Leigh Wood dropped and stopped Josh Warrington at the end of round seven to retain his WBA featherweight title in an unforgettable fight in Sheffield.
Late on Saturday night, Wood was losing on points, cut and hurt when, with just seconds left in round seven, he connected with six perfect punches to send Warrington down. There was shock and pandemonium in the arena and close to 10,000 fanatics had no idea whether to laugh or cry.
Warrington somehow beat the count, stumbled to his own corner as the bell sounded, put his hands on the top rope and turned round too late to satisfy the referee, Michael Alexander; there was a second of deliberation and then Alexander called it off. It was the right decision at that moment; it was also heartbreak and relief in equal measure for the two boxers.
Wood started screaming in victory, Warrington complained briefly, but was quickly placed on his stool; he dropped his head forward in bitter disappointment. “I’m devastated,” he told me a few minutes later. He was still in the ring, looking from corner to corner and trying to understand what had gone wrong.
Warrington had easily won rounds three, four, five, six and 2:58 seconds of round seven. All three of the scorecards had him comfortably in front at the point of the stoppage.
The final, devastating punches came from nowhere, but Wood has a glorious history of salvaging lost causes. “There is no quit in me,” Wood said from the ring, his right eye cut and swollen and his face a blur of developing bruises. It was a hard fight, make no mistake.
Back in 2021 Wood won the WBA featherweight world title with a stoppage in the 12th and last round, and was losing his first defence against Michael Conlan before finding the punches to dump Conlan out of the ring for the full count with just 90-seconds remaining in the final round. In Sheffield, he performed one more salvation act and it was dramatic and shocking and wonderful.
The pace of the fight was relentless and from the start of round three, Warrington took control and there were moments when all the rumours and talk about the struggle Wood has making the weight looked true; by the start of round seven, Wood was trailing, but more than that, he looked like a beaten man.
At the start of round five, with the entire arena standing in admiration and hope, and the signs of the struggle clear on their faces, the pair touched gloves; it was a small, lost and quickly forgotten moment, but it reveals a lot about these two boxers. Pride was the title, respect was the story.
There was no sign of the finish as the seconds ticked closer to the bell to end the seventh, and then the combination started; Warrington went down in shattered instalments and Wood just kept throwing. It was a genuine ‘wow’ moment. Wood connected cleanly with six punches, starting with a short right hook. It was a savage and calculating finish, a mix that is not as common as you think.
They each left the ring to uncertain futures, and they could, in theory, fight again. Warrington wants a rematch; Wood would make a lot of money from a rematch. However, it will not be at featherweight as Wood confirmed that his battle with the scales is over and that he is moving up in weight. Warrington would be at a considerable size disadvantage in a rematch at a heavier weight.
Incidentally, Wood retained his WBA bauble, but in the heat of the moment, that piece of jewellery was ignored.
Wood is one of modern boxing’s best fairy tales, a family man, a quiet man and a fighter capable of changing a fight with just one punch. In boxing, that is arguably the ultimate.