Leigh Wood toasted the “best win” of his career after retaining his WBA featherweight title by battling back from a sustained beating to stop British rival Josh Warrington.
At a frenzied Sheffield Arena, Warrington was well on the way to becoming a three-time champion at the weight as his relentless bursts of aggression and occasional roughhouse tactics left Wood reeling.
But Wood kept his composure in a cauldron-like atmosphere and seized his moment in emphatic fashion as he followed up a stiff right hook with pinpoint combination punching that put Warrington on his back.
Warrington rose gamely but unsteadily returned to his corner and as he did not turn round, referee Michael Alexander waved off the contest at the end of the seventh round to the Leeds fighter’s chagrin.
“It wasn’t my best performance,” Wood said. “I did feel a bit groggy making the weight but no excuses.
“That’s my best win, Josh is a two-time world champion, he has massive scalps on his record and I’m the only Brit to be beat him.
“He’s a great fighter – definitely my best scalp. If we do it again then we do it again and if not, we’ll have a new challenge. We’ll see.”
Less than two years on from stopping Michael Conlan in the last round when trailing on the cards in a high-profile bout, Wood insisted he can never be discounted after racking up a 28th win from 31 fights.
“I don’t know what it is about me – I haven’t got any quit in me,” he said. “It’s never say die.
“It’s the same as my career – I didn’t make the best start, I turned it around and got there, it was the same as the Conlan fight.
“Write me off all you want, I’m just going to be there to the end and if I can do anything to win, I’ll do it.”
A fight at the City Ground, home of his beloved Nottingham Forest, could be next for Wood, who could move up to super-featherweight after admitting boiling down to 126lb was becoming increasingly tough.
While three years younger than his conqueror, Warrington’s future is less certain after slumping to his third defeat in 35 bouts, including back-to-back losses in world title fights in just under a year.
He immediately protested Alexander’s decision to call a halt to proceedings after belatedly turning round before slumping his head on the referee’s shoulder as he accepted there was no way back.
Warrington said afterwards: “I just feel a bit hard done by, it was the end of round, get to my feet, look at my dad with a smile on my face, turn round at (the count of) eight and it’s being waved off.”
This fight took place on neutral territory – halfway between Wood’s home city of Nottingham and Warrington’s Leeds – but any return bout will be on the champion’s patch.
With Wood insistent a fight at the City Ground is next, promoter Eddie Hearn suggested a rematch against Warrington is a highly tempting option.
“It’s going to take a big fight for Leigh Wood at the City Ground,” Hearn said. “I want to see the fight back.
“If Josh would have turned round, they would have 100 per cent let the fight carry on. If the ref did call it off at eight, it was too early because he should have given him the opportunity to turn around.
“The ref said to me ‘he wouldn’t turn round and if he doesn’t turn round I can’t let him continue’.
“When you look at frontrunners for sizes of fights at the City Ground, I think the rematch is probably the biggest one.”