adding up and I just had to do something about it all. While it was going off I kept training, I talked to Dave and he said I can get you on a show. Then the Commonwealth title fight came and I was buzzing. We went from strength to strength. Sorted things out in my personal life, brick by brick, and we’re in a lot better place.”
Wood doesn’t resent anything or anyone from that turbulent period. He wouldn’t change anything.
Recognition is coming his way, particularly on the back of his last two performances, but the fighter isn’t interested in a pat on the back or the money that ends up in his bank account. Wood is out to make history. And being from Nottingham he wants to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Dave Needham, Kirkland Laing, Herol Graham, Jason and Nicky Booth and arguably the city’s most well known boxing son nowadays Carl Froch.
“It’d be nice to keep on getting the mentions and then joining them names and hopefully box for a world title back in my home city,” said a hopeful Wood.
New trainer, new management and a new weight has seen the full potential of Leigh Wood gather pace lately. Potential that the Sky television cameras saw against Gavin McDonnell when the pair met for the vacant British Super Bantamweight title in 2014. A title, despite being at the wrong weight, that Wood would have done anything to win but ultimately fell short on a February night in Hull when Tommy Coyle and Daniel Brizuela had a knockdown extravaganza.
“Literally when the ref stopped it [in round six], it was the moment I realised. I was stood there with my hand, and I remember I was crying, head down, trying to hide my face and I knew exactly what was wrong. What had happened and why it happened,” Wood recalled.
“I knew what to change. It was strange. Normally you take time to go back to the drawing board but I just knew what went wrong in camp, I knew what went wrong with my weight, I knew what went wrong on the night and for me all I had to do was change them things. It was kind of an instant fix. I had to move up to Featherweight. Everything I did to make the weight was wrong. The slip in the first round… I didn’t eat enough after I weighed in. There was things happening in the build-up. There were a lot of things and I just knew straight away. I wouldn’t change that, and people say that, but honestly that loss taught me so much. It counts as an experience to where I’ve got to today.”
Heartbreak, injuries and mistakes have all played their part in taking Wood - ranked nine with the WBO - to a pivotal point in his career. A win in the MTK Golden Contract will prove the likes of Brendan Ingle correct, prove that the Wood who went to Japan and held his own in sparring against the Inoue brothers was not a one-off and prove that Dave Coldwell, who has always rated Wood, was right to snap him up on a management deal.
“If you do work hard and stick at it through the adversity you’ll get there,” Wood advises.
“A lot of things inspired me. A lot of stories inspired me. Stories about hardship and adversity. Things happen consistently but just keep at it and work hard. Instead of looking at all the bad things and bringing yourself down all the time just keep training, focused and working hard and it’ll happen. I do believe that. I don’t believe everything happens for a reason but I do believe that if you’re willing to do what it takes you’ll get there.”