By Cody Kaye: Australian boxer Garth Wood knows all about long shots. In 2009, the former first grade rugby league player rocketed into stardom, winning the Australian ’The Contender’ series as a virtual unknown.
At the time, Wood was 31 years of age, and boasted just eight professional fights. He wasn’t even supposed to be in the series, but the late withdrawal of Shannan Taylor saw him earn a call-up. The rest, as they say, is history.
Wood’s reward for winning ’The Contender’ was a shot at two-time World Champion Anthony “The Man” Mundine. Wood was given next to no hope of beating Mundine, but five rounds into their supposed mismatch, he caused one of the biggest upsets in Australian boxing history. Mundine was left unconscious on the canvas.
Wood’s camp hastily agreed to a lucrative rematch, but he lost a close, unanimous, 10 round decision. That was two years ago, and Wood’s only fights since have been a points loss to highly-rated compatriot Sam Soliman, and a knock out win over Toagasilimai Letoa in the light heavyweight division in February.
Injuries, and an inability to find quality opponents willing to fight him, have put the brakes on Wood’s career. Now, at the age of 34, he’s preparing for one more long shot as he goes in search of a middleweight World Title.
“I want to challenge myself,” reveals Wood.
“This is personal to me. I want to fight the best. That’s why I’m at middleweight again. It’s a glamorous division with big names and big fights."
"I know I need to earn my shot, but ultimately I want the WBA Champion Gennady Golovkin. Nobody wants to get in the ring with that guy – but I’m not afraid to dream big. I’ll give him the fight of his life. But before that happens, I’ve gotta get past Kalakoda.”
Wood makes his return to the ring against South African Virgil Kalakoda, on Thursday May 16, at the Melbourne Pavilion. It’s a fight Wood should win and he knows that he can forget Golovkin if he fails.
“Virgil’s a very tough guy,”acknowledges Wood.
“He’s been in there with some experienced fighters, and his old man was a fighter so it’s in his blood. Kalakoda comes to fight, he won’t run – this is going to be an awesome fight.’’
In Wood’s corner is Australian Hall of Fame trainer Johnny Lewis – a man Wood has known since he walked into the Newtown PCYC as a young kid looking for a fight.
“Yeah, old Johnny,” smiles Wood, “he’s known me all my life. He and my old man have been mates since I was a kid. To be honest, he was the first bloke to show me how to hold my hands up. It’s great I’ve been able to channel back into my boxing career and get Johnny along. He’s a great motivator and it’s a natural fit.”
Lewis has shaped many of Australia’s greatest boxing careers; training World Champions like Kostya Tszyu, Jeff Harding and Jeff Fenech. Now he believes it’s Wood’s turn.
“He’s a fighter, Garth,” says Lewis.
“All guts and determination - he’s always fought whoever they’ve put in front of him. He’s a throwback to the good old days. He just goes along with his little bag in his hands with his gloves in it and gets in with anyone, anytime, anywhere. Few fighters can say they did the same."
"He’s old school, very much so. But now he just needs a big fight. Time probably isn’t on his side, but if anyone can do it, Garth can.”