Nathaniel Wood: Making His Mark in the UFC
By Keith Turrell
Seven years can sound like a long time but when you’re taking a look back at the career of Nathaniel ‘The Prospect’ Wood it appears to fly by pretty quick. Wood, currently at 15-3 in his professional career, recently defeated Andre Ewell in the featured bout of the Fight Pass prelims for UFC 232 to bring his record in the big show to 2-0 and he grabbed his second submission victory in a row to do it.
Even on such a big card that featured two gigantic title fights in the main and co-main events the Londoner was eating up a good portion of the chatter going in and with a solid victory that showcased his rock-solid fundamentals in all areas he continues his march up the bantamweight rankings. He is the name on the tip of the tongue for all British MMA fans as the fight announcements roll out for UFC London in March, with many waiting until he is confirmed before shelling out for their tickets.
The Prospect, a name given to him by his father as they took in an episode of biker drama Sons of Anarchy in which new gang recruits are given the title, is the most fitting handle for a fighter who has been permanently on the march up the rankings. Going unbeaten through the last two years, he has racked up 13 finishes in his 15 wins altogether and earned the Cage Warriors bantamweight title along the way before making the jump to the UFC in June 2018.
His Octagon debut was itself a typical performance from the 25-year-old; engaging Brazilian veteran Johnny Eduardo with a mix of tight boxing movement and fluid striking, weathering a strong, combination heavy attack from his opponent before stuffing a takedown in the second round to end up in top control and in perfect position to lock up a D’arce choke and finish the fight.
His calmness and composure under pressure combined with his technical and powerful skills both in striking and the ground game have come to define who Nathaniel is as a fighter.
Back in 2015, a Cage Warriors hiatus would align with a learning experience for Wood with his three losses coming under the BAMMA banner before the return of the UK’s top dog. It’s that return that sparked his recent unbeaten streak and looking back from January 2019 those fights between 2014 and 2016 seem like a faded memory.
In April of 2017 he was back on the Cage Warriors mat with a renewed focus and a British UFC legend in his corner. Brad Pickett had welcomed Wood into his London-based Team Titan and helped the young fighter to raise his game to new levels. Pickett is a veteran of 14 UFC bouts and that experience is clear to see in the way he approaches the game and his post-fight coaching career, instilling a high fight IQ in his fighters and passing on a keen sense of what it takes to compete on the sports biggest stage.
The Prospect would go on to make a statement in the fight. Showing his grit and toughness once again to survive a choke attempt from Vaughan Lee as the first round clock wound down, raising his game in the second to unleash a flurry of punches and take Lee out with accurate combinations to end the fight by TKO. Vaughan Lee is no pushover. A UFC veteran himself, Wood had shown his class here and marked himself as a fighter ready for brighter lights.
They would shine just two months later. A June bout with the Swiss fighter Marko Kovacevic at Cage Warriors 84 in London would be for the then vacant bantamweight title and Wood would ensure he grabbed the glare all to himself as he showed strength in the clinch to break out and rock Kovacevic with a pinpoint right hand, following up with combinations to drop him and take the win with yet another strong TKO. In doing so he would become the first Londoner to earn the bantamweight strap, a proud moment for himself as well as Pickett and the rest of the team.
Two title defences would follow and both would put his by now well established characteristics on show. A TKO win over Josh Reed came first, in which he survived yet more intense pressure, keeping his composure to fire back and put Reed away to roars of “that was absolutely insane!” from the commentary team followed by a super fast knock out of Luca Iovine, ending it with a picture perfect left hook that left Iovine face down on the canvas.
By this point the UFC had been in touch and the dominance displayed in the Cage Warriors 92 bout made Wood a sure-fire bet for a call up that same year, bringing us almost up to date on his ever rising career and giving us a chance to look forward at what 2019 may hold for The Prospect.
The Andre Ewell fight this past December is a great snapshot of where he currently stands in the division. A mature and composed performance; he selected his shots well on the feet and stayed focused on the ground as Ewell attempted to frustrate him with his guard, never taking a big risk but instead patiently working towards an opportunity as Ewell gave up his back and Wood was able to lock up a body triangle and finish with a rear naked choke. The win puts him at number 27 on Tapology’s world bantamweight rankings and it’s not unreasonable to predict that he could push his way into the official top 15 by the end of this year.
UFC London is set to take place on March 16th at the O2 Arena and Wood has already stated his desire to be on the card. While he has requested fights with both Tom Duquesnoy and Marlon Vera who are also outside of the current top 15 it is a potential scrap with number 10 ranked Rob Font that is currently making waves on social media. The two have gone back and forth on Twitter and as it stands this would be a fantastic opportunity for Nathaniel to launch himself into the mix at the top end of the division. It is also a fight that could easily headline or act as the co-main event for the UFC’s return to the capital and raise his profile even further in the eyes of the international MMA community.
Nathaniel ‘The Prospect’ Wood is at the head of what is a very exciting crop of fighters belonging to the next generation of British talent. Alongside current UFC peers such as the Welshman Brett Johns and other young stars on the brink of a call-up as Jack Shore, Paddy Pimblett and Dean Trueman undoubtedly are, Wood shows the evolution of the sport in the UK. Every inch an athlete physically with a strong, well-rounded game that can be honed to emphasise individual strengths without leaving obvious weaknesses in other areas as well as an astute understanding of the strategy of MMA and ability to remain calm under pressure. The experience British fighters have had on the world stage is feeding back into the training and planning as these same fighters take up coaching roles and we are now ready to see much more complete mixed martial artists emerge from these shores to challenge the best that the world has to offer.
Wood may be a prospect currently but it shouldn’t be long until we see him earn his patch.
Photo Credit: Zuffa