Nathaniel “The Prospect” Wood (9-3) was set to face Vaughan Lee (14-12-1) at Cage Warriors 80, but the bout was scrapped just 48 hours before the event.
Wood’s brain scan leading up to the fight, a medical requirement for fighters competing on a SafeMMA approved Cage Warriors card, had raised a concern, a small mark was visible on his brain, but that was soon cleared up, but then another mark was spotted and he was again sent for another scan, which was cleared. And again, another mark appeared.
He had one more scan, now they needed a neurologist to sign it off, but only one appointment was available, he took the 5pm slot, just two days before the event. The neurologist decided that he needed the opinion of a colleague, a vascular specialist, and they were told at 9pm that they couldn’t declare him medically fit until he had a CTA (Computed tomography angiography) scan, which wouldn’t be possible before the event, so Wood was forced to withdraw as he was unable to obtain medical clearance.
It was an anxious wait for the fighter, he had the CTA scan a few days later, but then had to wait a week for the neurologist to return from leave. It was good news for Wood, he had been medically cleared, but he then had to wait a few days for the neurologist to send his report confirming the results.
The Team Titan fighter saw Lee at the event, and there was no animosity between the two. They had nothing respect for each other, talking like two friends, not opponents.
“It was quite funny,” he said. “It was like mates arranging a night out, but we were setting up a fight. We talked about the Ireland card, but I don’t think I had the medical clearance in place, we decided that there was no point in rushing it, so we arranged it for the Liverpool card. He was very cool about it.”
Cage Warriors are scheduled to return to London in June, and Wood would mentioned that he would love to fight on that card, but that he is not going to look past Lee. Wood had to return 150 tickets to Cage Warriors following the cancellation of the bout, though the 23-year-old is looking at the positives, and has 30-40 people travelling up to Liverpool to support him.
“It could be a blessing in disguise,” he said. “I think it worked out for the best, Liverpool is going to be a great show.”
“I would have preferred to have fought in my hometown, I would have had a lot more support, but I’m glad the fight is back on. I would have been gutted if the fight had been scrapped.”
The bantamweights are final set to meet this weekend, the bout is now the co-main event of the Cage Warriors 82 card in Liverpool, after Chris Fishgold was forced to withdraw from his title defence.
Wood believes that this is the biggest fight of his career, at least on paper. Lee had 8 fights (3-5) under the UFC banner, but has lost his last three fights and has not won a competitive bout in almost 3 years. And ‘The Prospect’ feels that his opponent is coming towards the end of his career and isn’t at the same standard as some of his previous opponents.
“I don’t think it will actually be my toughest fight, look at some of the guys I’ve fought before, someone like Alan Philpott, these guys are in their prime and I believe they are better athletes. But it is the biggest fight of my career.”
The 23-year-old is pursuing his MMA career on a full-time basis, he explained that the financial hardship motivates him, and that his opponent lacks that hunger. Lee spent 4 years with the sport’s biggest promotion and struggled to make a name for himself, eventually being released by the Las Vegas-based organisation. Wood isn’t sure what the future will hold for Lee if he loses, but that retirement may be a possibility.
Wood’s former teammate, Brad ‘One Punch’ Pickett has had nothing but positive things to say about Lee, and Wood hopes that the Birmingham-based fighter will continue fighting if he still has the desire to do so.
“I don’t think he will have that same level as motivation as me,” he told SevereMMA.
“He has been in the UFC, made some money, but without being horrible, I believe his career is over. He has 14 wins but he also has 12 losses. And obviously, he has fought tough competition, but he lost.“
“And now he’s out of the UFC, he’s going to have another loss on his record. I do believe he could retire, and Brad [Pickett] told me how nice Vaughan is, but unfortunately for him, he has to share the cage with me that night.”
A number of fighters from Team Titan have trained with the UTC fighter, and they have told Wood that he has the advantage over his opponent in all areas, which has made Wood confident that he will leave the Echo Arena with another win.
“My training partners said I’m better than him everywhere, they’ve trained with him and said that. I’ve got a reach advantage and height advantage.”
“I don’t think he’ll get anywhere near me. I saw a video of him shadow boxing on one of the Cage Warriors promos, they were short and quick, those punches are never going to catch me!”
“I haven’t got a game plan, anything can happen. I just better myself, grow as a fighter, go in there and do my own thing. I’d prefer to strike, but I’m happy for it to go the ground, though I don’t think it will.”
He considers the fight against Lee to be the biggest fight of his career as a victory over the former UFC fighter could lead a call from UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby. The card airs on UFC Fight Pass and you would imagine that one of the UFC matchmakers will be keeping an eye on the card.
“If I can put someone like Vaughan Lee out in good fashion, it will put me up there, that is a huge statement to make. I believe I’m close to the UFC, I’m not far away from it, that is what people have been telling me. I’m not looking past Vaughan, but a win over him will get me closer to where I want to be.”
Wood, now 23, has gone by the nickname ‘The Prospect’ for over 5 years, explained that he will stick with that nickname until he has a UFC belt around his waist. The London-based fighter is also open to extending his stay with Cage Warriors, and is interested in competing for the vacant bantamweight title if he gets past Lee.
He had the opportunity to become the BAMMA Lonsdale bantamweight champion when the UK-based promotion visited Ireland in 2016. Alan Philpott defeated Wood in the third round, when the doctor monitoring the fight decided that Wood’s broken nose meant that he was no longer fit to compete.
Wood is still unhappy with the stoppage, frustrated that the Dr. had allowed the fight to continue when he initially checked on him and told Wood that his nose was broken.
“I completely disagree with it,” he said. “I wouldn’t have been disappointed if he had stopped it in the first, but he said I could carry on. Alan didn’t catch me on the nose against for the rest of the fight. I got into a dominant position, that is when they stopped the fight.”
“And it was a fight for a championship, I put everything into this sport, and a chance like that was taken away from me with only a couple minutes left, it was heartbreaking. I asked for a rematch, but I didn’t get it.”
13 months have passed since that loss to Philpott. And Wood hasn’t had a fight since he defeated Chase Morton at Bellator 158 in July 2016. He spent the last 8 months to focussing on developing his skillset, he is certain that the outcome would be different if the pair were to meet again.
“I’m a completely different fighter since that Philpott loss. I don’t think I really got to show how good I am. And credit to Alan, he caught me with a very good elbow. He got the better of me that night.”
“I was in Ireland, I felt I had to rush the fight after that, I thought the judges would just look at my cut. I rushed the fight, didn’t stick to the plan.”
“I’ve watched the fight, and it was a lot closer than I thought. I think that a rematch, even a month later, I would have done what I needed to do. It would be a completely different decision if we ever face each other again.”