The Severe Spotlight: Nathaniel Wood

Nathaniel Wood shone at UFC London. A year and 9 months out of the cage, 3 fights by the wayside, including the fight week drop out of Vince Morales for the UFC’s first 2022 stop in London. The GB Top Team fighter was desperate to fight, to perform, and it showed.

There were questions going into the 145lb debut:

  • Was the additional weight to be a positive thing or not?
  • Would the size difference be a tangible variable during the fight?
  • How would speed play a factor?
  • How would the lack of weight cut affect the cerebral nature with which Wood usually fights in?

Black Strobe hit the O2 and Nathaniel Wood was back.

From an analyst’s perspective, effective, risk-averse fighting is the most pleasing on the eye. Round one was that. An efficient display of cerebral, assertive, dominant, but risk-averse fighting.  An orthodox Wood stalked Rosa from the opening second. Rounded shoulders, chin low, eyes centred. Defensively aware with his hands, range and angles.

Before the first of many chopping low kicks landed to the lead leg of Rosa, Wood treated us to a myriad of feints, he hopped out of the pocket, circled his way to an angle, entered back in with a lunge and a hip twist feint. Tipping the feint combination off with a head tilt before sinking his weight through the hips, pivoting his lead leg to a ninety degree angle, and sweeping, like a golf club, directly through the calf of Rosa’s leg. The first of many.

Wasting no time to admire his work, he checks a body kick, and gets right back to stalking. The leg kicks of Wood were a vastly prominent element of the game plan, deployed to devastating effect. Variety is something that is laden in this article series repetitively, but it really was variety that lead to Wood’s dominance. The leg kick landed as a counter to Rosa’s feints and strikes, as range finders for the Englishman and as part of combinations for Wood.

The most impressive employment of the leg kick, however, came as punishment for the missteps in Rosa’s footwork. We saw Lone’er Kavanagh employ the leg kick in the same fashion in his win the evening before at Cage Warriors 141. Wood found the timing of Rosa’s stance steps, and as Rosa took a step in an inside or forward direction, there was the golf club of a right leg to blast, hook, sweep, and send Rosa to the canvas:

3:19 of round two. A brief conversation between stances, Wood ends in orthodox and Rosa in southpaw, Rosa steps, dragging the back leg to intimate a kick of some sort coming. Wood recognises that the range isn’t optimal, and as the left leg of Rosa rises, Wood slams the low kick in once again, crashing Rosa to the canvas,

In the questions mentioned at the beginning, one of the thoughts going into the bout was surrounding the range and the length difference at 135 to 145. Equally whether that jump in weight would cause issues in the more physically demanding aspects, like the grappling. Wood answered all of those questions with a resounding, audible response.

Rosa shoots on a single leg a minute into the fight, Wood splays his weight, leans into the leg, cuts the angle, minimising the surface area exposure of Rosa’s shoulder to Wood’s hip, takes a thigh grip and runs Rosa into the cage. Cross face engaged, he sprawls that leg, breaking the grip of Rosa, and in that grip break, finds the correct head position and enters immediately into counter grappling. Eventually exiting from the clinch on his own terms, gorgeous transitional fighting.

The striking of Wood has always been a strong element, and his signature jab, slip to jab-cross was in full display. However, the head movement, range management and shot selection has moved to a new level.

With 2:25 left in the first round, the glory of his defensive to offensive movement and shot selection is on display. He strafes backwards out of range of the oncoming Rosa, switching stances as he does so – leading Rosa onto shots if he were to be overzealous. He feints and walks back into the centre of the octagon, before bringing the hands of Rosa down with a piston back leg teep. Leaving that front teep in, a hip swivel takes him back to a traditional orthodox stance. Hands by his sides, Rosa is expecting another body shot, Wood instead has chambered his power through the hip swivel to orthodox and crushes a low kick into Rosa’s leg. Wood continues to punish Rosa with an overhand left to right hand, a subtle step to his left cuts the cage off, as Wood hunts Rosa, placing him on the cage wall.

Here comes the magic, having already hurt Rosa with the body teep, Wood hard fakes another, Rosa bites as though it were the last meal on Death Row. The magic of that feint is twofold. Primarily it brings down the hands of Rosa, this is rudimentary given that he was hurt by the same shot a couple of seconds prior, but the value of the feint was the gift of power it delivered to Wood. A hard fake means all the mechanics of a strike are undertaken and delivered, without the end third, the full extension and connection. The back teep fake allowed Wood to raise his hips, legs and torso, and as he drove that back to the ground, created power in the gravity, adding an extra sting to the right hand. Combinations are powerful because of the rotational power created through the core, this is a perfect example of just that.

Wood lands a gorgeous right hand, left hook, right uppercut combination. Slips the left hook from Rosa, and takes another slight step to his left, offering Rosa the right-hand side as a method to get out. Rosa instinctively starts to circle that way. A jab meets him. As the overhand right counter comes, Rosa desperate for space, Wood slips with a step to his right-hand side. We are playing high level games of angle, of pressure and of mental overload here. Giving and taking away space, exit routes and countering with hard shots forces Rosa to make mistakes. The sequence ends with Wood hand fighting, and landing another back teep, right hand left hook.

We discuss often in grappling how threating multiple things and attacking a variety of options will overwhelm an opponent, Woods ability in his striking to go low right side with a low kick, to up high with a left hook, or to the body and then high is the same thing. If you do not know where the next shot is coming from, or where its intention to land is, how can you begin to think about positioning yourself in the correct manner to block it? Wood in every transition, looked for multi-faceted shot selections. By the end of the third, Rosa screaming at him to get into an all-out dogfight is a direct result of that gameplan, the frustration was sewn by a master gardener, watered throughout rounds one and two, the sun of Woods skill bore down, forcing it to grow, until the bud opened and Rosa imploded.

The only criticism, and the only thing to watch for Wood was that dogfight. The performance against Josh Reed was one of the best fights in Cage Warriors history, make no mistake. But from a longevity perspective, its not a sound gameplan. Wood was fractionally drawn into a dogfight in that third round, and when he has skills like he showed in the first two rounds, it would be great to see him stick to those awe-inspiring skills. However, this is fighting, and the fire can come for anyone – and the dog in Wood can and willingly will come out if asked.

Keep an eye on Nathaniel Wood, he very much is The Prospect.

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