Before Saturday night’s fight between Leigh Wood and Michael Conlan, trainer Ben Davison described Wood as “one of the best human beings (he’d) ever met.” Watching how Wood comported himself during a nuanced, emotional situation at the end of the fight, one can understand how he arrived at that conclusion.
Wood scored one of the most breathtaking, dramatic comeback knockout wins in recent memory, stopping Conlan in the waning minutes of a savage fight that was nonetheless out of reach for him on the scorecards. Heading into the 12th round, Wood was in need of a knockout and acted accordingly, desperately chasing Conlan around the ring with the energy he somehow had in reserve. With Conlan bobbing and weaving along the ropes, which he’d done to great success most of the fight, Wood caught Conland on the temple with a right hand. Wood’s hands kept moving, but Conlan was unconscious, slumped over, arms limp. Unfortunately, Conlan’s momentum and the continuing barrage sent him out of the ring, through the bottom rope, headfirst to the floor.
Davison and Wood frantically embraced, on top of one another on the ring canvas, reacting with the kind of untethered emotion that comes out when something utterly unbelievable takes place. But as Wood got to his feet to greet other team members, he sensed something was wrong outside the ring. Conlan hadn’t yet moved, and was being tended to by team members and ringside physicians. Almost instantly, Wood took charge of the situation. He walked over to the ropes where he would be in view for the most fans possible and gestured with his gloves for fans to be quiet.
In doing so, he set the tone for the respectful, cautious approach everyone else involved ultimately took as well. The DAZN broadcast did not show a replay of the knockout, ostensibly out of respect and caution. In formally announcing the decision, ring announcer David Diamante took a somber tone and prefaced his spiel with an acknowledgement that “our thoughts are with (Michael) Conlan and his family.” The broadcasters themselves, former champions Tony Bellew and Carl Froch, were visibly distraught, heads hanging and microphones dangling as if the last thing they wanted to do was discuss the minutiae of a fight that potentially had a tragic ending.
In his post-fight interview on the broadcast, Wood offered only praise of Conlan’s ability and toughness, never discussing any of his own successes in the fight, before effectively opting out of the questioning by saying he needed to first know that Conlan was okay.
To be clear, this level of self-control and empathy in this kind of moment is one of many unreasonable requests boxing has for its participants.