A critical look at the past week in boxing
THE BIGGEST WINNER
Maurice Lara – Sometimes power is enough. Hometown favorite Leigh Wood was ahead on the cards and seemingly in control of his first defense of his 122lbs title when Lara instantly turned the trajectory of the fight on Saturday in Nottingham, England. A perfectly timed left hook knocked Wood down and hurt him with about 20 seconds left in round 7. He was able to get up but his legs were shaking. Referee Michael Alexander was evidently ready to allow Wood to continue, but his coach was not. Ben Davison threw in the towel with six seconds remaining in the round, saving his fighter from further punishment and giving Lara (26-2-1, 19 KOs) his first world title. The new champion might not want to rely too often on his power to turn defeat into victory (that punch might not land the next time around), but in this case it served them well. That disruption will be a candidate for Knockout of the Year 2023.
THE BIGGEST LOSER
Leigh Wood – Wood (26-3, 16 KOs) was packing the biggest win of his career, his sensational 12th-round knockout against Michael Conlan in Fight of the Year 2022. And he looked to build on that momentum for more than six rounds against Lara , boxing well, overcoming Lara, controlling the plot. Things couldn’t be better. Then BAM! Wood, who had been promoted to full champion in December, lost his title and his momentum was cut short which left him in tears after the fight. Yes, boxing can be cruel. The good news for him might be a rematch clause that entitles him to one more shot at Lara. Promoter Eddie Hearn, who manages both men, expects Wood to exercise the option. If he does, you have to appreciate the chances of him given his performance over six rounds, but that would be a challenge. Lara’s power goes nowhere. Meanwhile, Wood has some emotional wounds that need to heal.
MORE FUN TO WATCH
Luis Nery vs. Azat Hovhannisyan – Nery (34-1, 26 KOs) might be the biggest winner here. A dramatic 11th-round knockout in a 122-pound title eliminator in Pomona, California leaves the former two-division belt holder one step away from another title fight, which is exactly where he wants to be. . However, it was the entertainment value of the fight that stood out. Nery, a good boxer, wasn’t necessarily interested in toe-to-toe warfare, but the rugged and relentless Hovhannisyan (21-4, 17 KOs) gave him no choice. The result was a 2023 Fight of the Year nominee. And of course, big fights often have big finishes: Nery put Hovhannisyan down with a three-punch combination in round 10 and then finished him off in the next frame. Fans couldn’t have asked for more from these two warriors. One more thing: Hovhannisyan lost an important fight, which is hard to accept, but he undoubtedly gained many admirers with his brave performance.
Did Davison stop the Lara-Wood fight too soon? No. A trainer’s most important responsibility is to protect the well-being of his fighter. He got a good look at Wood after the knockdown which changed the fight, he didn’t like what he saw and threw in the towel. Job well done. Skeptics might say, “But there were only six seconds left in the round.” An extra punch or two in that amount of time could do a lot of damage and there was another round to go even if he survived Round 11. … Arreal Holmes (13-0, 5 KOs) put in a strong performance against Ismail Villarreal (12-1, 8 KOs) in a 154-pound prospects battle on Friday in Topeka, Kansas, winning a split decision. The tall, lanky Holmes used his long jab, straight rights, movement and holding to frustrate the aggressive, but ineffective Villarreal for most of the fight. That formula could take Holmes a long way, even if he might want to throw more punches to leave no doubt of his superiority. … I scored the Holmes-Villarreal fight 98-92 for Holmes, eight rounds to two. He won the fight because two judges also gave him the nod, 97-93 and 96-94. The third, Karen Holderfield of Arkansas, he scored 96-94 for Villarreal. This meant that somehow he found six rounds to give to Villarreal, who struggled for most of the fight. The father-coach of the loser Otilio Villarreal he seemed to agree, telling his son he needed a knockout to win the fight in the twelfth and final round. I don’t want to be too harsh. I guess you were struck by Villarreal’s aggressiveness. At the same time, her card seemed off… very off track.