School of hard knocks graduate Wood believes he has more grit and determination than Conlan

Having stubbornly plodded his way along the hard road Leigh Wood[25(15)-2(1)] is intent on staying on easy street beyond this Saturday night.

The WBA ‘regular’ world champion defends his title against Michael Conlan [16(8)-0] in Nottingham this coming weekend and although he doesn’t put much value in individual trinkets he remains determined to retain the crown.

Wood is aware defeat will see him slide down a boxing snake and undo the ladder-climbing, victory over Xu Can, afforded him the chance to do.

Knowing what life is like at the bottom of the rung Wood is adamant he won’t allow that to happen.

“I’ve worked extremely hard to get into this position and I’m not prepared to let it slip and have to climb that ladder and go back down that road again,” Wood says before explaining just how bumpy a road he traveled.

“I’ve had to go through a lot in my life, I’ve been broke for 10 years and I’ve had to literally just grind through and scrimp and save. I’ve boxed for free three times – I didn’t get paid – and I’ve boxed on away bills and I’ve boxed when I’ve been the underdog.

“A sponsor used to give my 50-odd quid a week and literally I was getting by on that. I have a lot of good friends around me and good family but the biggest thing that I would say to anyone was just my sheer resilience and determination to get to where I wanted to get to.”

He talks about that resilience with real pride but also mentions it by way of suggesting Saturday’s opponent, Conlan hasn’t had to graduate from the school of hard knocks and thus may not have a degree in true grit.

The Belfast fighter has had the benefit of having Top Rank in his corner but will point out he hasn’t lived a sheltered life, had to battle to overcome in the amateurs, and earned his pro head start as a result.

Leigh Wood and Michael Conlan Press Conference to announce their WBA Featherweight World Title fight in Nottingham on 12th March 2022. 20 January 2022 Picture By Mark Robinson.

As well as more grit, Wood also believes he brings more power to the table this weekend, although he says that won’t be the defining factor in the fight.

The Ben Davidson trained featherweight also says he isn’t underestimating Olympic medal winner, Conlan’s ability to bang.

“Mick can dig, he can definitely crack,” he says.

“He has punch power himself but I can win this fight without my power. The strategy we’ve got, the way we’re working on this fight, I could definitely win it without my power but it’s good to have it in my arsenal.”

Victory will mean he keeps his title and will add another sizeable wedge to a bank account that lay dormant for many years. A unification battle against the winner of Josh Warrington versus Kiko Martinez is set up for the victor but Wood says he’s not in boxing for the belts or the money – it’s the wins he wants and taking Conlan’s scalp will mean a lot.

“The belts are good for the fans and your family and friends to pass around and have photos with but they don’t mean a great deal to me,” he says.

“Even the money, the money doesn’t mean a great deal to me. It’s nice to have that security and to be able to secure my family’s future but to me it’s more about the legacy and the history and being able to look back and say: ‘I beat him, I beat him and I beat him…”

Photo credit Mark Robinson Matchroom

Jonny Stapleton

Irish-boxing.com contributor for 15 years and editor for the past decade. Have been covering boxing for over 16 years and writing about sport for a living for 19 years. Former Assistant Sports editor for the Gazette News Paper Group and former Tallaght Voice Sports Editor. Have had work published in publications around the world when working as a freelance journalist. Also co-founder of Junior Sports Media and Leinster Rugby PRO of the Year winner. email: editoririshboxing@gmail.com