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Nathaniel Wood of England walks to the scale during the UFC Fight Night ceremonial weigh-in at The O2 Arena on July 21, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
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Nathaniel Wood: ‘The Cream Rises To The Top’

As Nathaniel Wood Approaches His 10th UFC Fight At UFC 294, He Has His Eyes On The Featherweight Rankings

Nathaniel Wood turned 30 about a week-and-a-half after his ninth UFC bout, and as he approaches his 10th walk to the Octagon at UFC 294: Makhachev vs Volkanovski 2, “The Prospect” is keen to put the milestone in context. 

“This life moves very fast,” Wood told UFC.com. “I feel like it was only yesterday that I signed with the UFC, and now I have to pinch myself. This is my 10th fight for the UFC, (and) so far, I've enjoyed every second of it.

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“It is pretty special because, growing up, my coaches always said to me that it's very hard to get to the UFC. It's even harder staying in the UFC.”

Nathaniel Wood of England punches Andre Fili in their featherweight fight during the UFC Fight Night at The O2 Arena on July 22, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Nathaniel Wood of England punches Andre Fili in their featherweight fight during the UFC Fight Night at The O2 Arena on July 22, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Wood believes he hasn’t changed much as a person since he signed his UFC contract in 2018. Other than moving out of his parents’ house and having some more money in the bank, Wood feels like the same kid he was when he started training 15 years ago. 

It’s that humility and self-awareness that helped Wood navigate a tough stretch from February 2020 to July 2022 when he lost two out of three fights and then didn’t fight for more than 20 months for one reason or another. He stayed the course, addressed mental and physical challenges that came up during that time and came out of it a stronger fighter. Since then, Wood moved up to featherweight and ripped off three wins in a row over Charles Rosa, Charles Jourdain and Andre Fili – a trio of battle-tested veterans whom Wood outclassed for 15 minutes each.

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On top of the speed advantage Wood feels at 145 pounds, he is most happy about the fact that his fight camps can actually address strategy and skill improvement, not just dropping down in weight. Back when he was a 35er, Wood didn’t have much wiggle room when it came to discipline. To say the cuts were taxing would put it lightly, and with that burden off his back, Wood believes his best is still to come. He laments not moving up to featherweight a little sooner, but he credits the months away from competition for giving him that pathway to change divisions. 

Nathaniel Wood of England celebrates after his submission victory over Jose Quinonez of Mexico in their bantamweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at The O2 Arena on March 16, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Nathaniel Wood of England celebrates after his submission victory over Jose Quinonez of Mexico in their bantamweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at The O2 Arena on March 16, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Despite three wins over accredited opponents, Wood drew Muhammad Naimov, who beat Jamie Mullarkey in his UFC debut in June. Wood expressed some disappointment in not receiving a Top 15 opponent, and respectfully acknowledges that he is a “big step up” for Naimov.

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At the end of the day, we're in four-ounce gloves,” Wood said. “I will never underestimate anyone, but obviously, I'm confident in every area going up against him. It looks like an exciting fight. He looks strong. He looks fast. He's a good striker. I look forward to going in there and hopefully doing the job in a dominant style.”

A clean and clear victory is one Wood hopes propels him toward those stacked featherweight rankings, and he also hopes the performance is one that quiets any talk of him moving back down to bantamweight. 

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Instead, Wood wants to once and for all prove he is more than ready for a crack at the Top 15. That’s easier said than done at featherweight (and frankly, no easier back down at bantamweight), but if Wood is as good as he believes, he needs to prove as much on October 21. 

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“We get paid to fight,” he said. “I don't complain to the UFC and moan about who they're going to give me. Of course, I would’ve loved a ranked guy and start working up that division, but the cream always rises to the top, and I'll beat this guy. I get paid the same amount whether I'd beat a Top 10 (fighter) or not.”

That’s spoken like a true veteran, and on Saturday, Wood wants to show he can fight like he is the best in the world. 

UFC 294: Makhachev vs Volkanovski 2 took place live from Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi, UAE on October 21, 2023. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!