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Nathaniel Wood up for ‘Battle of the Brits’ with Lerone Murphy, would rather retire than cut back down to 135

Nathaniel Wood has no regrets about his decision to move up to featherweight.

A former Cage Warriors bantamweight champion, Wood made the leap up to 145 pounds after a rough 2020 campaign that saw him lose two of his three UFC appearances. The decision paid immediate dividends — ever since, the 29-year-old Englishman is a perfect 3-0 in his new weight class, punctuated by an exciting back-and-forth victory over Andre Fili this past weekend at UFC London. And at this point, the prospect of ever dropping back down to his old stomping grounds may as well be anathema to Wood.

“The proof’s in the pudding,” Wood said recently on The MMA Hour. “I’ve got three fights at featherweight now, three wins. Two dominant wins and one that was a bit of back and forth, and I don’t feel that in any of those fights that I struggled with anything to do with weight or size. And mate, I’m able to live a good life and have a proper fight camp. I’m tired of the days where I was killing myself just to make weight. I wasn’t even focused on my opponents. All I would be focused on in training is how many calories is this going to burn, how much weight can I make — and it’s not fun, mate. It isn’t.

“So unless the UFC said to me, ‘You’re going to fight 135, but it’s going to be a £1 million fight, it’s for the belt, it’s something special,’ I’m not going back down to 135. I’d rather go get a job and hang up the gloves, because I kind of was despising the sport, I feel like, when I was cutting to 135.”

Wood’s latest win served as a solid test of how he could stand up against some of the more established names in the UFC’s featherweight division. While Fili may not be a title contender, he’s still a tough and gritty veteran who’s accumulated 10 octagon wins since 2013 and faced some of the most talented fighters in the weight class, former champions and contenders like Max Holloway, Yair Rodriguez, and Calvin Kattar.

Wood hoped his UFC London performance would be the fight to attach a number next to his name on the UFC’s official featherweight rankings. Unfortunately, however, that wasn’t the case; Wood remains unranked following the UFC’s post-London rankings update.

“I kind of thought after that fight maybe I’d get ranked,” Wood said. “Doesn’t look like anything’s changed, so I’d like to think that people were taking notice of me now, but I feel that the top 15 look at me as a risky fight with not enough reward. I think people are chasing them rankings, especially I am, and I think people know that I’m a tough fight.

“I don’t think Fili got enough respect before that fight. I think Fili is a very game, very, very talented fighter. He’s been in UFC for 10 years and I think people may be kind of looking past that I just beat him. So yeah, I feel like I’m still kind of getting left out a little bit, but they can leave me out as long as they’d like. I know that I’m going to climb that ladder and it’s inevitable that I’m going to get where I need to be.”

Even without a ranking, Wood remains a dark horse in the UFC’s featherweight division. He’s targeting a return to action in the fourth quarter of 2023, preferably at UFC 294 in Abu Dhabi or for the promotion’s Nov. 4 trip to Sao Paulo, Brazil, and hopes to finally land the type of big-name opponent who could rocket him into the contender mix next.

There is one unranked name, however, that would catch Wood’s interest.

Fellow English prospect Lerone Murphy also earned a big win at UFC London when he vanquished Joshua Culibao. Murphy is now 5-0-1 in the UFC, and the two featherweights have traded barbs since their previously scheduled fight was cancelled this past March due to an injury suffered by Wood, even resulting in a fight week confrontation in London.

While Wood downplays the incident, he’d be more than happy to settle things in the cage.

“That’s an exciting fight that I would love to have,” Wood said of Murphy. “It’s one that I asked for this [UFC London] card that had just gone. I never asked for Andre Fili, I asked for Lerone Murphy. It didn’t happen. It’s a fight that makes sense, 100 percent, and I am all for it. I don’t think it’s going to happen, if I’m honest. I feel that maybe the UFC wants us to both kind of work our way up the ladder and then maybe meet.

“If not, maybe next year, I’m sure they’ll come to London again — why can’t we do a co-main event or main event? Battle of the Brits, if you like. Obviously we’ve got three guys from England — Arnold Allen, myself, and Lerone Murphy — in them featherweight rankings, so why not see who the two are out of us? Because I know Allen’s obviously up there, I think ranked fourth, so yeah, me and Lerone, that’d be nice, and it’d be nice for us to be able to kind of put our money where our mouths are.

“But if it doesn’t happen, I kind of wish Lerone all the best now. I’m a little bit past the kind of animosity, if you like. Just before the fight, I wished him good luck for his fight and stuff, so I don’t feel like there’s major bad blood there. But if the fight gets matched, you know I’m going to sign it straight away.”

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