Earlier this year we saw Chinese fighter Can Xu (17-2, 3) [徐灿] shock a large portion of the boxing world by defeating Jesus M Rojas in the US to claim the WBA "regular" Featherweight title. Today he made the first defense of that belt, taking on Japanese challenger Shun Kubo (13-2, 9) [久保隼].
On paper this didn't really promise a lot but actually delivered a really, really fan friendly battle, at a high tempo, fought at mid to close range and had some eye catching back and forths, before the champion broke down the challenger and forced the referee to stop the contest. It was not a fight of the year contender, but still a very, very enjoyable contest to watch.
The first round was a solid one for Kubo, who managed to use his southpaw jab and long arms to control the range pretty well, taking advantage of Xu being a relatively slow starter. Sadly for Kubo, who was picking some really classy shots, he was totally unable to get Xu's respect. That meant Xu could gradually pick up his pace, and like a steam trainer he build up some real momentum.
Round 2 and 3 were still somewhat competitive, with Kubo standing his ground and having some success, but it was coming at a cost with Xu landing more and more shots per round.
It was in round 4 that it was becoming clear Kubo was feeling the pace and being broken down. He was starting to break away from the action more often, trying to create space to catch his breath and not staying on the inside. He was also struggling to avoid the fire of Xu, who was increasing his output round by round, and landing more and more clean shots.
The problems Kubo was having with the volume of Xu got worse in round 5, and he was dropped towards the end of the round, after being badly hurt and eating some solid combinations. It was a testament to Kubo that he fought back as hard as he did, but it was clear he was being broken down, and as we heard the bell he was staggered again.
By now the referee and Kubo's corner were keeping an eye on the challenger and was he was rocked again in round 6 the referee, Gustavo Padilla, stepped in and halted the bout.
Interestingly this was Xu's third stoppage in 5 bouts, and whilst no one would call him a puncher he is certainly hitting hard than his record would suggest. Sadly for Kubo this is his second stoppage loss, and it's really hard to see where he goes from this. Domestically and regionally the Featherweight division is a mine field and it's really, really hard to imagine him making a mark on the sport at 126lbs given how he was broken down here.
Every so often a supposed mismatch ends up being less of a mismatch than expected, in fact instead of a mismatch we get a Fight of the Year contender as the perceived under-dog fights as if their career depends on their performance.
That was the case tonight when Chinese fighter Can Xu (16-2, 2) [徐灿] played his part in a bout with Jesus M Rojas (26-3-2-1, 19), for the WBA "regular" Featherweight title. The bout was a thrilling, pulsating and action packed 12 round war from two men who's style gelled perfectly.
Rojas was expected to win with ease. Most had predicted him to walk through Xu, score an easy early victory and defend his title without any issues. It seemed Rojas also expected that as he put intense pressure on Xu from the open bell. Xu backed off, but unloaded combinations when there space to work with, whilst Rojas worked hard on the inside, trying to make the fight a war.
As the rounds went on Xu's confidence grew and Rojas became less and less intense. The first 5 rounds were insane, all action, incredible intensity. The 4th may well go down as one of the best rounds of the year. But from then on the pace slowed, Rojas seemed to be the one feeling the tempo, and round 6 was a fantastic one for Xu who seemed to begin backing Rojas up.
Xu would go on to back Rojas up again in rounds 7 and 8 as the tempo really seemed to effect Rojas, who was only able to keep a high intensity for a minute or so in a round, rather than the 3 minutes he was pressing in earlier rounds.
Those rounds going to the Chinese fighter made things very interesting, though Rojas did do much better in round 9 as he stopped the rot. That a momentary respite for the Puerto Rican champion as Xu charged again in the final 3 rounds, again pressing, forcing Rojas back and stopping the champion from getting his breath.
Through the 12 rounds there was clear momentum shifts, Rojas easily the dominant fighter in the early stages, Xu in charge in the later rounds. The amount of leather both threw was insane, and it seemed an incredibly close fight as we went to the judges.
The first score read was 118-110, a score that didn't reflect the fight, the second was 117-111, and that didn't reflect the fight, and the third was 116-112. The third card was arguably, at best. Surprisingly however they all went for Xu, who scored a major upset here with a unanimous decision.
Rojas should feel aggrieved by the scores. It was a close fight, it could have gone either way, but it was not a 9-3 or 10-2 type of fight.
For Chinese boxing history was made, with Xu being the first Chinese fighter to win a world title above Flyweight, even if it is only the "regular" title, and we suspect he will be returning to China to fight in front of a huge audience in his first defense. A rematch with Rojas would be very welcome, we suspect it'll be a much easier bout than that for the new champion!
World Title Results
Whether you like them or not World Titles add prestige to any bout as a result we've included the results of world title bouts in this special section.