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Just over three months ago Wood made the second defence of his world against Mexican bogeyman Lara. The Nottingham featherweight was executing the game plan to a tee through six rounds, but in the seventh he exchanged hooks with ‘El Bronco’ and came off worse – far worse. Leigh’s team threw the towel moments after he got up, but now they are preparing their boxer for the rematch.
There isn’t much that Wood, 34, needs to do differently in Manchester this weekend – he was winning the first fight and Lara was becoming frustrated. The former champ is even a late rounds specialist – his last five wins have been by KO in rounds 9 or later.
The issue that Wood is going to have is that Lara can be better than in February. The travelling champ is still only 25 and he could probably refuel more intelligently than tucking into a large pepperoni pizza after the weigh-in like he did last time.
Wood is a solid puncher and good boxer, but I can’t look past another Lara win. Wood was dropped by Michael Conlan in their 2022 war, and he was stopped by Gavin McDonnell 2014 – neither of them are half the bangers that Lara is. I expect the Brit to begin well, but Lara will chop down Wood in the middle rounds once again.
TV: BT Sport
Conlan lost his first world title tilt to Leigh Wood in dramatic fashion last year but he has returned with two good wins and no signs of a hangover from the Wood KO, and now he faces one of three Mexican featherweight titleholders in Luis Lopez.
With two losses on his record, squat stature and a bang-average KO ratio of 51 per cent, it is easy to underestimate the champ. But Lopez, 29, is coming off a title win against experienced former featherweight boss Josh Warrington in Leeds, and his last defeat was a close decision loss to the ultra-talented Ruben Vila.
Despite the loss last year, Conlan, 31, has shown the best form of his career – he was seconds away from beating Wood and he’s shown increasing power by dropping or stopping his last four foes. The former amateur world champion and Olympian has the advantages in height and reach, but he’ll need skill and footwork to beat Lopez.
Lopez doesn’t have the record of an explosive puncher but he does have jilting power, and although he’s only 5 ‘4 he’s competed as much as 10lbs heavier than the featherweight limit. Conlan has to be flawless in Belfast on Saturday and I can see him having early success, but the best value bet is another late stoppage loss for the hometown favourite.
TV: Sky Sports
Okolie against Billam-Smith is a good fight but also a strange one – the two cruiserweights were stablemates for a long time until about a year ago, and they are actually still real-life mates too – and this Saturday they go at it for Lawrence’s world title in Chris’ hometown stadium.
Since losing by a split decision to Richard Riakporhe in 2019, ‘CBS’ has put together an impressive eight fight winning streak. The Bournemouth man is highly ranked and deserving of a title shot, and he booked out the Vitality Stadium for a summer showdown – except no champion wanted the pay day, until Okolie put his hand up.
After a little more than a year out, ‘The Sauce’ returned to the ring to defend his strap against the undefeated David Light in March. The Londoner did comfortably enough to book in his 19th straight win, but he looked rusty and vowed to keep active this year.
Okolie likes to use his long powerful levers and box at distance, while Billam-Smith will be well served to close the distance and try to work at short range. What makes Lawrence so hard to beat is his size and strength, and opponents that do get inside his reach end up getting man-handled. I don’t think Chris has the skill or speed to win enough rounds against Okolie, but I do think he’s tough enough to go the distance.
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