One of those 3 men was China's Xiong Zhao Zhong (24-5-1, 14) who had his WBC title taken in shocking fashion when he met Oswaldo Novoa and was dominated by the Mexican under-dog. Whilst it's fair to say we all under-rated Novoa, who was a relative unknown, it was still an huge upset and one of the most shocking results of the year, especially given that the bout was fought in Zhong's native China.
Zhong went into that bout as the first and only Chinese world champion. This coming weekend Zhong will attempt to become China's first 2-time world champion as he attempts to claim the WBA title from the highly regarded South African speedster Hekkie Budler (26-1, 9), a man looking for back-to-back wins against Asian fighters following his stoppage victory last time out against Pigmy Kokietgym, and in fact he'll be hunting his 4th successive stoppage.
Although a divisive fighter Zhong is someone we respect even if we don't consider ourselves fans of his. He is the figure head of Chinese boxing in the mainland and although he's over-shadowed by Zou Shiming's fights in Macau Zhong has achieved more as a professional than any other Chinese fighter. He's done that not through skill and ability but sheer tenacity, bravery, natural strength and toughness, both mentally and physically.
Zhong is one of the most diminutive professional boxers in the sport right now and even for a Minimumweight he's short. Despite his lack of height he is built like a tank and looks strong, powerful and muscular for a guy fighting in the sports lowest weight class. It's that power and toughness that has seen him achieve what he has in his career. Strangely for a fighter built like he is however Zhong isn't a big puncher and instead needs to grind opponents for stoppages. Against lower tier fighters that works perfect, as shown in his some what embarrassing win over Thailand's Lookrak Kiatmungmee. Against the better fighters that he has faced however he has struggled to really impose himself due to a lack of technical ability and a relative lack of speed compared to his fellow Minimumweights. And although some may point out that he holds a win over the exceptional Denver Cuello, those people do need to note that that came more from Cuello's health issues as opposed to Zhong's actual boxing ability.
If we accept that Zhong is like a tank, with power and rugged toughness then Budler is like the opposite. He's tough like Zhong but trades off on his speed as opposed to power. Budler is quick, sharp and highly skilled. He's a fighter who will land 2 or 3 punches whilst an opponent is thinking about their next move and then he'll get out of range before an opponent can reply. It's his speed, both with feet and hands, that makes Budler such a brilliant fighter in the division and one of the men that could become a long reigning champion at the weight.
What Budler has done over the years is improve and develop. Watching him from 2010 and 2011 he looked like a man who was going to struggle to advance. It was during that time the Budler suffered his sole loss, a split decision to fellow South African Gideon Buthelezi, and struggled with the likes of Juanito Rubillar and Evaristo Primero, since then though he has improved drastically and become his own fighter, as shown in his wins over the likes of Florante Condes and Nkosinathi Joyi.
Whilst sometimes the limited but stronger fighter can over-come the quicker and more skilled fighter those bouts are rare and we suspect that Budler will be too quick, too smart and too good for Zhong. The Chinese fighter is likely to be tough and game throughout but unlikely to actually be competitive in terms of winning rounds. He'll make Budler work in stages but not enough to really mount a serious challenger in a bout that will help enhance the standing of the South African fighter.
If he wins here wouldn't say Budler was the de facto #1 in the division but it looks to be between him and Francisco Rodriguez Jr and a bout between those two would, in our eyes, be for the #1 position. Hopefully 2015 will bring us a contest like that or we'll get the chance to see Katsunari Takayama share the ring with one of them with the Japanese fighter certainly still a proven top tier fighter in the division.
(Image courtesy of Zovi.cn)