Boxing has seen a hot start to 2023 when it comes to great action-packed fights. That trend could well continue on Saturday afternoon when Leigh Wood defends his WBA world featherweight championship against Mauricio Lara (DAZN, 2 p.m. ET).
Wood and Lara were originally set to face off on Sept. 24 only for Wood to be forced to withdraw from the fight due to a torn biceps, an injury Lara has gone out of his way to question.
"Wood is a chicken. He couldn't prove his injury from when we were supposed to fight last year, he just didn't want to fight," Lara said after a recent sparring session. "But now I guess it's his opportunity to prove himself against me. I am at the very best point in my career at the moment, so he is going to have to bring something special to beat me. He has no exit available this time."
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Lara has displayed little worry of traveling to Nottingham, England to take on the champion in his backyard. There's certain to be a wild crowd backing Wood as he makes the first defense of his world title since a dramatic Knockout of the Year win over Michael Conlan in March 2022.
Conlan firmly controlled the action against Wood from the jump, including scoring a first-round knockdown. Wood continued to fight back, however, and dropped Conlan in Round 11 before knocking him out of the ring in the final round to score a massive upset victory.
Lara also put in a Knockout of the Year contender in his most recent fight. His March battle with Emilio Sanchez only lasted three rounds but was a brawl for nearly every second.
Despite looking fatigued and hurt from Sanchez's body attack as the third round drew to a close, Lara unloaded a vicious combination that folded Sanchez over backward in the corner and ended the bout in an instant.
When the original date for the fight with Wood fell through, Lara picked up another third-round knockout when he finished José Sanmartin in October.
Lara is also no stranger to making the trip from Mexico to England to ruin a local boy's night. In February 2021, Lara traveled to London as a massive underdog against Josh Warrington only to score the upset with a ninth-round TKO. The pair would rematch that September, again in London, only for a clash of heads to result in a technical draw after just two rounds.
The undercard features a ton of European talents. Dalton Smith looks to continue his solid run to start his career when he takes on Billy Allington at super lightweight. Smith is unbeaten at 13-0 with 10 knockouts. Meanwhile, the other featured contest puts Gary Cully against Wilfredo Flores in a lightweight contest. Cully, 27, also carries an undefeated record at 15-0 as he represents Ireland. Flores represents one of his most difficult tests to date.
Let's take a closer look at the odds provided by Caesars Sportsbook before getting to a prediction and expert pick on the main event.
Wood vs. Lara fight card, odds
Mauricio Lara -240
Leigh Wood (c) +200
WBA featherweight title
Dalton Smith -4000
Billy Allington +1500
Gary Cully -1400
Wilfredo Flores +800
This fight promises to be an all-action brawl between two gritty fighters with solid power and fan-friendly styles. Despite a similar number of fights, Lara is 10 years Wood's junior. Lara doesn't lean much on athleticism and doesn't have much for hand speed, so the age difference isn't likely a determining factor.
What may well be the deciding factor is Lara's power meeting Wood's ability to be hit cleanly. Conlan couldn't get the job done when he hurt Wood early but Lara is far less likely to let Wood off the hook if he shakes him up early. Similarly, Sanchez showed that Lara may have some vulnerabilities to the body in their brief war.
It's a mix of skills, guts and vulnerabilities that should make for a great fight on Saturday night. Lara's power and face-first style should be enough to take the day once he lands a few clean shots to Wood's chin. Pick: Mauricio Lara via KO5