We’ve been hearing for years about the new generation of fighters. They didn’t transition into the sport after years of indoctrination in another fighting style, they’ve been “training MMA” since day one. Rory MacDonald was the original poster boy (or was he “The Waterboy”?) for that supposed wave. While I still have my doubts about the existence of that movement, and whether or not it is even a desirable one, 25-year-old bantamweight Nathaniel Wood (15-3 MMA, 2-0 UFC) is their freshest representative.
More importantly, he’s fun.
Under the wing of British veteran Brad Pickett at Team Titan, London’s Wood has developed a high-volume, all-action style. Despite his already near-legendary exploits on the European circuit, “The Prospect” doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page, the popular standard for judging a fighter’s worth.
This is Fighter of Interest, where underrated, under the radar, or underappreciated fighters from an upcoming event are brought to light. Enjoy the GIFs and brief analysis.
Nathaniel Wood Combat Origins
Gary Wood, Nathaniel’s father, rocks a ponytail and has been a martial artist his entire life. According to the elder Wood, he was a longtime karate competitor, which led him to muay thai, which led him to judo, which finally got him addicted to jiu jitsu.
In his youth, the Woods used to grapple a bit “on and off” at home, until one day Nathaniel decided he’d be joining his father at the gym for practice.
“He was like a duck to water,” said Gary Wood. At 16 years old and out of school, Nathaniel ditched a potential career in carpentry and began his training to become a professional mixed martial artist.
Wood describes his style as “controlled aggression.”
At the present moment, I personally see Wood as an action fighter and a fringe contender, but he’s young and improving, the growth is there for him to break through to the elite. Let’s recap the significant fights of Nathaniel Wood’s career, leading to his next fight at UFC Fight Night 147 in London.
Green Prospect Era
It’s my estimation that Wood’s career as a prospect can be divided into two eras. The first of which is typical of a young fighter, he’s a bit wild, unrefined in some eras, and lacks some purpose in his game.
Observe his strengths and weaknesses in those early days.
vs. Grisha Adams (2013)
After two amateur and two professional wins with England’s Fusion FC, Wood made his UCMMA debut against the stocky Grisha Adams, 1-0 at the time.
Adams appeared to be the rare British wrestler, looking immediately to change levels and find an opening to get his top game going.
Wood kept Adams at bay with long, snappy punches, but found his offense was not enough to prevent takedown entries. In a flash of talent and aggression, Wood was at one point slashing up the face of Adams with elbows while balancing on one leg.
When Adams finally reached the ground, he found no stable position. Wood created scrambles by re-guarding and attacking leg locks, until a single-minded Adams followed him straight into a triangle.
Wood didn’t hook the leg, but actually swung his hips with the triangle locked to sweep Adams and finish the choke from mount.
The Prospect showed his wrestling wasn’t quite there, nor were his anti-wrestling striking tactics, but his depth of skill offensively was clear.
vs. Abdullah Saleh (2014)
It should be assumed that Abdullah Saleh, making his professional debut after a 3-0 amateur start, has a muay thai background. He walked out with the traditional headband (mongkol) and employed a counter kicking game early.
Wood noticed quickly that Saleh was going to kick before punching, and that he was happy to stand in place and swing back if he was tagged.
He let Saleh kick himself into range, then fired off rapid straight shots.
Even this early in his career, Wood refused to throw single shots, he had no problem letting his hands go.
vs. Ed Arthur (2014)
The two of you who follow “Fighter of Interest” will know Ed Arthur from our walk through the career of Petr Yan. In the present, we know Ed Arthur is a tough out for any bantamweight, as his only losses have come to elite fighters and top prospects.
In 2014, he was a 24-year-old prospect a green 2-0 in his pro career. Grappling was his forte, but Arthur can hang on the feet with just about anyone. Arthur’s most significant advantage is his size, he stands at a lanky 5’9 at 135 pounds.
For Nathaniel Wood, some of his defensive shortcomings were exposed in this fight. Committed to low kicking, Wood left his head on the center too often, eating counter straights from Arthur in several instances. The size differential also made it difficult for Wood to avoid clinching, and stretches of the fight slipped away.
My belief is that Wood felt pressure to attack the larger man and “win back” that time, and pressed his pace on the feet past comfortability. It didn’t help that he didn’t quite have the takedown defense to assert himself as a striker.
Wood did have plenty of success in this fight. Wood is a persistent jabber, and showed a snappy right straight and sharp left hook off of it. His offense and transitioning on the ground are dynamic, which may have truly worked against him. Wood was too willing to “mix it up” with Arthur on the ground, instead of committing to standing up.
In the third round, Wood had pushed too far, and his fatigue left him vulnerable for an Arthur rear-naked choke. It was a tough fight against a frustrating fighter, there was much to learn.
vs. Alexander Bilobrovka (2014)
Fun fact, Alexander Bilobrovka has never won an amateur or professional fight, and he’s been finished every time.
Guess what happened?
vs. Steve McComb (2014)
The analysis for this fight is: Nathaniel Wood kicks like a horse.
Watch him break Steve McComb‘s arm with a mid round kick.
Team Titan Era
It’s my understanding that this is around the period that Wood began training consistently with Brad Pickett and Team Titan. Pickett is a fantastic coach, and has replicated a lot of the better qualities of American Top Team back in England.
Wood reported that he commutes nearly two hours to train with Team Titan, but, “it’s worth it.”
vs. Thiago Aguiar (2015)
This is the beginning of composed, purposeful Nathaniel Wood. We see The Prospect incorporating feints, the front snap kick to the body, and angling footwork off his own punches.
Thiago Aguiar himself is fairly one-note as a striker, and had little to offer Wood. In fact, he has not won a professional fight since their meeting. But Aguiar did his best to swing power shots, proving an effective test for a fighter who was worryingly predictable and hittable in his first few bouts.
Wood showed tools that would become staples of his game. We already knew about his kicking power, but Wood asserted low kicking as a large part of his striking output. He also demonstrated a variety of sneaky entries on his lead right hand and, at times, his left hook.
vs. Alan Philpott (2016)
for the BAMMA Bantamweight Title
You may have gotten this impression by my description of Ed Arthur, but the European regional bantamweight scene is shockingly deep. Alan Philpott is an excellent example of a fighter who appears to be a journeyman, then shows off a complete and effective game. Philpott was featured previously for his low kicking performance in ACB.
Philpott is a muay thai stylist first and foremost, but has clearly been working with freestyle wrestlers. At one point he attempts an arm-spin on Wood, and generally appears to have sound grappling fundamentals.
Wood’s form and habits were tested early. Philpott got a read on the jab before long, and was slipping and firing off the right hand fairly consistently. His plan was to hang back and kick with Wood, countering with power when he got a good look at Wood’s entries.
At the end of the first round, Philpott swung a counter overhand that smashed Wood directly on the nose. It soon began to pour like a faucet, Wood couldn’t open his lips without getting a mouthful of blood.
Despite the damage, Wood continued on as if nothing had happened. He made a crucial adjustment, varying his entries and feinting the jab. Philpott was hyper-focused on that counter, and Wood was able to bait him into throwing time and time again.
Wood was gaining more and more momentum, cutting off Philpott with lead rights and chopping his legs. Wood reversed a takedown attempt and was working on Philpott from the top position when the referee separated the two and called in the doctor.
Despite Wood’s impassioned protests, the doctors stopped the fight due to Wood’s badly broken nose.
vs. Vaughan Lee (2017)
Despite Vaughan Lee being a UFC veteran and holding a win over the beloved KID Yamamoto (Rest in peace, sincerely), I do believe Alan Philpott was a tougher fight for someone like Wood.
Lee is athletic. He’s creative, his striking skill is fairly deep. He’s lacked urgency at times in fights, he fails to push his advantage when he’s clearly outclassing someone on the feet. He can look downright apathetic at times.
It takes someone constantly attacking like Nathaniel Wood to bring out the best Vaughan Lee has to offer.
To begin, Lee watched closely, backing off linearly as Wood advanced with combinations. Wood had some success cutting Lee off before he circled away, most often when he pivoted and walked Lee into a punch.
Lee mostly waited for Wood to enter his range, then he would fire off something sneaky and get Wood to think twice about coming back. Toward the end of the first, Lee countered a takedown with an attempted guillotine, and proceeded to his one of the gnarliest back takes I’ve seen in some time.
Wood’s best adjustment early on was to low kick with a purpose, timing the retreats of Lee and punting the leg. He struck gold, and Lee began to walk tenderly on his lead leg.
To open the second round, Wood built off that tactic beautifully. He sticks Lee in place with the low kick, then fires off the 1-2 when he knows he has his man planted.
From there on, it’s an assault. Lee is starting to break down from the pressure and the kicks of Wood. When he hits the cage, Wood swarms. Wonderful combinations are highlighted by sharp body shots that further deplete the tank of Lee.
Wobbling and discouraged, Lee is there to be finished. Lee attempts to lead with his hands down, and Wood counters beautifully, slamming him with a lead elbow.
As Lee backs off, Wood pursues with a seventeen-punch combination to slump the wily veteran.
vs. Marko Kovacevic (2017)
for the Cage Warriors Bantamweight Title
9-1 striker Marko Kovacevic did his homework, he learned you can’t give Nathaniel Wood space to make adjustments and get a rhythm on you.
He stayed true to his word and fought with intensity, throwing heat and moving forward non-stop for minutes straight. Learning from Philpott, he started his combinations inside of Wood’s jab and did not give him a chance to breathe.
However, Wood’s improved grappling allowed him to control the fight when it eventually hit the cage, and he was able to work creatively off the clinch and find his openings.
Kovacevic attempted a sloppy exit off the fence, and Wood made him pay.
An underrated facet of Wood’s game is his short offense off ties in the clinch. He can swarm and continue to throw snapping punches off loose collar ties and even a shallow underhook. Keeping an arm on his man often pressures Wood’s opponents into throwing back as he peppers them with shots. This opened up counter opportunities that led to a vicious finishing sprint and Wood’s first title.
vs. Josh Reed (2017)
for the Cage Warriors Bantamweight Title
Wood’s first title defense came against the undefeated Josh Reed. Reed is an absolute madman and knows nothing else but aggression. That’s probably why they call him “Crazy Horse.”
The early goings of the round were brilliant, Wood was chopping away at the leg, causing Reed to limp early. This sparked a sense of manic urgency in Reed, who went for broke.
Nathaniel Wood is not chinny. He does however, force a fight no matter what, and refuses to disengage. Sometimes this leads to him getting hit very hard in the face repeatedly, and sometimes that rocks him. In fact, Nathaniel Wood has a great chin, and insane recovery, because Josh Reed beat him senseless.
Wood swung back instinctively, partially out on his feet. In a testament to his training, Wood moved his head (with his back against the cage) and found a clean counter on the winging hooks of Josh Reed.
In one of the most ridiculous one-round fights of all time, and one of the most amazing comebacks I’ve seen, Wood suddenly came back to life and put the leather on Reed.
vs. Luca Iovine (2018)
for the Cage Warriors Bantamweight Title
Luca Iovine was 12-1 prior to meeting Wood, but it’s worth noting that he had only fought two opponents who held more than two victories themselves.
We saw very little from Iovine. Wood hobbled him off the first calf kick he threw. A panicked Iovine swung wild and sloppy when Wood got in his face, trying to scare his man off and gain back some ground.
Wood closed his combination with a swift left hook and cleaned out Iovine, who was retreating with his right hand down.
Wood had a lot working for him. He was a young, exciting prospect. This was his third knockout in under one minute, and he was coming off one of the best fights of the year against Josh Reed. His relationship with Brad Pickett put him in close contact with the UFC, and Cage Warriors is on the UFC’s streaming service. It should come as little surprise that at 13-3, Wood was signed to the UFC.
vs. Johnny Eduardo
Brazilian Johnny Eduardo has been a professional MMA fighter since 1996, he was 16. He has baffling longevity, hitting his prime nearly 20 years later. Riding an 11-fight win streak. Eduardo was signed to the UFC to fight perennial bantamweight contender Raphael Assuncao. A win over veteran Jeff Curran and a shocking upset knockout over Eddie Wineland thrust Eduardo into the UFC rankings for the first time in his mid-30s.
Eduardo is a striker first, betrayed by the huge “MUAY THAI” tattoo on his belly.
In my mind, Eduardo is a much tougher version of Alan Philpott, but he presented a similar stylistic conundrum. Eduardo is a counter puncher, and an opportunistic brawler, he thrives on your mistakes. Wood was going to have to be mindful of his entries, and take a more measured approach than he was used to.
The most obvious weapon for Wood was the calf kick. Against a longtime muay thai practitioner, the reaction to a traditional low kick would be drilled in. As a striker who can be a bit stationary, the calf kick terrorized Eduardo throughout the fight.
We see Wood still leading with his usual jabs and right hands, but his combinations are shorter, and he’s backing out of the pocket before the counter comes (sometimes.)
Perhaps growing confident, or impatient, Wood decided to push his luck a bit. He hung out in front of Eduardo after throwing, looking to move his head and look to make the veteran miss. For his trouble, a powerful Eduardo hook grazed the top of his dome, wobbling his legs.
Unfortunately, his old broken nose began to leak again, and Wood is seen playing with it after every punch that lands. We should hope it’s not a persistent issue.
Wood survived the onslaught and made it into the next round. In the corner, Pickett told his protege, “Not a bad round.” He had largely controlled and boxed up the veteran striker for most of it, before making a mistake.
To open the second, Wood got back to work. He was much more careful with his entries, feinted and threw with a bit more diversity. Eduardo’s leg must have been bothering him by now, and he looked frustrated by the renewed defensive prowess of Wood.
He made a terrible mistake, shooting on The Prospect.
Wood forced him to crash into the frame and buried Eduardo in the front headlock. Immediately Wood was locking up an S-grip and put pressure on the back of Eduardo’s head.
A nice touch was for Wood to crack the grip and push on the back of Eduardo’s head to roll him to his side, while simultaneously walking his feet closer to Eduardo’s near leg.
To finish the D’arce, ideally, you should have your opponent on their side, hook their leg and crunch their neck deeper into the choke. Wood got the space he needed and switched the grip on the bicep. The choke was deep enough at that point that the added leverage wasn’t all that necessary.
A beautiful win over a seasoned, ranked fighter, one with a dangerous style for Wood.
vs. Andre Ewell (2018)
Andre Ewell is best known for boxing up the ghost of Renan Barao. He appeared to have a serious defensive grappling deficiency in that fight, but looked sharp on the feet and has submitted tough fighters like Dinis Paiva from front headlock.
This was a bit of revenge for the Ed Arthur fight, Wood finally got another crack at a long, tall fighter. Ewell is a shocking 5’11 at bantamweight.
This was also one of the first matchups that gave Wood the open stance. When an orthodox and southpaw fighter meet, the front foot lines up, and lead hands become much closer. This often leads to a hand fight with the lead, making rear hand and foot techniques more effective for both.
Wood, who has leaned on his jab in nearly every fight we’ve seen, got to show off some of his advanced tactics and how deadly he can really be with this lead right.
The first time I saw a shorter fighter dismantle the taller man without crazy pressure was Roberto Duran vs. Iran Barkley (thanks Callan.) Duran waited outside of Barkley’s reach and forced the giant to lead, starting his combinations when Barkley punched himself into range.
In MMA, that strategy becomes even more effective if you’re a talented low kicker like Nathaniel Wood. He could afford to wait on Ewell a bit and punt the inside of the lead leg in the meantime.
A few things became apparent. The most important was that Wood is a hell of a lot faster than Andre Ewell, and he could explode in with the lead right. The next was that Ewell was not trained to expect his opponent to double up on the right hand.
Once Ewell had been tagged, and his lead leg was properly chewed up, the range was badly disrupted. Ewell had no sense of how close Wood needed to be to hit him, and his estimation was usually off. Once Wood was inside of Ewell’s arms, he could pop off with his usual combinations and work his jab.
In the second round, opportunistically, Wood countered a Ewell high kick with a takedown and made an important discovery.
Ewell had absolutely nothing for him on the ground. After a conservative, but thoroughly dominant round on top, Wood knew he could ensure a victory if they went back to the mat in the third.
Nathaniel Wood did a great job chaining takedowns, he looked to drag Ewell down off the waist cinch, got the hook on the right leg as Ewell scrambled back up, and tripped him back down to the left off the bodylock once more.
Ewell got a bit more urgent on bottom, which opened up opportunities for Wood to pass. Once he had the back, Ewell was doomed. A comprehensive performance in all areas. Wood took no unnecessary risks and fought his best fight.
Next Fight: vs. Jose Alberto Quiñones
UFC Fight Night 147
Nathaniel Wood makes his homecoming in London in what appears to be a showcase bout.
Perhaps you may not expect this from a Mexican fighter, but Jose “El Teco” Quiñones shines as a wrestler and top position grappler. He was able to control one of the worst wrestlers in the UFC, Teruto Ishihara, in his last bout.
In a strange pattern of matchmaking, it seems that Wood’s UFC competition is decreasing in difficulty (in a general sense) as he goes. Eduardo was by far the toughest style matchup, and the most established in the division of the three.
Ewell presented some unique challenges, and was coming off the big Barao win, so that’s understood.
Teco? He’s riding a four-fight win streak, his best coming over Diego Rivas. There’s much more to gain for Quiñones.
Wood has been begging for the UFC to come to London since his arrival, and The Prospect will have a chance to show off in front of his home crowd for the first time in the UFC. With a win, I expect Wood to be looking at a ranked opponent next.
You can catch Nathaniel Wood vs. Jose Alberto Quiñones on the main card of UFC Fight Night 147 on ESPN+, Saturday, March 16th.
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