Editor’s note: This is the third of four year-end awards. Fighter of the Year will follow.
The biggest fights aren’t always the best.
The featherweight meeting between Leigh Wood and Michael Conlan on March 12 at Nottingham Arena in Nottingham, England wasn’t a high-profile event, at least not internationally, but it was the most memorable.
It had non-stop action, which is an essential ingredient in a great fight. It had twists and turns, when added to the drama. And it had a surrealistic ending, which was the bow on top.
Conlan, the 31-year-old 2012 Olympic bronze medalist from Northern Ireland, kicked off the insanity by putting the hometown boy down and hurting him with a wide left to the head late in the opening round.
What followed was a breathtaking duel, which featured skill, athleticism and, most important, raw courage.
Conlan got the better of the back-and-forth in the first half of the fight, during which Wood, a secondary titleholder, had a number of harrowing moments and seemed to be on his way to a disappointing setback.
The 34-year-old Englishman refused to fold, however. And his perseverance paid off the second half of the fight, when he turned a one-sided beating into a full-fledged war and ultimately a defining victory in Boxing Junkie’s 2022 Fight of the Year.
By the 11th round it was Wood who was dishing out the majority of the punishment. He brought the crowd to its feet by putting Conlan down late in the penultimate round, although a still-alert Conlan protested that he had slipped.
Then, in the 12th and final frame, came arguably the year’s most dramatic moment.
Wood and Conlan, still firing away in the final minutes, were exchanging punches when Conlan stepped backward until his back was against the ropes. Wood then appeared to land the deciding punch, a straight right that made Conlan’s body to go limp.
Wood unloaded one more flurry of quick punches that sent his unconscious opponent through the ropes and onto the floor, which caused bedlam in the packed arena.
Referee Steve Gray had a look at Conlan over the top rope to determine whether there was any chance he could climb back into the ring and continue but realized immediately that he was out and stopped the fight at 1:25.
Conlan had a narrow lead after 11 rounds (105-102, 104-103 and 104-103), an indication that Wood had chipped away at his opponent’s early advantage before rendered the scorecards irrelevant in the most dramatic way possible.
The loser was rushed to a hospital immediately after the fight but recovered quickly. He bounced back to win consecutive fights before the end of the year, demonstrating his resilience once again.
Wood delivered a spectacular victory he’s unlikely to ever top, one that is expected to lead to more important fights.
The real winners? The fans, both those at Nottingham Arena that night and those watching around the world.
Sometimes a perfect matchup in perfect conditions produces a near perfect war. That’s what we saw on March 12.
Tomorrow: Fighter of the Year.
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Leigh Wood rallies to stop Michael Conlan in final round of classic
Photos: Leigh Wood’s stunning last-round KO of Michael Conlan
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