Time to give Leigh Wood his flowers, Leigh-thal is the best featherweight in the world

If the last two years have taught us anything, it’s to never count out Leigh Wood.

Written off when he faced the previously unbeaten Can Xu, Wood stopped the Chinese fighter in the closing seconds of the bout. Floored heavily by Michael Conlan in the first round, Wood rallied to stop the Irishman in the last. Knocked out by Mauricio Lara, a determined Wood bounced back to outclass the feared Mexican puncher less than three months later.

Last night, for an encore, Wood found himself way behind against rejuvenated former champion Josh Warrington before pulling off another sensation. Warrington was boxing a beautiful fight through six rounds, stunning Wood more than once with headshots and snatching at his weight-depleted core with a savage body attack. But regardless of his plight, the champion never lost composure and waited patiently for his moment.

MORE: Leigh Wood vs. Josh Warrington full card results

In Round 7, the switch-hitting Wood caught Warrington with a chilling right hook counter out of the southpaw stance that rocked the Leeds man to his boots. Rooted to the spot, Warrington was an open target for the champion’s follow-up assault and went down heavily as the crowd erupted. The challenger rose, but having heard the bell to end the round, a woozy Warrington turned his back on referee Michael Alexander, who waved the fight off.

It was another signature victory for Wood, who made the first defence in his second reign as the WBA featherweight titleholder. The Nottingham man was never supposed to become a world champion once, far less twice. He was never supposed to win a career-defining fight, far less four of them. Underappreciated to the extreme, Wood continues to pursue glory with the relentless and marauding mindset of an indestructible horror movie villain.

The expectations of Wood have always been low and that has created a monster.

WATCH: Wood vs. Warrington, exclusively live on DAZN

A small portion of fighters have the skids greased for them straight out of the amateurs. It’s not a case of if they’ll win a world title but when. In recent eras, Roy Jones Jr. and Floyd Mayweather have fallen into that category. Both were exceptionally gifted in the unpaid ranks and both went on to become pound-for-pound superstars.

But for every Roy Jones Jr., there’s a Bernard Hopkins. For every Floyd Mayweather, there’s a Manny Pacquiao. Neither Hopkins nor Pacquiao were expected to reach the summit of the sport. Hopkins learned to fight in prison, whereas Pacquiao was living in squaller during the embryonic stages of his career. However, thanks in large part to near-mythical dedication levels, Hopkins became the oldest man to win a world championship, whereas Pacquiao has conquered more divisions than any other fighter in boxing history. They were also pound-for-pound superstars.

So much for expectations.

Wood is not a pound-for-pound superstar – he doesn’t claim to be – but the Englishman has reached the top of the tree at featherweight by virtue of complete commitment to his craft. What’s more amazing is that he’s doing all this in his mid-30s, which history tells us is ancient for a featherweight. As was the case with Hopkins and Pacquiao, boxing has given Wood access to the fountain of youth as a reward for all of his hard work.

But he hasn’t done it alone.

MORE: SN’s Top-12 pound-for-pound boxers

After splitting from acclaimed coach Dominic Ingle, Wood teamed up with Ben Davison in Essex. Davison, who has enjoyed successful spells with Billy Joe Saunders, Tyson Fury, Devin Haney, and Josh Taylor, among others, is frequently criticised when results don’t get his way. Well, take your hat off to both Davison and video analyst/ boxing coach Lee Wylie for all the incredible work they’ve put in. There’s not a featherweight in the world that can match Wood’s resume right now and that’s a fact.

I can’t close this column without pouring praise on Josh Warrington. “The Leeds Warrior” has fought through so much adversity in recent years and many fans and experts have urged him to retire. Warrington has been an excellent ambassador for the sport and deserves so much credit for everything that he’s achieved.

Following last night’s loss – his third in 35 fights – the ex-champ said he’d be targeting the super featherweight division. After the performance he put on in defeat, Josh Warrington is entitled to do whatever he wants.

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