UFC 232: Nathaniel Wood on Christmas weight-cuts, charity work & facing Andre Ewell in Los Angeles

By Alex BysouthBBC Sport
Nathaniel Wood - paid for
Nathaniel Wood will be making his second appearance in UFC on 29 December

Nathaniel Wood will spend his Christmas Day thousands of miles from his family, away from his mother's anxious watch as he starves himself in a bid to cut weight.

That's the gruelling reality of professional fighters - not that one of England's most exciting mixed martial arts prospects would have it any other way.

Wood is a self-confessed "Christmas person", a generous 25-year-old who has had to convince charities he is not a "cage-fighting animal" to let him help them.

He has spent the back end of 2018 getting ready for the second UFC bout of his burgeoning career and will fly to Las Vegas on Christmas Eve to put the final touches to his preparation for UFC 232 on Saturday - an event that has been moved at the last minute to Los Angeles, California.

"I am ready and waiting for the fight now," Wood told BBC Sport.

"I am a bit gutted, because I am a Christmas person. I do like my Christmas and spending it with my family.

"But if I was at home I would be watching everyone eat the food in front of me and that would be torture, trying to cut weight while everyone is having a bit of a feast."

Wood conducted his pre-fight camp in north London and will give himself five days to acclimatise in the US before stepping into the octagon to face American Andre Ewell.

He will fly out with his dad, while the Londoner's girlfriend and some close friends will be watching inside The Forum, in Inglewood, on fight night.

"The real celebration will be after the fight when I get home on New Year's Eve," added Wood.

"My mum has always come to my fights, but she does get anxious and hates seeing me cut weight.

"The thought of being on the plane with me and looking at me starving hungry and dehydrating myself, she just wasn't up for that.

"She always watches me live and does hate watching it, but she's pretty good."

'Fighting's easy, cutting weight is the boring bit'

Wood impressed on his UFC debut in June when he beat Johnny Eduardo with a second-round submission in New York.

Fighting, the bantamweight says, is the easy part.

"With the amount of training we do, to get in there for 15 minutes is pretty easy," explained Wood, who trims about 11kg to reach his 61.5kg fight weight.

"It's the cutting weight and the sacrifice of having to diet hard for eight weeks, get in that sauna and sweat everything out, that's the real fight.

"For me, that's the hardest part that I don't enjoy; every other part of the sport I love. Once I have weighed in, that's when the fun starts."

'Charities turn their noses up at MMA fighters'

Nathaniel Wood
Nathaniel Wood now works with two charities based near his south London home

Wood earned a $50,000 (£38,100) performance of the night bonus after his first foray into the UFC octagon, and has been trying to put his growing profile to good use.

But the former Cage Warriors champion has grown frustrated at seeing his goodwill rebuffed.

"If I am honest, I have applied for charity stuff before and a lot of them, it's almost like they turn their nose up," he said.

"I say 'listen, with the platform I have got, is there anything I can do and any way I can help?' They are not interested; a lot of them shy away from the MMA scene.

"I just want to help out in the world and put some good light on the sport, show we are not cage-fighting animals as people think we are. We are nice people and we are here to help out, that's the main aim."

Wood is now working with two charities local to his home in south London - children's charity Jigsaw4u and Bowel Disease UK.

"I prefer working with local charities as I feel I can make a difference," he said.

"Straight away I donated a signed glove [to Jigsaw4u] and they managed to raise £700, which is a crazy amount of money and I never thought they would get that just from me signing my fight gloves."

Nathaniel Wood

Wood was scheduled to face Tom Duquesnoy when the fight was announced in October, but the Frenchman pulled out and Ewell, also with one UFC victory under his belt, was called up to replace him.

"The guy is a southpaw, so I have been training for that and he's a bit taller," said Wood. "In sparring, I have been trying to go with taller guys to get used to it.

"I don't have a game plan as such. I like to go in there and go with the flow, see how the fight pans out, but I am definitely going to be coming in fast and aggressive and I will look for a performance of the night bonus, that's for sure."

And the Briton hopes to put himself in contention for UFC's London card on 16 March with another win on Saturday.

"I am definitely thinking about that London card," added Wood.

"It hasn't taken my eyes off the fight I have got now, that is my main priority, but coming out of 29 December with a good win, I will be looking to get on that main card in London."