On July 31st we'll see the long awaited return of WBA Featherweight champion Can Xu (18-2, 3), who has been out of the ring since beating Manny Robles III way back in November 2019. The exciting, all action, Chinese punching machine will not only be back in the ring in July but will also be making his UK debut as he takes on Englishman Leigh Wood (24-2, 14) in Essex, England. For Xu this bout will be his third defense of the title he won in his break out fight, a January 2019 upset win against Jesus M Rojas, whilst the 32 year old Wood will be fighting in his first world title bout to date.
For those who haven't see Xu he really is a perpetual punching machine. He is the man of nightmares for Compubox operators, and the sort of fighter who throws a lot. His shots never a lot on them in terms of power, but he throws, and lands, that many that fighters end up simply being overwhelmed, and go into a defensive shell, unsure of quite how to fight him. His work rate and engine are ridiculously impressive, and whilst he's not the most technical he's so awkward due to his output that few can really take advantage of his flaws. He's also been blessed with real toughness, and began his career as a Light Welterweight before moving down in weight, showing that he's physically strong as well as tough. He can be be out boxed, at least in spurts, but to do it against him for 12 rounds will be a tough, tough ask of anyone in the sport, and anyone who tries better be willing to walk into shots to get their own off.
As mentioned Xu began his career at 140lbs, and he jumped between weights for much of the early part of his career, losing two close decisions in his first 5 bouts. Since then however he has gone 15-0 (3), he has beaten the likes of Hurricane Futa, Chris George, Corey McConnell, Nehomar Cermeno, Jesus M Rokas, Shun Kubo and Manny Robles, to build up a solid, though not startling, resume for himself. He had been hoping for a big 2020, with a potential unification bout against Josh Warrington in the works, before Covid19 put an end to those dreams. Instead of facing Warrington in front of a packed out Elland Road, he instead needs to face Wood in Eddie Hearn's back yard, in front of only a few hundred supposed boxing fans.
Whilst Xu has been sat on the outside looking in Wood has actually managed a couple of fights since the end of 2019, include a razor thin loss to James Dickens in February 2020 and a brilliant domestic win over Reece Mould in February of this year. Those bouts shows that Wood was putting on some of the best performances of his career and despite being in his 30's he's still a fight who is improving, growing more confident and putting together really good results. Something he also did in late 2019 when he upset David Oliver Joyce and it really does seem like his slow burn career has started to peak.
In the ring Wood is a solid fighter, who has proven himself to be a very good British level, maybe even European level, Featherweight with solid power that carries late into his bouts. He's not the most skilled or the quickest, in fact at times he's a little crude, but he's patient, he's heavy handed, and he throws his right hand with bad intent. As we saw against Reese Mould his shots do genuine damage and whether he's coming forward or going backwards he hits hard enough to get the result of anyone he faces, especially when he lands his straight right hand, or his solid left hook. Sadly though his work rate isn't the best, and against a fighter like Xu we think his lack of consistent, high intensity work, will make it very, very hard for him to impress the judges. His shots will be more meaningful, and much more meaty than Xu, but we suspect he simply won't land enough of them.
We think early on Wood will have success, in the first 3 or 4 rounds things will be competitive with Wood holding his own. That'll be until Xu's insane output and work rate begin to turn the fight in his favour and from there on the question won't be who'll win? But instead a case of whether Xu can end up stopping Wood or not. We don't think he will, but we do think Xu will take a very, very wide decision here.
The world of boxing is a strange one at times, and in deep divisions we still get some challengers come along who really don't have any right, at all, to be competing for a world title. That just so happens to be the case this coming Saturday in Belgium as we see unknown Chinese fighter Zhaoxin Zhang (10-1-1, 6) face off with WBA Cruiserweight champion Ryad Merhy (29-1, 24) in what looks like a very, very clear case of a lamb being thrown to the slaughter. In fact it looks like one of the worse world title bout to be stages in 2021.
For those who don't follow the Cruiserweight division, the division is one of the more easy to over-look right now. Since Oleksandr Usyk left the division, it's struggled a little bit for an identity. Mairis Briedis is the best of the bunch, but not a lot separate the chasing pack, including Ilunga Makabu, Yuniel Dorticos, Thabiso Mchunu, Lawrence Okolie, Arsen Goulamirian and the aforementioned Merhy. In fact if you throw that group of fighters into a mini tournament, to decide who Briedis should fight in 2022 you'd end up with a brilliant series of fights. They all have power, they can all fight and yet they all have their own styles, some of which are very different to others, with Okolie being a rangy outside fighter and Dorticos being more of a power punching force of nature.
When it comes to Merhy himself his only loss came more than 3 years ago to Goulamirian and since then he has bounced back with 5 wins, all by stoppage. He has proven that he's a huge puncher, with a real nasty side to him. He takes a shot well, he comes to fight and although he's not the biggest or the smoothest in the division, he's one of the most exciting and among the most intimidating. He is a fighter who should become the face of Belgian boxing over the next few years, and at 28 he really does have time to make a huge mark on the sport.
Aged 25 Zhaoxin Zhang is really an unknown, even among those who follow Chinese boxing. He debuted in 2017 as a Super Middleweight, fighting to a draw and he was 5-1-1 (2) after 7 bouts, with a loss against Zulipikaer Maimaitiali. Since then he has filled out his frame, become a fully fledged Cruiserweight and scored 5 wins in a row. Sadly though they are against, at best, domestic level competition. There is nothing of international significance on his record and nothing to explain why the WBA have got him in their world rankings. In fact Boxrec ranking him at #68 in the division seems like it's still very, very flattering to the Chinese fighter.
The most telling bout for Zhang so far came in 2019 when he cased Chase Haley, a much smaller fighter, and still struggled to get the decision, squeaking by with a majority decision win. Through out that bout he looked clumsy, slow, awkward and very fortunate that Haley lacked the power and skills needed to take him out.
Given how easy Haley had success against Zhang we really can't see this being anything but a knock over job for Merhy, who can likely finish this as early as he wants.
Prediction - Merhy TKO3
World Title Previews
The biggest fights get broken down as we try to predict who will come out on top in the up coming world title bouts.