THE home boxing calendar once more gathers tempo this weekend when Mexican Mauricio Lara, the quantity one-ranked featherweight on the planet, takes on Leigh Wooden, ranked fourth and the WBA belt-holder. The luxurious contest, which absolutely can’t fail to catch hearth, takes place on Saturday evening (February 18) inside the identical Nottingham Enviornment the place Wooden defeated Michael Conlan final March in the perfect battle of 2022.
Wooden’s progress within the final two years is unrivalled in British boxing. In three fights, after dropping an in depth 10-rounder to “Jazza” Dickens in February 2020, he’s halted Reece Mould in a ‘pick-em’ bout for vacant British title (February 2021), surprised the favoured Can Xu 5 months later after which survived a heavy opening spherical knockdown towards Conlan earlier than knocking him out – of each his senses and the ring – within the ultimate session. Provided that trajectory, it’s slightly surprisng that Lara, 25-2-1 (18), is the favorite right here.
The 24-year-old’s customer’ lofty standing will be defined by a solitary efficiency. Two years in the past, nearly to the day, the hard-hitting Lara surprised then-division chief Josh Warrington behind closed doorways at Wembley Enviornment. The Leeds favorite, who admits he badly underestimated Lara, took fairly the pounding that evening after being harm early and dropped closely within the fourth earlier than he was rescued within the ninth. As with all shocks that massive, the chance that it was a fluke – alongside Warrington’s gutsy determination to achieve fast revenge – led to a rematch that was curtailed in spherical two when a conflict of heads left Lara bleeding closely and the bout referred to as a technical draw.
In fact, although solely a idiot would underestimate Lara, the oddsmakers are placing their religion within the Mexican, priced at 4/9, purely solely due to that first effort towards Warrington. Aside from that bombastic outing, he stays a largely unproven amount – no less than when it comes to his true potential to be an all-conquering division chief. Although he’s recorded two third spherical KOs (versus the unheralded Emilio Sanchez and Jose Sanmartin) because the anticlimactic return with Josh, he nonetheless has some option to go to show himself.
What can’t be denied is Lara’s means to wreck his opponents and we’ve seen Wooden get hit, harm, dropped and reduce in current outings. It’s straightforward, subsequently, to foresee a state of affairs the place the Nottingham titlist will get stung after which stopped as Lara, one thing of a demonic presence contained in the squared circle, presses ahead together with his arms ablaze. However Lara, no less than on all of the proof now we have, is way from a cultured finisher and, even when in full circulation, can seem crude and all too hittable himself. And it’s these tough edges that Wooden, 26-2 (16), and his coach Ben Davison have been studiously inspecting all through the build-up to this contest.
“Successful fuels me,” Woods defined. “Lara has a mode that fits me. Conlan was all unsuitable for me stylistically, however kinds make fights and I’m assured in my means.
“If I method this battle unsuitable, it might be brutal. Lara is sweet and we noticed that within the first battle with Josh Warrington, but when I do as I plan, this battle gained’t attain midway – I’m going to get Lara out of there.”
It ought to be famous that this can be a contest that Wooden didn’t should take, to not preserve his sanctioning physique belt no less than. However victory right here will improve his repute enormously and, win or lose, the 34-year-old deserves solely kudos for accepting such a troublesome project.
Lara has labelled Wooden a “hen” and accused him of faking an harm that noticed this bout postponed on the finish of final yr. Neither insult has any substance, nonetheless, significantly when one considers that the Mexican is making them now the competition has been rearranged. If he’s operating scared from Lara, Wooden goes in exactly the unsuitable course.
Contained in the ring Wooden may have nowhere to run, both. Lara will come on the lookout for the belt-holder; he goals to chop off the ring with a claustrophobic method and make his prey pay in shut. But it surely’s the way during which he appears to place his punches collectively that Wooden will imagine he can exploit. Lara likes to get leverage in his punches with broad swings, strikes that collect tempo and energy whereas in flight however blows that nonetheless go away his chin broad open within the course of. Logically, if Wooden can preserve his guard excessive and be fast to fireside counters down the pipe, Lara may quickly unravel.
We don’t know what occurs if Lara will get repeatedly stung himself. Whether or not that bully-like mindset will begin to falter or if his chin is supplied to face up to the type of energy we all know Wooden has in abundance. Equally, although Wooden regained his footing towards Conlan, we will’t ensure he’ll achieve this if Lara – a stronger banger than the Northern Irishman – is the one who put him there. We must also watch out to not get too carried away with Lara’s demolition of Warrington (his sole victory on the highest degree) once we think about that, with Josh reeling and barely in control of his senses, it took Lara a number of rounds to use the ending touches.
It’s a really fascinating bout and with out query one that may’t be referred to as with none diploma of certainty. Lara is now two years older than his breakout displaying towards Warrington and will certainly be getting ready to morphing into the extra full fighter he guarantees he already is. Ten years his opponent’s senior, and after probably the most gruelling of encounters towards Conlan presumably including miles to his clock, Wooden could have already got peaked.
In a name that will not age properly ought to Lara certainly go on to turn into the drive many within the commerce imagine he’ll, we go for Wooden to once more show the bookmakers unsuitable and grind out victory. Although this bout has each single ingredient required for a stoppage, this one may go the total 12, as Wooden proves too cultured and disciplined when it actually issues probably the most.
On the undercard, Sheffield’s Dalton Smith, 13-0 (10), makes the second defence of his British super-lightweight title towards Egham’s Billy Allington, 10-1-4. It seems to be like a routine outing for the revered champion.
Smith drew some unwarranted criticism in his earlier outing as he outpointed the gifted Kaisee Benjamin over 12 rounds in November. It was seemingly precisely the type of examination Smith wanted to sit down in an effort to graduate to the subsequent degree. And that’s a degree that Allington seems to be a good distance under.
The 28-year-old challenger is a former English and Southern Space titlist, however in his most taxing outings, towards second and third tier home opposition, he’s been compelled to dig deep to get a end result. Final day out, in November, he was held to a six-round draw by the tough and difficult however beatable Ben Fields. To go from that to toppling Smith is unquestionably a leap too far. We anticipate Dalton, 26, to retain across the midway mark.
Promising Irish southpaw, Garry Cully from Daas, will get one other alternative to spotlight his promise in a 10-rounder with Puerto Rican-born Wilfredo Flores, 10-0-1 (5). Cully, 15-0 (9) and 27 years previous, has impressed in almost each outing however Flores, although six years older, is an honest import and will probably be coming to win.
However the nearly impossibly tall light-weight (6ft 2ins) is the 1/12 favorite for good motive. This might not be all one-way site visitors however, regardless, an upset appears extremely unlikely. Cully to win a lopsided determination.
Additionally on the cardboard is Birmingham’s Gamal Yafai (who ought to be too intelligent for Argentina’s Diego Alberto Ruiz of their super-bantamweight 10-rounder), Northampton’s Kieron Conway (anticipated to repel Portugal veteran Jorge Silva in a super-middleweight eight) and cruiserweight prospect, Cheavon Clarke.
THE VERDICT – Unmissable fare atop the invoice during which the winner sees their repute at featherweight soar.