Nathaniel Wood: Huge Step-Up in Odd Circumstances
By James Lee
Saturday poses an exciting, but unexpected, challenge for one of England’s most exciting fighters.
With UFC London right around the corner, it was expected Nathaniel Wood had his spot on that card secure, especially after his special moment at the annual event last year, when he defeated Jose Alberto Quinonez via second-round rear naked choke.
Surprisingly, he has been matched up with veteran and former UFC title challenger John Dodson in Rio Rancho, Albuquerque this Saturday.
Although the fight presents a massive opportunity for him to secure a spot in the UFC rankings, it seems like the promotion missed an opportunity to have him garner all attention in London.
One of few disadvantages of the fragmented nature of the sport is fighters rarely get the chance to be the figurehead for an entire event.
The global nature of the sport’s biggest promotion means they rarely visit the same area frequently, making it a rare circumstance an entire event is based around one fighter.
That is what makes moments like Conor McGregor in Dublin, Darren Till in Liverpool and Mark Hominick in Toronto so special because they are so rare. Unlike boxing where events are usually catered to a hometown fighter, the organisation hosts events globally.
UFC London presented Nathaniel Wood to have that moment, without the star power of Darren Till intercepting. His reception last year was immense. The crowd in the capital gathered behind him more than anybody on the card, except the headliner.
It is very rare for a fighter with just two wins in the UFC at the time to receive such high hometown praise, but his performances before that earned that and his win on the night was impeccable.
This year’s March event in London is still in need of a co-headliner and it is difficult to see why the former Cage Warriors bantamweight champion wasn’t chosen for that role, against Dodson or any other ranked bantamweight.
With Leon Edwards vs Tyron Woodley the only mainstream stand-out contest at the event, Wood could have stolen the attention show with a successful outing.
However, it can be seen the other way. A win over Dodson in away territory could be more influential. With Albuquerque against him, a win without home support could do more for his international status. Despite a period of inconsistency for the American, he still holds a place in the UFC rankings with a win against him regarded highly at 135 lbs.
The placement on the card being the preliminary headliner doesn’t give him the greatest exposure, but a win will be remembered.
For international exposure, the chosen matchmaking is sensible. A win for him in opposition territory would boost his status at 135 lbs greatly, but somehow it feels like the UFC missed an opportunity to have him perform in London.