To do big things, some fighters need a passport.
Some of them need those passports often.
It’s easy to be a sucker for successful road warriors. They head into hostile environments, either forcing the judges to ignore the crowd in favor of their work or drowning out the noise to take the outcome out of the judge’s hands. Lots of guys go on the road occasionally, but those who make a habit of it can be fun to follow.
This Saturday, in two separate featherweight title fights, a pair of defending champions will stamp their passports again. One can be said to be making a habit. The other might find himself in that position sooner than later if he keeps winning.
The one who is making a habit of it is Mexico’s newly crowned WBA featherweight titlist Mauricio Lara (26-2-1, 19 KO). Lara will defend this weekend in an immediate rematch with Leigh Wood (26-3, 16 KO). The fight will air on DAZN (2 PM EST). Lara and Wood had one of the better fights of 2023 already in February. Wood built a lead only to be stopped in the seventh and will attempt to avenge the defeat.
It will be Lara’s fourth fight in the UK since 2021. He previously faced Josh Warrington twice, first ending Warrington’s undefeated run with a stoppage win and then being stuck with a technical draw after Lara suffered an accidental cut in round two.
A short hop across the Atlantic, a notable former Wood foe will have home court in Northern Ireland. Olympian Michael Conlan (18-1, 9 KO) will challenge Mexico’s Luis Alberto Lopez (27-2, 15 KO) for the IBF title. It will be Lopez’s third trip outside Mexico or the United States and second consecutive title fight. The fight will air on ESPN+ (1:30 PM EST).
Lopez’s last trip ended, in December 2022, with Warrington’s second loss, Lopez leaving the UK with a majority decision in an impressive breakthrough performance. Now he will try to retain in Northern Ireland against a Conlan who is 2-0 since a rough loss.
In what was Ring and the BWAA’s fight of the year for 2022, Conlan built a big lead and lost on a sensational late knockout to Wood. Already 31, Conlan will have the crowd behind him as he attempts to win his first major title. A week ago, fight fans saw Chantelle Cameron go onto hostile turf to defeat Katie Taylor with the performance of her life.
Lopez will need to bring it with similar determination.
If both champions retain this weekend, the facelift at featherweight will become further untrenched. In the last year, Lara and Lopez have joined the title picture while Emanuel Navarrete exited to Jr. lightweight. Cuban Olympic gold medalist Robeisy Ramirez (12-1, 7 KO) picked up Navarrete’s vacant WBO belt and Brandon Figueroa (24-1-1, 18 KO) picked up an interim WBC crown to potentially line up a shot at titlist Rey Vargas (36-1, 22 KO).
Win or lose against Naoya Inoue in July, Jr. featherweight titlist Stephen Fulton (21-0, 8 KO) is likely to be a featherweight sooner than later as well.
Lara and Lopez aren’t just fighting this weekend to retain titles. They are fighting to retain position in a weight class that is slowly getting hotter. One of the reasons champions go on the road is that it’s where the best payday is for their trade. The paydays are about to pick up at featherweight, especially if some of the champions can gather the traction to create matches fans want to see.
Lara had his hands full until he lowered the boom on Wood. Conlan’s lone loss was a long night’s work and Lopez won’t find an easy foe across the ring. Both men will have to earn it in the lion’s den again.
The rewards if they do could be worth the trips.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, a member of the International Boxing Research Organization, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at email@example.com
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