The Prentice Interviews: Nathaniel Wood

The Prentice Interviews: Nathaniel Wood

By Jon Prentice 

The UFC rolls back into London in just over a week for UFC Fight Night 147: Till vs Masvidal, and come March 16th one of the city’s own, Nathaniel Wood (15-3), will get the opportunity to showcase his skills on home soil for the first time in his UFC tenure. The former Cage Warriors bantamweight champion is currently 2-0 in the UFC since making the move to the premier organisation in 2018.

I had the opportunity to catch up with Nathaniel this week to discuss the upcoming card in his own back yard, his opponent Jose Quiñones (7-2) and what the future holds for the 25-year-old stand out.

“It is honestly amazing” said Wood on the opportunity to fight for the UFC in his home city.

“The very first UFC event I went to was Brad Pickett, before I started training with him, against Neil Seery. I remember saying to my Dad that if I can headline at the O2 for the UFC that would be the pinnacle of my dreams, that would be the very top. Now I’m not headlining it, but I am on the card and I’m in my home town, so for me I just have to go and get that win and that will honestly be a dream come true for me.”

Wood comes in to the fight with Jose Quiñones on the back of a dominant display over Andre Ewell, who himself had just defeated the former champion Renan Barao. Wood, who got the win at over Ewell via a third round rear naked choke, explained to me how the victory over Ewell came easier than expected, and the minimal damage he took in the December showdown allowed him to be in full health for the London card:

”It was nice to just get more ring experience. Going into that fight I thought it was going to be tricky, he has a tricky style and I thought that he was going to catch me a lot when I was trying to get him and hit him. It was far from that, he didn’t land anything that hurt me and once I dropped him in the first round and we went to the ground, I realised that he had nothing for me on the floor.” 

“I also thought to myself in the back of my mind that the London card was around the corner so I don’t want to go and break my hand or injure myself doing something silly in the fight. Let’s get a nice easy win, so I knew that taking him down was going to get that win no matter what. Obviously when the third round came I thought right, I am going to beat him into a submission and he gave it to me. It was nice to get the win, I would have liked to have put on a bit more of a striking performance but I have to be sensible in the same sense. The London card means a lot to me, I just wanted to make sure that I could get to that without any injuries.”

The UFC announced Wood’s involvement in the card relatively late in comparison to other fights scheduled for the event, something that Wood explained to me left him a little nervy and fearing that he wouldn’t get the opportunity to perform in front of his friends and family in his home town:

“It was briefly said that I would be on the card (by the UFC matchmakers), but I was starting to lose faith because I had an original opponent matched and I was waiting on contracts to be signed but next thing apparently the guy just wouldn’t sign the contract and didn’t really want to hear anything of it. The next thing I’m hearing that everyone else is being announced and they have 13 match ups on the card and I am here and ready but still haven’t heard anything.” 

“I was starting to sweat, I started to think oh shit I might not be on this card. For me that honestly would have broken my heart. So when I officially got the name, Jose Quiñones, it was only a couple of days before the press conference that I did. I was just buzzing, I went straight to the gym and did a training session as it is hard to train when you haven’t got an opponent in mind. You are sitting there having to diet down and lose weight but you are still questioning whether you are on the card or not. It can be hard, but as soon as I got that name I was in the gym and putting that work in, and as I say I am feeling great and ready to rock now.”

The clash with Quiñones will be Wood’s third in the UFC in the last 9 months, and although the momentum the quick succession fights generate, the almost continuous training camp has been tougher mentally than physically for Wood. With that being said, Wood couldn’t have asked for better preparations:

“Training has gone perfectly, obviously where I have come straight out of camp from the last fight (Andre Ewell) to this one, it’s kind of meant that it hasn’t really been a fight camp as such, it’s more just been about maintaining where I’m at and (staying) at that level.”

“It’s been a little bit easier in terms of physically I haven’t had to do as much and I haven’t had to push myself as hard, but slightly a little bit long-winded. You know I am getting a little bit bored now as I’m just ready to fight. The quicker March 16th comes around the better for me.”

Training out of Team Titan under the tutelage of UFC veteran Brad picket, Wood has enjoyed having his head coach back as a training partner rather than just a coach, following Pickett’s recent announcement that he will competing in Bare Knuckle Boxing:

“Now Brad is officially fighting he has increased his training again and he seems like he has more of a love and enjoyment of being in the gym as he has a purpose. It has been nice to actually train with him again instead of just him training me. We have been doing a bit of sparring together and he comes down to the strength and conditioning gym with me. It’s great to have my teammate back for a fight, definitely.”

Wood admitted that he had not seen a great deal on his opponent, but was happy to focus on himself and let his coaches advise him on what Quiñones brings to the table:

“If I’m honest I haven’t really watched any footage at all other than about 2 minutes of him. Usually with me, I tend to give my opponents to my coaches and if my coaches are happy I’m happy. I just let my coaches dissect them and look through their footage and tell me what to do. From what my coach has said, he can’t see me losing in any area as long as I turn up with my A game.” 

“You know he (Quiñones) looks pretty decent everywhere and he is quite similar to my last opponent in terms of he is predominantly southpaw, rangy and tall, but the benefit of this guy is that he comes forward, whereas the last one (Ewell) was a bit of a back foot kind of fighter. For me I always prefer it when someone comes forward and headhunt. If he comes in range and I can hit him I am pretty confident that I can get a knockout. That would be the icing on the cake for me in my home town.” 

“I like to go in there and just play it as it goes. I have had times where I have been looking into my opponents and make a game plan for them, but in this sport if someone pulls out, that’s it your whole camp was scheduled for one guy and you kind of crumble a bit as you think, oh shit what am I going to do now. But the fact is I just train for me and let them worry about me, means that no matter who I am fighting, I know that I am turning up as the best Nathaniel Wood.” 

Despite the fact that he has not watched a great deal of footage on his opponent, Wood is still confident that he knows how the fight will play out come March 16th:

“I think he is going to come out, I think the crowd is going to get to him. I think he is going to be either coming straight at me from the bell, in that case I think I am going to knock him out very quickly, or he is going to be diving for a takedown and just trying to drag out a win, that kind of style. I am ready for whatever.” 

At just 25 years old, Wood is one of the hottest prospects in the bantamweight division with many fans and media members alike naming the likes of him and Petr Yan as the future of the division. His first two outings in the UFC have ended via impressive finishes, with many expecting more of the same again in London, however, the additional pressure is something that Wood thrives upon:

“It definitely adds pressure but it fuels me. The fights that I have lost in the past are the ones where I have not been nervous. I have been at the arena, didn’t sell many tickets, I was just kind of coasting through and I made mistakes. Then there are the fights that I have pressure and nerves and that kind of pre-fight jitters, that’s what keeps me sharp and that’s what keeps me on point. For me, keep increasing the pressure and you are just going to see a better performance every time from me.”

It would appear that it is not just the fans and media that are high on Wood’s talent, as the UFC also invited the London born star to take part in a press conference, containing just the main event competitors (Darren Till and Jorge Masvidal) as well as Leon Edwards, to help promote the event. Wood explained to me that he was a bit shocked to be part of such a big media event, however it gave him confidence that he was doing the right things in the eyes of the UFC hierarchy:

“If I’m honest it was weird, it was very weird. Brad said to me ‘oh the UFC want to do some filming with you in the next week’ and as far as I was aware it was (going to be) kind of like turn up and stand in front of a camera and do a bit of media stuff. The night before he said ‘no you are doing a press conference’…I was like ‘me’. I was kind of thinking why do they want me on there, but yeah it was pretty surreal sitting there next to Darren Till and the fact that it was only the main event (fighters), Leon Edwards and myself, that was pretty cool. I assume that I am doing something right if the UFC are putting me on there.”

_DCX4827.0

Wood has made the transition from Cage Warriors to the premier MMA promotion appear a seamless one, and he gave me an insight into how he has taken it all in his stride without feeling any form of big stage nerves:

Honestly if anything I thought that when I got to the UFC it would be more surreal, but it just feels normal. I have worked the last 10 years for this and it has all fallen into place. I don’t feel that the fights have been any different from my time at Cage Warriors.

“Obviously it is a step up in competition but right now I haven’t really felt it as such. I think that with MMA anything can happen on the night so my toughest fight has been Josh Reed who on paper I thought would be one of my easiest fights so anything can happen. I definitely feel that with the press conference and the media obligations has increased a lot but I like it all. More media stuff and more commitments means more pressure and pressure make diamonds. Some people crumble under it and some people rise to it and I definitely feel that I am fighter that rises to that pressure.”

If victorious come March 16th, Wood has his eyes firmly set on the upper echelons of the division, and is happy to take on any ranked opponent to help him achieve his overall goal of becoming the UFC bantamweight champion:

“For me I definitely want to start getting up the ranks and get into that top 10 and get in a title position eventually. For me that’s obviously a big thing but in the UFC sometimes it can be hard to get fights. As long as the UFC keep getting me in there, get me a good fight and I get a good win on March 16th ideally, I would like to be calling out one of those top 10 and start getting in the rankings.”

Before I left Wood to enjoy the remainder of a rare rest day, I asked him if he had one final message for Jose Quiñones ahead of their showdown

”Just bring you’re A game, I have got mine so let’s do it.”

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s