EIGHTEEN months ago, Nottingham’s Leigh Wood lost a close 10-round decision against Liverpool’s Jazza Dickens and his dream of winning a British title appeared destined to remain just that.

But Wood, undeterred, dusted himself down, stayed patient throughout a global pandemic, and finally, in February 2021, almost a year after losing to Dickens, again boxed for and this time won the British featherweight title, stopping Reece Mould in nine rounds.

“I waited 20 years to win that British title and won it in an empty room,” Wood told Boxing News. “Even after the fight, I couldn’t celebrate because all the bars and clubs were still closed in February. I couldn’t go on holiday. I couldn’t even really see anyone. But luckily I have been able to get out and progress my career.”

Five months on from becoming British champion, Wood accepted a late-notice shot against WBA belt-holder Can Xu as part of Matchroom’s summer Fight Camp. Though a fight most expected him to lose, Wood, 25-2 (15), arrived with other ideas, outboxing Xu through much of it, then putting the victory beyond any doubt by stopping him in the final round.

“I was extremely confident,” Wood said. “I knew if I did what I was capable of doing and stuck to my game plan, as I was doing in sparring, and drilling every day, I had no excuse.

“I couldn’t have lost that fight if I tried. To lose it I would have had to go away from my game plan and forget everything I had been learning and drilling for weeks. I would have had to switch my brain off. I was so invested in the game plan, I just had to go out there and put it all together. No disrespect to Can Xu, but his style and my style, if I get the game plan right, nine times out of ten I’m going to beat him.

“I knew what people would say afterwards. They would say he’s been inactive and didn’t turn up. But we knew that was going to happen because of how convincing I was going to make it look.”

If true that nine times out of ten Wood triumphs over Xu, it stands to reason that he is confident going into any potential rematch.

“It’s actually a blessing for me that people are saying he didn’t turn up,” Wood said. “If that’s what they’re all thinking, that’s probably also what he’s thinking. He’ll be totally overlooking what we did.

“I’m surprised in one way (that Xu is pursuing the rematch). I caught him with some big shots and have never punched someone so hard or so often in my whole career. Credit to him, he’s very tough. But there’s no prize for being brave and the only thing he can do differently in the rematch is throw more.

“The reason he didn’t do that first time round, though, is because if he had thrown more he would have walked on to something earlier. Every time I caught him with something he was clammed up and braced for it. If he wants to come earlier, or come on stronger, he’s going to walk on to one earlier and it will be an earlier night.

“The edge that I’ve got is knowing that he can’t really change. He’s got to a certain level doing that and he can’t really change that fast or adapt his style that quick. I beat him, I beat him well, and I would have beaten him on points if I didn’t stop him. He must be thinking, What can I do to change the way this fight goes? Mentally, that’s a big question to answer.

“Ultimately, though, where else can he go? Where else can he get a fight that pays as good as that? He hasn’t really got the choice. He has to go for the rematch.”

In contrast, Wood, due to both his recent form and a new promotional deal with Matchroom Boxing, now has a number of options.

“I’d love something bigger and I’d love it on home turf,” he said. “I’d love to bring a fight back to Nottingham for all the people who have watched me since I started.

“But, first things first, we’ve got a rematch clause and I’ve got to honour that. I think Xu’s up for the rematch from what I’ve heard and we’ve already started negotiations for a fight towards the end of the year.

“He came to England for my shot so the rematch is probably going to be in America, or maybe even China. Who knows? Either way, I’m confident of getting the job done. It’s just a ring in a room and he’s just another person with gloves on. It won’t make a difference where it is.”

If not Xu, another option for Wood is a date with popular Irishman Michael Conlan, who not only expressed an interest in meeting Wood in last week’s Boxing News but has since then been ordered to face him by the WBA. “That’s a massive fight,” said Wood. “He’s a really big draw in Ireland and I’m sure he would want me to go over there. But I’m champion and he can come to the (Nottingham) Forest ground for fight number one and then maybe we’ll do a return in Ireland. We’ll see.

“Last year after the Dickens defeat I did an interview to camera and said there were three things I wanted to achieve in my career: the first was to win the British title, the next was to box for and hopefully win a world title, and the third was to be the first boxer to headline at the City Ground.

“Within nine months of that video, I’ve won the British, I’ve won a ‘world’ title, and now the last thing I want to achieve in my career is to headline at Forest’s ground. I think, now I’ve signed this (Matchroom) deal, it’s going to happen.”