Earlier this year China saw it's baby faced punching machine Can Xu (16-2, 2) announce himself on the global stage with an upset win in the US over Jesus M Rojas, to become the WBA "regular" Featherweight champion. The win was a notable upset, especially given how bad Xu had looked on his US debut, and saw the feather fisted "Monster", don't ask, show off his fun style, his incredible toughness and his wonderful personality.
This coming weekend Xu heads back to a Chinese ring as he looks to make the first defense of his title, and unlike many who would take on an easy first defense he will actually go up against former WBA "regular" Super Bantamweight champion Shun Kubo (13-1, 9) in what is a really nice looking match up.
Xu, as we all saw against Rojas, is a tough, gutsy guy with an incredible work rate. His shots don't have much on them individually but the sheer number of punches he throws is incredible and he does wear people out mentally as well as physically. He combines an insane output with a gritty toughness, that we saw not only against Rojas but also against the likes of Spicy Matsushita, Nehomar Cermeno and Hurricane Futa, among others.
His combination of toughness and output has seen him winning his last 13 fights and becoming the new face of Chinese boxing. That's admittedly not a position that has given us a lot of big names, but puts him in a small group along with Xiang Zhao Zhong and Zou Shiming, as Chinese world champions and focal points in Chinese boxing history.
Xu isn't likely to be a big star world wide, despite his style, but for Chinese boxing he is a potential center point to build off over the coming years. He's only 25, he's promoted by China's bigger promoter Max Power Promotions, and could be finding himself as someone to inspire the next generation of fighters. The hope once was that Zou Shiming would do that, but he was too old when he turned professional and although interesting outside of the ring he wasn't fun to watch, his fighters didn't see a lot of punches aren't weren't exciting. Xu is fun, young, exciting and oozes natural charisma, which can appeal to local fans and international ones.
As previously mentioned Kubo is a former "regular" champion at 122lbs. Whilst he was fighting at Super Bantamweight he was regarded as a fast rising hopeful, and scored early career wins over the likes of Monico Laurente and Luis May before taking the OPBF title in 2015. In the eyes of many he was the new hope of the Shinsei gym, and winning the OPBF title in just his 9th fight showed that they were going to be pushing to be the replacement for Hozumi Hasegawa at the top of the Shinsei stable. Less than 18 months after his OPBF win he would defeat Nehomar Cermeno for the WBA "regular title", with Cemerno retiring between rounds 10 and 11. It's worth noting that Cermeno had won and defended his belt, twice, in China becoming a bit of a name there, so beating Cermeno would have got Kubo some attention in China.
Sadly Kubo's reign was short and he lost the belt less than 5 months later when he dominated by Danny Roman, who has now run up 4 defenses and unified the WBA and IBF titles suggesting that a lott to Roman isn't something to be ashamed by. Since losing the belt Kubo has scored a single win, moving up to Featherweight and narrowly out pointing Hiroshige Osawa. Sadly a planned follow up was cancelled late last year when Kubo was suffering issues with his sight, though he has receieved treatment and things are said to be sorted with his eyes now.
In the ring Kubo is a pretty basic fighter. He's gangly, long and has impressive size, and will have that at Featheweight, but doesn't do anything specially well. He has a solid enough jab and a decent left hook to the body but there is nothing that makes you think he's world class, other than his desire and will to win. In fact if anything he's shown a suspect chin, a lack of power and some naivety. Despite his flaws he does have success, his heart is incredible and he knows how to use his size. He's not only awkward in terms of reach and height but also due to being a southpaw and he does do a lot that's nice, as opposed to exceptional.
We think Kubo could ask questions of Xu, especially early on when he can land some body shots and is fresh enough to get his punches off. As the fight wears on however we expect to see Xu's pressure, work rate and aggression be the difference, and for the Chinese fighter to retain his title.
We're expecting Kubo to survive the distance, but wouldn't be hugely shocked by a late a stoppage for Xu, despite his reputation as a none-puncher.
Prediction Xu UD12
Currently the Super Bantamweight division is one of the most fractured in the sport, and as a result it's a bit of a frustrating mess to follow. Guillermo Rigondeaux, the WBA “super” champion looks set to jump to Super Featherweight for his next bout, WBO champion Jessie Magdaleno has yet to make his first defense, IBF champion Yukinori Oguni makes his first defense later this month, WBC champion Rey Vargas recently made his first defense and this weekend we see WBA “regular” champion Shun Kubo (12-0, 9) make his first defense.
Whilst the division is a mess, it's one which is thoroughly brilliant at the moment, with a nice mixture of veterans, Nonito Donaire and Rigondeaux, as well as fresh blood, like Kubo and Oguni, and almost every style. We have pure boxers, sluggers, bangers and hybrids making up the stacked top 20 in what, potentially, is the most interesting,yet frustrating, division in the sport right now.
Kubo's first defense, this coming Sunday, will see the Hyogo man defending his belt against mandatory challenger Daniel Roman (22-2-1, 8) in what is a really interesting looking match up, that pits two fighters with a lot of questions to answer, against each other on.
Aged 27 Kubo is one of a number of Japanese fighters who has moved through the ranks swiftly. As an amateur he was less than spectacular, running up a 30-18 record, but beat veteran Monico Laurente in his third bout and the world ranked Luis May in his 6th bout to announce himself as one to watch. An OPBF title win in 2015 opened doors for Kubo to progress his career and after just two defenses his team paid to bring tricky veteran Nehomar Cermeno over to Japan to defend the WBA crown. The bout with Cermeno was a real gut test for Kubo, but one that saw him out lasting the veteran, who retired citing injury at the start of round 10.
Against Cermeno we saw Kubo show off some world class skills, but almost come undone following a knockdown, go through a torrid spell and show some self doubt as Cermeno used his experience to come on strong. Now the question to answer for Kubo is how much did he learn and develop from that tough win? Is he going to come undone under pressure again or will the win have boosted his confidence?
Also aged 27 Roman is a fighter looking to make his mark on the sport and continue a 14 fight winning streak that began back in March 2014. During his current run has has scored a number of notable wins, including victories over Christopher Martin, Christian Esquivel and the unbeaten pairing of Marlon Olea and Adam Lopez. Whilst it's a nice record, and one that proves Roman is top contender, it lacks a major A class win and it's hard to know exactly how good he is, and we could see that being answered here.
From watching footage of Roman he's a technically well schooled fighter who has nice textbook boxing ability, and solid, but unspectacular speed. Where he lacks are power and he has been out boxed before by lesser fighters. It's also worth noting that whilst he's not “short” for the weight he is going to be giving away some significant size, with Kubo being a freakish Super Bantamweight, who will look to use his height and reach to neutralise the jab of Roman.
Roman is a very solid boxer, but the reality here is that he is stepping up massively here to face someone who has the home advantage and all the physical advantages. Roman is more experienced, and was a more accomplished amateur fighter, but it's hard to see what he has to beat Kubo. Unless he can land a bomb on Kubo we suspect the champion will record his first defense, and could well find himself becoming the target of domestic rivals like Yusaku Kuga and Hinata Maruta.
April 9th is set to be a big day in Japanese boxing with a number of shows being held in Osaka. The most notable of those is a title triple header at the EDION Arena Osaka. The headline bout from that triple header is a WBA Super Bantamweight title fight pitting defending champion Nehomar Cermeno (26-5-1-1, 15) against unbeaten Japanese challenger Shun Kubo (11-0, 8). For Cermeno the bout is his third defense whilst Kubo will be fighting for the first time at world level.
Aged 37 Cermeno is a genuine veteran. He was a noted amateur before turning professional back in 2004 and it didn't take long for him to impress, claiming various regional titles before scoring two huge wins in 2009 against Cristian Mijares, to claim and defend the WBA “interim” Bantamweight title. He would suffer his first two defeats back-to-back in 2010 against Anselmo Moreno, but both were ultra close split decisions to Moreno.
The losses to Moreno weren't shameful but they began a major slump for Cermeno who went from 19-0 (11) before facing Moreno to 20-5-1 (12) in just 25 months. Inactivity then cost Cermeno a chance to have big fights when the division was stacked with talent, but he has bounced back well, and went 4-0 (2) last year with notable wins over Qiu Xiao Jun and Nop Kratingdaengym to claim and defense the WBA title.
Although he is past the age one expects a fighter to be during their prime Cermeno is a talent fighter who doesn't rely on speed and reflexes. Instead he relies on his skills, his ring craft and his experience. He cleverly dictates the pace of a fight and the distance it's fought at. He's offensively crafty and defensively intelligent, knowing how to counter, and control an opponent, whilst also having under-rated power. Whilst not a KO artist, by any means, he does hit hard enough to punish fighters who give him openings, as Nop found out last year.
At 37 it's obvious that Cermeno can't fight at a great pace, but with his skills he has found ways to neutralise younger, fresher, foes and break them down with his accurate and sharp punches.
With just 11 bouts, and 56 rounds, under his belt Kubo will enter as the boy looking to become a man. He will also enter as the fighter that Shinsei Gym view as their heir apparent to Hozumi Hasegawa, who retired at the end of last year having become a 3-weight world champion. Kubo is viewed as the next star from the Shinsei gym, but this is a huge gamble and a massive step up in class.
In his mid 20's Kubo is a fighter coming into his physical prime and although he's only been a professional for about 4 years he has racked up countless rounds sparring with top fighters and has fought in 3 title bouts, winning the OPBF title and defending it twice. His competition hasn't been the best so far, but he does hold notable wins over Monico Laurente and Luis May, both decent fighters. Sadly he's jumping from OPBF level to world level with out fighting a real gate keeper type opponent, a real worry here.
In the ring Kubo is typically a counter puncher, looking to draw leads and fire back. If forced to lead Kubo is happy for a slow pace and to use his height and reach to keep the bout at range and pick his opponent off. Whilst that has typically worked well there are worries in regards to his stamina, and he has only been the distance once, against Benjie Suganob. He has got good natural skills, and size, but there is a question mark as to how tough he is, and how well he takes a shot.
Although there is a lot of questions about Kubo we suspect he and his team are pretty confident that he's a special fighter. He might not have shown that in the ring yet, but there is enough belief that he is something a lot better than we've seen so far. He will certainly need to prove that if he's to over-come Cermeno, but in fairness he is up against the weakest champion in the division.
Coming in to the bout we're not expecting a classic. We're expecting a slow and tactical battle fought at range, with only a few moments of real action. The rounds will be close, with Kubo's size and youth going up against Cermeno's experience and boxing brain. We think that Kubo may have gotten this bout at the right time, and that his team have done a blinder in getting him a shot at Cermeno. However with Cermeno's late career results there is a real chance that he will upset the rising Japanese youngster, just as he did with Jun and Nop last year.
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.