Leigh Wood once again produced a thrilling finish in a world title fight, coming from a losing position to stop Josh Warrington in the seventh round on Saturday.
Wood landed a right hook to the jaw, then followed up with more hooks, that sent Warrington to the canvas before referee Michael Alexander stopped the fight when he shakily got up.
Warrington complained about the stoppage but looked badly hurt and on wobbly legs at the end of the seventh round as Wood sealed a second defense of his WBA world featherweight title at the Utilita Arena in Sheffield, England.
It was another dramatic finish by Wood, who knocked out Can Xu in the last round for the WBA world title in July 2021, then did the same to Michael Conlan in 2022’s fight of the year.
Wood (28-3, 17 KOs), 35, from Nottingham, looked to be heading for defeat as his punches lacked power while Warrington swarmed all over him landing hooks from the first round.
But Wood then dropped a right hook into Warrington’s jaw that scrambled the challenger’s senses and followed it up with five sharp hooks before his English rival slumped to the canvas. He got up, but his unsteady legs prompted Alexander to call it off.
The clinical finish rescued Wood, as Warrington was on top.
“I’ve got game changers,” Wood said in the ring afterwards. “I knew the further the fight goes on, the sloppier he gets and the more chances I get. I didn’t stick to the game plan well, I got disorientated after getting hit in the back of my head. I got the knockout in the end. Maybe we can run it back. I was disorientated early on with a shot at the back of the head, but we got there in the end.”
Matchroom promoter Eddie Hearn said afterward Wood will fight at the City Ground, home of English Premier League soccer club Nottingham Forest, next summer but it will not be at featherweight. Wood, who admitted to ESPN before the fight that he struggles to make the 126-pound limit, is likely to step up a division and could face the winner of IBF junior lightweight champion Joe Cordina versus Edward Vazquez on Nov. 4.
A rematch against Warrington at the City Ground also seems a lot more likely than a world featherweight title unification fight with Luis Alberto Lopez, the IBF champion, in 2024.
Wood was in fine form when he outpointed former featherweight No 1 Mauricio Lara to win the WBA title in May, after being stopped by the Mexican in seven rounds in February. But it was Warrington who dominated the fight up until the stoppage as Wood looked out of sorts, and possibly weight drained.
It was heartache for Warrington (31-3-1, 8 KOs), 32, from Leeds, who will consider retirement — unless Wood offers him a rematch. The two-time world champion lost the IBF title on points to Lopez ten months ago; he has now won only once in his last five fights.
“I switched off for a second, I felt a bit rusty but I felt I was really come into it,” Warrington said. “He caught me with a good shot, I felt good, I heard the count but the referee was waving his arms. That’s two defeats on the bounce and I don’t think it’s done me justice. I hope it’s not the last one. Ideally I would like to run it back again, I felt I was cruising it at times.”
Warrington began furiously as if he was impatient to revive his career, with left hooks regularly getting through as Wood looked stunned by the early pace.
Wood gained some composure towards the end of the first round, then boxed more at range in the second round behind a southpaw stance.
Wood landed a good left uppercut in the second round, but Warrington opened up at close range early in the third round. Wood was left shaken after Warrington landed some big shots with the champion on the ropes.
It was not the only attack from the fired-up challenger in the third round, and later in the round he landed a combination of hooks.
Warrington’s punches contained more power and spite, while Wood’s jab was too flimsy to have any impact. By the end of fourth round, blood was streaming from Wood’s right eye as he continued to flounder.
Warrington landed a double jab which rocked Wood back as the champion continued to find himself under siege.
Warrington was docked a point for punching to the back of the head early in round seven, before the unexpected ending no one saw coming.
Wood has a habit of springing surprises and dramatic finishes.
Promoter Eddie Hearn criticizes judges after Terri Harper-Cecilia Braekhus draw
Promoter Eddie Hearn hit out at the judges who scored Terri Harper versus Cecilia Braekhus a majority draw in their clash for the WBA and WBO junior middleweight titles on the Wood-Warrington undercard.
After an underwhelming and scrappy fight, Harper was given one score of 97-93 while judges Giulio Piras and David Singh both scored it 95-95.
Braekhus — 16 years older than Harper — rallied late in the fight, but Hearn insisted it was not enough to deserve a draw.
“I think that’s an absolute joke, Terri Harper should be unified champion tonight,” Hearn said in a ringside interview. “That’s just incompetence. How can you possibly score that fight a draw? Outrageous and incompetent judging. I cannot understand what these judges see sometimes.”
The fight was close according to CompuBox statistics: The fighters were separated by one landed jab and six landed power punches. Harper was the more accurate fighter, as Braekhus threw 74 more punches than Harper, but only landed 5 more punches.
Harper (14-1-2, 6 KOs), 26, retained her WBA belt in a second defense, but the WBO title remains vacant.
Colombia-born, Norway-based Braekhus (37-2-1, 9 KOs), 42, was once the pound-for-pound queen of women’s boxing but she could not establish any authority until the late rounds.
Braekhus landed some stiff right hands towards the end of the eighth and the Norwegian was better again in the ninth round, scoring with more right hands.
Braekhus went for it in the tenth and final round, which perhaps proved decisive in the fight ending a draw.
Former undisputed world welterweight champion Braekhus lost back-to-back points decisions to American Jessica McCaskill in 2020 and 2021. Braekhus has only one win in her last four fights.
Former WBC junior lightweight champion Harper, from Doncaster not far from Sheffield, said afterward: “I feel I did just enough to win, but it was my fault for not doing enough to get the decision, perhaps I should have stepped up the gears in late rounds. I’m not a true super welterweight and getting in with bigger girls I do feel it and maybe I should step down a division.”